What You Need to Know before Buying Emergency Candles

According to recent stats by the EIA, the average consumer will experience more than 2 power outages per year, and these power outages will last nearly 200 minutes.

A power outage which lasts 200 minutes doesn’t seem that long.  But bear in mind that it’s an average.

  • I personally remember the 2003 Northeast blackout that left my family without power for 6 days.
  • Komo News talks about a power outage in Washington State that lasted 8 days.
  • And recently Lake Tahoe warned residents that a power outage could last for days…

In short, you need to have emergency lighting prepared at your home in case the power goes out.  For many, this means buying emergency candles.  Before you do, read this guide.

Are Emergency Candles Even the Best Option?

When I was a kid, candles were the way to go for emergency lighting.  This was mostly because flashlight batteries were expensive and rechargeable ones weren’t common yet.

We certainly didn’t have any solar-powered flashlights then!

Now, we have a lot of other options for emergency lighting.  Some of these include:

The obvious problem with using candles as your emergency lighting is that they are a fire hazard.  In some cases, you should never use candles – such as after an earthquake and if there is a risk of gas main breakages.

However, there are some benefits of candles which make them a worthy option.

The first is their low cost.  Candles can also be used to produce heat, which might be life-saving if you don’t have an alternative heating option.

Pros of Using Emergency Candles

  • Are cheap to buy
  • Wax can be reused (more on that later)
  • Produce heat
  • Can make your own
  • Don’t require any batteries or power to operate
  • Won’t be affected by EMP event

Cons of Using Emergency Candles

  • Should NOT be used if a gas main break may have occurred, such as after earthquakes!
  • Could tip over and cause a fire
  • Flickering can be annoying
  • Will need a lot of them to produce adequate lighting for tasks

In forums, I’ve seen people go into tirades about what the best emergency lighting option is.  I’m not going to do this, mostly because I believe that there is no one “best” emergency lighting option.

To be prepared for emergencies, you need to have a variety of emergency lighting options.

So stock up on emergency candles. But don’t stop there.  You should also get a few other emergency lights.  I would say to definitely get a headlamp (great for when you need to walk around the house or outside), some LED lamps for room lighting, and maybe even spring for a generator if you can afford it.

The ultimate backup – a portable generator.

What Type of Candles Do I Need?

A lot of people get candles as generic gifts.  I personally have a whole shelf of scented, pretty candles that my wife got from coworkers.

While these decorative candles will provide lighting, they aren’t exactly meant for emergencies.

Plus, the smell of 14 scented candles all lit at once can be really obnoxious!  (Trust me on this one)

When buying emergency candles (often also called survival candles), there are a few critical things you need to look at:

  • Burn Time: The burn time of a candle varies based on a lot of factors. According to this site, it mostly has to do with the amount of wax used.  Expect a burn time of 7-9 hours per ounce of wax used.
  • Number of Wicks: Candles with multiple wicks are great because it allows you to adjust the brightness of the candle by lighting/extinguishing wicks. Be warned though that candles with multiple wicks often calculate burn time by one wick.  So, a candle with 3 wicks might have its burn time listed as 36 hours.  However, when all 3 wicks are lit, the burn time is actually only 12 hours.
  • Scented: Try to avoid these because having a lot of scented candles burning during a power outage can give you a headache.
  • Stability: You don’t want your emergency candle toppling over on you. Thin, tapered candles are fine but you’ll need to buy a good candle holder.
  • Type of Wax: Soy wax is one of the best options because it is slow-burning. Paraffin is really common, but it is potentially toxic. Another reason that I don’t like paraffin wax for candles is because it often makes smoky residue when it burns, so it is harder to reuse the wax.  Bees wax is also a good alternative to paraffin.

How Many Emergency Candles Do You Need?

Since you probably won’t be using just candles as your emergency lighting, figuring out the number of candles to buy can be a bit confusing.  To simplify things here, let’s calculate it as though you are going to use just candles.

1. Determine how many hours of lighting you will need per day.

In winter (when most power outages occur), the sun sets very early and there is a lot of darkness.  Even if you have all of your curtains open, you will still probably need some lighting from around 7pm until 7am.

That’s 12 hours per day.

But we also sleep during the night, so you aren’t going to need lighting for that entire time.

A good rule of thumb is to estimate 3 to 6 hours of lighting per day.

2. How many days are you preparing for?

At a very minimum, you should have 3 days of emergency lighting.  I personally prefer to have at least 30 days of emergency supplies (read why).

3. Now calculate how many hours of lighting you need

Use this simple calculation to find out how many hours of lighting you’ll need:

(number of hours of lighting per day needed) x (number of days you are preparing for) = Hours of lighting you need

*AH Trimble recommends adding a 50% margin of error.

4. Don’t forget to calculate how much space you need to illuminate

In theory, you could buy 1 candle with however many hours of lighting you need and be fine.

But it probably takes more than 1 candle to produce adequate lighting for your home. So, you also need to calculate how many candles you need to illuminate the space.

During a blackout, you probably won’t be using your entire home.  The family will likely be gathered in one room together.

According to this, one tapered candle produces about 1 foot-candle of lighting. And, according to this, you’ll need about 10 to 20 foot-candles to light a typical living room.

This is a power outage we are talking about, not a party!  So, you will probably really need about 5 to 10 candles per room.

Even though bathrooms typically require more foot-candles, you can probably get by with one or two candles in the bathroom.  You probably will just be carrying a candle into the bathroom with you when you go instead of leaving it constantly illuminated.

*I recommend testing this.  Light your emergency candles to see how many you need to adequately light the space!


You calculate that you’ll need 5 hours of lighting per day for a potential blackout lasting 10 days.

That comes out to 50 hours of lighting.  However, you want to add a margin of error of 50%, so you instead calculate 75 hours.

It takes 5 candles to produce adequate lighting for your space.  So, you would need:

  • 5 candles with 75-hour burn time each OR
  • 10 candles with a 37-hour burn time each OR
  • 20 candles with a 19-hour burn time each

As you can see, this really isn’t a lot of emergency candles.  Considering that emergency candles can be bought in packs for around $10, you can easily take care of your emergency lighting needs.

Again, remember to diversify – it isn’t always smart to use candles in emergencies!  Have some flashlights, lamps, LEDs, and headlamps around too!

Making Your Own Emergency Candles from Household Items

DIY emergency candles

Run out of emergency candles?

Don’t worry – you can make your own out of household items pretty easily.

Here are just some items that can burn:

  • Crayons (here’s how)
  • Nutella
  • Kraft Velveeta cheese (haven’t tried this so let me know if it really works)
  • Crisco (but don’t use it unless you absolutely have to for these reasons)
  • Butter (here’s how)
  • Cheese wax

You can also make oil candles (which technically aren’t candles; they’re called lamps when oil is used) using regular vegetable oil.  You just need to stick a wick in it (make sure the wick is made from cotton, not synthetics as the synthetic will melt and not burn).

Reusing Emergency Candles

One of the pros of using candles as your emergency lighting is that you can reuse them.

I honestly don’t know why more people don’t do this with their candles.  It is especially easy with taper candles because all you have to do is save the wax as it drips off.  With jar candles and tea lights, it is a bit more difficult because you have to get the old wax out of the jar/holder.

Once you get the wax out, you melt it in a double boiler (it can catch on fire, so always use a double boiler!!!).

Then pour it into candle molds (toilet paper rolls work great for this) with a wick inside.  The wick can be cotton string.

Voila! You’ve got a new candle.

Just remember not to mix different types of wax because they burn differently.  Here are instructions on how to reuse candle wax to make new candles.

Tips for Using Emergency Candles

  • Put candles in front of a mirror. They will produce more light this way.
  • Avoid carrying candles around the house. Use a headlamp instead.
  • Don’t use candles if you have pets. Or keep the pets out of the room where the candles are!
  • Remember that tea lights get really hot. Be careful what you put them on.
  • Melted wax is a pain to clean up. Always put something under your candle.
  • Be cautious. I know you aren’t an idiot, but lots of fires do start because of unattended candles every year! So only burn the candles when they are in sight and be very careful they aren’t somewhere they can get knocked over.

How many emergency candles do you have stockpiled for power outages?

Image credits:

Candlelight Breakfast” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Canadian Pacific
Boredom due to 11 day power outage 1” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by narenking

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