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.
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
- Will provide protection from EMP events
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.
Best Emergency Candles To Buy
Top Pick – UCO Beeswax Lantern Candles
These candles are a lot more expensive than standard emergency candles. However, if you are planning on reusing wax to make your own candles (which is smart for long-term emergency planning), then they are a great deal.
Beeswax is easy to reuse, and most beeswax candles are much more expensive than these ones.
Because they are made from beeswax, you get a clean-burning candle. They are made really well so you get a decent amount of light per candle. There aren’t any issues with the candle self-extinguishing because of poor design.
Note that these are made to fit into a UCO lantern. You could adhere them to a plate, but the lantern is really the safest option.
They will fit most other candle lanterns though, not just the UCO brand one.
- 12+ hour burn time
- Well-made and designed
- Minimal dripping
- Pricier option
- Best with UCO candle lantern
Beeswax Shabbat Candles
Assuming that you have a good, sturdy candle holder, taper candles can be great for emergencies. They make it easy to collect the wax for reuse. And, since these are made from beeswax, you’ll want to save that wax!
The price per hour of burn time is fairly high (about 24 cents per hour). However, for beeswax candles, these Shabbat candles are very affordable.
The candles burn really well and actually last for a good 7 hours.
The only real issue is that they are white beeswax. I guess they have to bleach the wax to get that color, which does mean there is a slight odor to the candles.
- Great value for beeswax
- Long burn time for taper candles
- Produce good amount of light
- Produce slight odor
- Require good disaster-safe candle holder
American Soy Tealights
If you want to use tealights as your emergency candles, these are probably your best option.
Unlike most tealights which are made from paraffin, these ones are made from soy. That means they don’t cause carcinogenic odors or smoky residue.
Some other nice things about these tealights is that they are made in the USA and will self-extinguish.
You’ll still want to get a disaster-friendly tealight holder to reduce the risk off a fire hazard.
- Soy wax doesn’t produce odors
- Long burn time for tealights
- Very cheap
- Made in USA
- Dim flame
- Wider than standard tealights – might not fit some holders
ILY Nature’s Light Pillar Candle
I recently became aware of this brand of candles. They are made in the USA using quality ingredients.
Other pillar candles can have issues with tunneling or burning unevenly. These don’t have any of those problems.
The candle might seem a bit pricey. However, when you calculate the cost per hour, it is a fairly good deal (about 14 cents per hour of burn time).
This is a good choice if you want something which can double as décor and as an emergency candle.
- Long burn time
- Made in USA
- No issues with tunneling
- Produces lots of light
- Attractive design
- Not the cheapest option
Hosley 12 Hour Votive Candles
These 12-hour candles are made from paraffin, which means they will have a slight chemical and smoky odor. However, paraffin is what makes them so cheap to buy.
You will have a hard time finding votive candles at this price.
While I’m not a fan of reusing paraffin wax, you can reuse the glass jars when making your own.
Note that the burn time doesn’t live up to expectations. You’re more likely to get 6-8 hours of burn time out of these.
Even with that considered, they are still a very good deal for emergency candles.
- Very affordable
- Long burn time
- Can reuse votive jars
- Creates some odor
- Don’t last full 12 hours as advertised
- Could tip over
Emergency Essentials 115 Hour Candles
Technically these aren’t candles – they are lanterns because they use liquid paraffin. Because they are so popular, I thought they were worth adding here with the best emergency candles.
Even though they use liquid paraffin, they don’t create much odor or smoke as typical paraffin candles do.
As for their burn time, they actually do seem to live up to their 115 hour promise (I didn’t time it though!).
To get this long of a burn time though, the flame needs to be very small. You can adjust the wick length using a pair of pliers, but then you won’t get as long of a burn time.
- Very long burn time
- Great value
- Plastic jar won’t break during emergency
- Wide base won’t topple over
- Comes with cap to prevent fuel evaporation
- Can’t reuse the paraffin
- Flame is small and dim
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
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.
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
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)
- 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).
Recommended Reading: How To Make DIY Candles
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?
Diane Vukovic spent her childhood roaming the woods of upstate NY, making brush shelters, backpacking and orienteering.
Now she is the proud mother of two adventurous girls whom she takes wild camping and teaches survival skills and self-defense. Learn more about Diane here.