Do Tea Lights Burn Out on Their Own (And How Long Do They Last?)

The tealight candle is one of those items that you find in just about every home. This multi-functional little wax creation can be a lifesaver, from providing light during blackouts or being popped into a holder to create a relaxing, flickering glow after a long day. There is plenty of variety in scented options too meaning you can find a tea light for just about any mood or occasion.

Just like any bare flame though, there are always safety considerations to be taken when using tea light candles. In this article, we will look in particular at the expected burn time of a tea light and whether they will safely extinguish itself.

So, join us as we carry out a comparison of three different tea lights and give you some of our top safety tips to ensure you know everything you need to about these little handy candles.

Many factors impact the burn time of a tea light, including the quality of the wax. On average a reasonable burn time for a tealight will be between 3 and 5 hours. Fundamentally tea lights are designed to safely burn out on their own, but as with any flame should never be left unattended.

What is a Tea Light Candle?

What makes the tea light different from all the other candles out there? Fundamentally it is the tea lights design that sets it apart. A tea light is a small candle that is encased in a thin metal (like aluminum) or plastic (polycarbonate) case that allows the candle wax to liquefy and be contained as it burns. They are often inexpensive and sold in large volumes and are often most effective when multiple tea lights are lit at once to create a soft ambient glow.

They can be scented or plain and there is a wealth of decorative holders available to house a tea light if you wish to display them as part of décor.

FUN FACT: Did you know, the tea light got its name from its historical use of being placed under a tea pot to keep the contents warm after it had been removed from the fire and placed on the table for service?

How Long do Tea Lights Burn?

The length of time a tea light will burn can vary widely between manufacturers and whether a metal casing or plastic casing is used.

Here at Flame Stuff, we carried out a few experiments with different types of tea lights we had to hand at home.

First off most unscented tea lights have the same base wax. The two versions we tested from large supermarket stores comprised mainly of paraffin wax while we also tested one independent candle maker’s tea light which was listed as being beeswax.

One supermarket type had a metal casing and one a plastic. There was no information on the type of wick utilized on any of the tealights. However, the independent candle makers tealight visibly looked like cotton while the supermarket version appeared stiffer.

All the tea lights were popped on a heat-resistant holder and timed. All the candles used in our test were non-scented variations.  The burn times and comments are noted below.

 Wax TypeCasing typeBurn timeCostLight
Supermarket tea light 1ParaffinMetal3 hours 17 minutesApprox $0.12 (£0.10) per tea lightSmall pinpoint light source
Supermarket tea light 2ParaffinPlastic2 hours 41 minutesApprox $0.30 (£0.24) per tea lightWarmer wider spread light
Independent tea lightBeeswaxMetal5 hours 32 minutesApprox $3.50 (£3.00) per tea lightYellow/gold small but radiant light

As we can see from the above results the beeswax candle burned the longest, however, has a significantly higher price point. This means that multiple of the cheaper candles could be burned to reach the same time at a lesser cost.

This also serves to highlight the vast variation in burn times that can occur depending on the manufacturer and composition of the tea light. 

We observed that the clear casing allowed the light to reflect better, and gave off the best light of the three tea lights tested

Can a Tea Light Cause a Fire?

Any flame has the potential to cause a fire and the tea light is no exception. The main fire risks around tea light use can be easily avoided though if you follow our tips below:

  • Surface

Care should always be taken to ensure that your tea light is placed on a level heat-resistant surface. As the tealight melts and the wax inside liquefies it can reach some serious heat. If your tea light is on a flammable surface this can easily cause it to ignite.

There is a great variety of decorative tea light holders out there but if you are in a pinch some items around the house will suffice such as a heat-resistant plate or a pot stand.

Care should also be taken to ensure the surface is level. A tealight is a hot liquid pool of wax, if it is set on an uneven surface wax can spill over and cause the candle to tip and start a fire.

  • Positioning

Tea lights can give off significant radiant heat above themselves, hence the reason they are used in devices like wax burners. If you have loose fabrics like curtains or flammable materials like paper near or above your burning tea light this will prove a fire risk.

They should also not be positioned in any areas where they may be easily knocked or bumped. Additional care should be taken around children and pets where they may brush clothing or fur unintentionally near the flame.

  • Never leave a lit tea light unattended

Like all naked flames, a naked tea light should never be left unattended. While a tea light will burn itself out there is always a risk that debris or an item could fall near or on the candle resulting in fire.

Particular care should be taken if tea lights are being used during events or celebrations where alcohol is being drunk as this increases the risk of a candle being left unattended or forgotten about.

How Do you Extinguish Tea Light Candles?

While we know a tea light will burn itself out there may be instances where you want to extinguish it prior to this as you are heading out or no longer need it. What effect does this have on a tea light and can you relight it again?

Extinguishing a Tea Light Candle

Most people will simply blow on a tea light in order to extinguish it. However, this is not always ideal as it can cause you to unintentionally blow wax splatters if you are a little overzealous.

The best way is to use a candle “snuffer”. This is a device that looks like a bell on a stick. This encompasses the candle flame depriving it of oxygen and successfully putting it out.

It is important to never put a tea light out with water, not only is it messy it runs the risk of causing hot wax to spill over the sides.

Relighting a Tea Light Candle

Many people may not know, but it is advisable only to re-light a tea light candle if it still retains half its wax or more. The reason for this is if there is less than half the wax the tea light may not be able to get hot enough to melt all the remaining wax which will cause an uneven burn.

It is advisable therefore that if your tea light is below half burnt that you discard it rather than relighting it.

Long Lasting Tea Light Candles

You may come across tea lights that are listed as “long-lasting” or even “super long-lasting” that boast burn times of in excess of 8 hours. 

These are normally a little more expensive per candle. They largely achieve a longer burn time by being wider in diameter or taller in height and as such contain a greater volume of wax. They often have higher quality wax used as their base which contributes to the higher price point.

While the allure of an increased burn time may appear appealing it is always worth asking yourself what you intend to use the candle for prior to parting with hard-earned cash. For most domestic use tealights add a bit of ambiance to an evening or an event that is unlikely to last 8 hours.

It may be the case therefore that a cheaper version is more than enough to meet your needs.

For those who need a seriously long-lasting tea light candle, there is now a wealth of battery-operated tea light candles. These are plastic replicas with varying designs of LED flickering flames that can give you the effect without the fire risk.