Wood Wicks vs Cotton Wicks – Pros and Cons

Once upon a time, choosing a wick was simple as there wasn’t much to choose from. Fast forward to 2022 and the decision can seem somewhat overwhelming. What we do know for sure is that there are two front runners in the world of wicks – wood, and cotton.

We set out to explore them both and look at their pros and cons. Is one better than the other? Does anything else come into the equation when selecting the right wick for you? There is so much to talk about so let’s get cracking.

Wood wicks have gained popularity in recent years due to their uniqueness. They burn slower and their crackling sounds account for their slightly more costly price. Cotton wicks are still very much used by candle makers. Their low maintenance and robust flame make them dependable.

What are Wooden and Cotton Wicks?

  • Wooden Wicks

You may not have even realized that a wooden wick was an actual thing. If that’s the case, it is okay, we are here to explain all! Most of the wooden wicks available on the market come from birch, maple, oak, balsa, rosewood, or cherry. They can be single-ply wood or have a more fancy design such as a spiral effect. Wooden wicks have grown in popularity over the last few years.

  • Cotton Wicks

A cotton wick is probably what the vast majority of individuals think of when we visualize a candle wick. Especially the non-aficionados amongst us. Cotton fibers are intertwined to create the wick for the flame to burn freely on. The fibers uncurl as the flame reaches them, causing the wax to melt evenly. Some cotton wicks have a core of paper and others are pure cotton.

Which Candle Wick is Healthiest?

When considering the pros and cons of wooden and cotton candle wicks, which are healthier will be an important factor. In terms of the flame, wooden wicks do burn much cleaner than cotton. This is due to the lack of carbon build-up that presents itself on the tip of cotton wicks. They also leave less debris behind, just a little ash which comes off easily enough. Even if this spills onto the wax, it shakes off easily once the candle has cooled.

When it comes to the bigger picture of considering our planet, again wooden wicks come up trumps. Cotton isn’t doing the environment a whole lot of good. It requires a great deal of water to grow which impacts water sources. Pesticides are also responsible for some of the pollution found in rivers.

What is the Best Type of Wick for a Candle? Wooden or Cotton

This depends on what you want to get from your candle but we will share the facts with you. This way you can make up your own mind and choose the wick that suits you best.

  • Wooden Wicks

You will often hear about wooden wicks producing a clean burn. This is a big plus. You also get a longer-lasting flame using a wooden wick. The flame burns slower so you get to enjoy your candle for a greater period. Using a wooden wick within a scented candle, pushes the fragrance out more readily, meaning the scent is stronger. This is because the heat gets into the wax more quickly.

One of the reasons people opt for wood is to hear and enjoy that authentic crackling sound. It adds to the overall calming ambiance you want out of your collection of candles. Over the last 5 years or so, wooden wicks have become more sought-after, the crackling sound being one big reason why. People also enjoy the modern look that is achieved through the wooden wick – it is flatter than cotton wick flames.

  • Cotton Wicks

Cotton wicks have been around for many many years and will never be old-fashioned. They provide an even melt pool of wax and caring for a cotton wick is pretty simple. Some companies will pre-trim them for you but even if they don’t, it is quick enough to do.

Most cotton wicks come braided, which allows the flame to burn evenly creating a tunnel effect in the wax. Cotton will usually be coated with wax to assist with the burning process. You will need to trim your wick after each use to remove the mushroom effect you see on the end of the wick.

Cotton wicks are more readily available to purchase than wooden ones. So if you need them quickly without much looking, cotton might be best for you. They are also quicker to light so, again, if easy is what you are after, cotton is your friend.

How do I Choose the Right Wick?

Choosing the right wick can seem a bit of a minefield, right? That’s why we are here though. Choosing the right wick comes down to personal preference. Here are some of the important factors to take into account when choosing your wick.

  • Decide which material you would rather go for. If you are a novice to the world of candle making then you might benefit from beginning with cotton.
  • Research the company you have found to see if they dip the wicks in wax to help with the burning process. Some do and some don’t and it is up to you if you want your pre-dipped or not.
  • It also largely depends on the candle size you have in mind and if it is a pillar or in a container. You need to do your homework and match up the appropriate wick to the diameter of your candle.

There is an extensive list here which is extremely handy.

What is the Most Eco-Friendly Candle Wick?

We know how badly our planet is suffering at the hands of human error. So, let’s turn our attention to how eco-friendly cotton and wooden wicks are. The US banned the sale and importation of lead wicks in 2003 due to how dangerous they were. They omitted harmful toxins that, once breathed in, can cause many issues.

Cotton and wooden wicks are both much safer to burn than lead ever was. Anything natural and with a clean burn is considered eco-friendly. In the world of wicks, we clarify these are cotton, wood, and also hemp. You can help present any soot by keeping your lit candle well away from any drafty areas too. As long as you steer clear of lead and metal wicks, you are helping maintain the health of the planet.

Do Wood Wicks Burn Faster and Hotter than Cotton Wicks?

So, which wick burns the hottest? When you are considering all wick types, you can count on cotton burning the hottest. When you have a wick that is made from 100% natural fibers, with cotton at its core, you will get the most intense heat than any other wick. Just for fun, in comparison, the coolest flame is offered by the zinc wick. Although this one offers rigidity, the overall heat is the coolest of them all.

Wood wicks burn slower than their cotton counterparts which accounts for some of their popularity. Having a longer-lasting candle is a win-win situation. Of course, we also need to apply some logic. It will also depend on the length of the wick and the size of the candle. For the sake of argument, if you used the same conditions for both wicks, the wood one would be burning long after the cotton one.

Are Wood Wicks more Expensive than Cotton Wicks?

Due to their relatively new emergence as a great candle wick, you will find they are pricier than cotton ones. They are not as readily available as their cotton counterparts so companies can get away with charging that little bit extra for them. Also, the materials used to make them can account for the larger price tag. Having said this, we have already emphasized that wooden ones burn for longer. Therefore, the extra dollar or two can be largely justified.

Wood Wicks Pros & Cons

Take a look at our pros and cons lists for both types of wick so you can decide which is the one for you. Remember, your decision will need to take into consideration candle type and the wax preference too.

  • PROS
  • The heat burns more evenly, creating a level melting pool
  • They provide the authenticity of the crackling wood sounds
  • Wood wicks burn more cleanly, with no mushrooming effect
  • Wooden wicks make a stronger candle
  • They give candles a modern edge to them
  • They produce a brighter flame
  • Scented candles allow more fragrance to be distributed when a wood wick is used
  • CONS
  • They are more expensive
  • Wooden wicks take a little longer to light
  • Affected by breezes and drafts quite easily
  • The wick is not very versatile as it is stiff
  • The maintenance of the wood wick is more time-consuming

Cotton Wicks Pros & Cons

  • PROS
  • Cheap to purchase
  • Easy to light and maintain
  • The flame is more robust against drafts
  • Available to purchase more easily than wooden ones
  • Make a better outdoor candle
  • CONS
  • You get the mushroom effect on the end of the wick which needs trimming off
  • Sometimes you will get smoke from the end of the wick if not well maintained
  • Do not burn as cleanly as wood ones
  • Don’t burn for as long as wood wicks
  • Finding 100% natural ones can prove tricky as many companies use zinc

Our Verdict

After scrutinizing every nook and cranny of the wood and cotton wick, what’s our verdict? Here at Flame Stuff, we are all in favor of looking after the environment whilst simultaneously enjoying nice things. In this regard, wood wicks get our vote. Its eco-friendly nature and longer-lasting burn make the extra cents well worth it. And who can resist the crackling sounds while sitting with your favorite tipple on a dark evening?

This doesn’t mean we are opposed to buying cotton wicks, not at all. They are easier to source and more robust once lit, making them another great choice. They need the occasional trim (don’t we all) but overall, they are low maintenance. Cotton wicks are a far better option for outdoors too.

It all boils down to what you want to get out of your candles or which type of candle you are making. We have given you all the necessary knowledge so go forth and make that final decision. With either option, you will enjoy many hours spent by candlelight while enjoying the quiet.

The Final Decision …

Making candles can be a challenging hobby or business. You do need to understand what materials best complement which wax and type of candle. It isn’t always as simple as researching which wick is best as this is very generalized. You need to understand the merits of each wick in comparison to the wax, scent, and candle shape.

It’s a bit like putting a jigsaw together, the pieces need to slot in nicely otherwise the picture makes no sense. You can’t produce a fully functional candle until you’ve carefully selected the materials for the purpose you have in mind. In other words, decide on all the other components of the candle first and then choose your wick. Once you have played around and made a few, choosing everything will become second nature.