An Array of 7-Day Candles in a Hoodoo Store
In my former coven, my High Priest and his husband were somewhat famous for asking the rest of us at least once every few months if any of us wanted the spent jars from their 7-day candles. Of course, no one could figure out what to do with them, but their predicament stuck with me. They can’t be the only Pagans who struggle with what to do with the empties. After all, seven-day candles have a firm foothold in the Pagan world. We use them as meditative tools, as eternal flames on altars, as elemental and God and Goddess candles, and even for spell work. And we are just a tiny segment of their market. These things are huge in the Hispanic community. In fact, I know some Hispanic families that consider these candles to be a regular grocery staple, much in the way toilet paper and laundry soap would be.
A lot of people just toss the spent jars in the trash, but they can be recycled, if recycling is available in your area. Most glass recycling programs just have two major restrictions: 1) the glass is soda-lime glass, not borosilicate (Pyrex) and 2) the glass is clean. In my former home in Olympia, you could actually recycle glass with food on it, but you would have to clean out candle containers, so always check with your own recycling provider to see what is permitted.
But my feeling is that if you’re going to go through the trouble of cleaning out a spent candle container, you might as well just refill it yourself. And if you’re going to go through the trouble of refilling one, you might as well learn how to do it well.
The test subjects. I got two in case I broke one in this process. Fun Fact: This Marian aspect is the patroness of Cuba and has been syncretized with the orichá Ochún in Cuban Santería.
This venture, unlike many DIY projects, will not save you money. These candles are readily available in plain white from the Dollar Tree for a whopping $1, or from Walmart or the Dollar General in an assortment of Saints and colors for $1.50 each. I chose to support my local Spanish grocery, where I believe they were supposed to be $2, but I was charged $2.65. The teenager who checked me out was being trained, and my Spanish is just good enough to pick out “white lady surcharge” in her supervisor’s instructions, which deeply amused me. The point, though, is that these candles are so cheap that even with buying “expensive” ones with extra charges, you will spend more on bulk wax than on buying new candles.
Frankly, I think that’s a good thing. If we do it ourselves we get the luxury of choosing wax and wicks that have consistent qualities, whereas the manufacturers of these candles, who operate on slim profit margins, have to make the best of whatever raw paraffin and string they’re sent. As a result, their candles are notorious for their inconsistency. If we pour our own, we will have more control over how they burn and that can be very useful magically, especially if you practice divination from burned candles. We also get more control over what types of wax we get to use, which is especially useful if we want to make smart environmental choices. I made a table below of common environmental concerns associated with the five major waxes used today below. There is a sixth wax that could be used: tallow, or rendered animal fat. It is something, however, that you would have to create yourself. It can also smell a little funny and be sooty depending upon how well it is made, so I haven’t paid it much heed. However, if you sourced your fat from locally-raised, grass fed cow or sheep or from a deer you hunted, it would be about as environmentally friendly as locally-sourced beeswax. If using tallow interests you, you can find instructions on how to render tallow and make candles from it online.
Environmentally, it is hard to beat beeswax–especially if you have a locally-produced source. After that, it’s a bit of a tossup for me personally between soy and coconut. On paper, I think coconut comes out the winner, but I live in walking distance from corn and soybean fields, and there are soy oil and wax producing plants in my state. In theory, it would be my local option, while coconut has a hefty mileage footprint. For me, local is really important. Others may feel the same way about GMOs. Make the choices that are best for you. Personally, I steer away from paraffin for fairly obvious reasons, but I also stay away from palm. Read up on the issues in that industry. It’s terrifying.
But there’s more than just the environment to consider here. There’s also what material is going to work best for the project. So, I made another table, this one with the various physical traits of each wax.
In the end, I opted to use soy wax for this project, as I wanted a more environmentally-responsible wax, but with minimum hassle and a manageable cost. I also thought beeswax was a bit overkill for a container candle. I love the tapers and pillars I make from beeswax, but it really shines (hah!) in those applications. I’ve always been disappointed with every beeswax container candle I have ever made, seen made, or purchased. And with that big decision, it is time to actually start re-filling the candle.
To begin, assemble the following items:
Step 1: Remove the label (if any) from the candle and melt and remove any remaining wax.
Start by removing the label, if there is one. If you have burned the candle before, removing the label will help you to see if the glass has cracked somewhere. Obviously, if the glass has cracked, it should not be re-used. Removing the label at this point also helps to minimize the mess created when paper hits boiling water. The labels on the candles I started out with here were plastic and peeled off easily. They just left a strip of glue on the glass that wiped off without a problem after the jar had been heated and the wax melted. However, different companies have different labels. It is not necessary to completely remove the label and adhesive at this stage, and it could even be easier once the jar has been heated. If you are confident the glass is fine and the label is proving difficult, just remove it later, perhaps after you dump the majority of the wax.
Next, all you have to do is stick the jar in a pot of water and set it to boil. The pot shouldn’t be completely full, as the water may jump out a bit, but you definitely need more than an inch or two. As the jar heats, the wax will melt (and any paper labels and adhesive will soften). When the wax has completely melted, pour it into a trash can or, if you wish to save it, into a clean plastic or glass container. (I actually love using a glass mason jar for this, as I can just pop it into a pot and re-melt the wax straight in it.) Do not pour it into your sink unless you want an expensive plumbing bill and a huge mess. Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel and put it back in the boiling water for a few minutes, then pour it off again. You will likely get rid of another half-teaspoon or so of wax.
At this point, you want to remove any wax residue that remains in the jar. I find it easiest to heat the jar in the water again, and then stick half a paper towel down in it with a chopstick. You move the towel around in jar with the chopstick to absorb the wax and it’s pretty easy to remove by trapping the towel between the chopstick and the jar and dragging it up and out. I find about 3 repetitions gets the job done, with reheating the jar between each towel. You could also line a baking sheet with aluminum foil (to protect the sheet) and some paper towels or bits of brown paper bags (to absorb the wax) and set the jars upside down on the paper. Set them in a cold oven and bring it to about 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit. A good bit of the remaining wax will flow down the sides and be absorbed by the paper by the time the oven is done preheating.
Step 2: Scrub out the jar with an abrasive cleaner. Rinse, dry, and inspect. Repeat if necessary.
When all but the smallest bit of wax has been removed, it’s time to start cleaning the jar. If its wick was held down with adhesive, you do need to remove as much of that as possible as you’ll be using your own later. Many of these adhesives are high-heat and will scrape off with a butter knife if the jar is hot, and most residue can be removed either with isopropyl alcohol or acetone (different solvents for different brands). If neither works, a commercial solvent like Goof Off may.
After tackling the adhesive, you’re in the final stretch. All that really needs to be done at this point is to give the glass a good scrub with an abrasive cleaner like Barkeeper’s Friend, which is fantastic on stainless steel and glass. Using a good amount will definitely clean up any tiny bits of remaining wax as well as any soot or discoloration from the inside, and it should get rid of any remaining adhesive on the outside. (There was no soot on this one, but I have used it on many glass candle containers in the past, and it’s a dream.) Barkeeper’s can’t be used with lots of water, or it loses its abrasive ability; what water remains in the jar and on the brush after a rinse and shake should be plenty. You will, however, have to use a bottle brush for the tall and skinny 7-day candle jar as shown above because it’s impossible to get the right angles and pressure with a standard dish brush. After a thorough scrub, rinse the jar and inspect it for any remaining wax or soot. Scrub again if needed, then rinse and dry the jar.
Step 3: Glue a wick to the bottom of the jar and center the top of the wick with a wick pin or chopstick.
When the glass jars are dry, they are ready to be wicked. And this is the part of the process I am most proud of. Most of the container candles I’ve made in the past have been short with wide tops, so it’s easy to just stick your hand there to affix the wick. But there’s no way to do that with this tall, skinny jar. As I was struggling to figure out a method, I thought it would be much easier if the wick was stiffer so that I could use it like a stick. And that was when I realized I could just slide it into a straw for instant stiffening. It is a bit tricky to hold the straw and the wick and direct them downward fast enough and accurately enough for the wick to be glued in the dead center of the jar…but it is much easier to hold the wick upright and slide the jar over it, looking through the bottom of the jar to make sure the wick gets stuck in the center. So in the end, all you do is slide the wick into the straw, squeeze a pea-sized amount of hi-temp hot glue onto the bottom of the wick tab, turn the jar upside down and slide it over the straw and wick ( which you are holding upright). Stick the wick in the center of the jar’s bottom and hold it for a couple seconds, then turn the jar right side up and remove the straw. Wrap the free end of the wick around a chopstick or grip it in a clip until the wick is fairly taut and straight. Center the wick in the center of the jar opening, and you’re ready to pour in the wax!
Step 4: Measure and the wax and any oils or coloring. (Note: These are not my pictures. This is so fast, I forgot to take a picture of it.)
Once the wicks are set (Or even before, frankly. The wax takes a long time to melt.), you can finally turn your attention to the wax. The jars I am using here are 8.25 inches tall and 7.5 inches in circumference, and I found that about 12-13 ounces of wax was fine. You want the candle to start about an inch down from the glass rim. Weighing is easy. Set the scale to display weight in pounds and ounces, then plunk your pitcher onto the scale and tare it out so that the display shows 0.0 oz as the weight. Then simply add wax a bit at a time until it hits 12 ounces or whatever you want as your target. Add coconut oil and your coloring, then pop the pitcher into a pot of boiling water and let all the wax melt. Remove it from the boiling water and give it a stir: it should probably be close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit at this point. If not, return it to the boiling water and continue heating until 185 is reached. At this temperature, the oil and colorant will more thoroughly incorporate with the wax. Then set the wax aside until it reaches about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, it will be cool enough for stable pouring.
The weighing and melting is easy, but deciding on your “recipe” is a matter of trial and error in order to get the right rate of candle burn. Prior to this, I had made a straight soy candle in a different container and found that it was burning cooler than I expected it would given the wick size I was using. If a wax is burning cooler, a trick for making it burn hotter is to incorporate an oil, such as a fragrance oil. I didn’t want a scented candle, though, so I decided to use coconut oil. Usually soy waxes can handle about 1 ounce of fragrance oil for every pound of wax. Many people recommend also adding a tablespoon of coconut oil (about .5 oz) on top of that to help with the scent throw, so I decided to see how 1.5 ounces of coconut oil impacted the burn. However, my pitcher had a couple ounces of beeswax in it that I was too lazy to melt out, so I left that in. The next candle I made, I used 12 ounces of soy wax and 2 ounces of coconut oil. I was very surprised by how differently the two candles burned.
Top row: The 12 oz soy: 2 oz oil candle after 20 minutes of burning and after 90 minutes of burning. Bottom row: the 12 oz soy: 1.5 oz oil: 2 oz beeswax candle after 20 minutes of burning and after 90 minutes of burning.
It may be hard to see here, but after 20 minutes of burning, the green candle’s wax pool still hadn’t made it across the whole surface, but it was on its way and one side was about 1/4-inch deep. By contrast, the purple candle had a very shallow wax pool that had only just touched one side. After 90 minutes of burning, the green candle’s pool had gone completely across and was about 1/2-inch deep, while the purple candle looked much as the green had after 20 minutes, though perhaps a little shallower. Neither is burning perfectly, but both both are burning just fine and pretty cleanly.
What the different burns mean is that the purple candle (thanks to the beeswax) is burning much more slowly than the green candle, which is burning at about the same rate the original paraffin wax was. In fact, the green candle is burning at the outer reaches of “fast” for me. It is burning well and cleanly, but the wick end is “mushrooming” a little, which indicates its consuming a little more wax than it can cleanly burn. It’s likely that this candle will start to form soot on the glass as it burns down halfway and oxygen starts getting restricted, and I will probably have to blow out the candle periodically and manually trim the wick. With this wax to oil ratio, I probably could have sized down to a “small” wick rather than a medium to get a better burn. Conversely, the purple candle is burning at the outer reaches of “slow” acceptable for me and is on the cusp of sizing up to a large wick. The wax pool will eventually extend to both sides, but in order to insure a good burn, I have to use the foil trick after about 90 minutes of burning because the wax pool won’t grow any more. Ten minutes after that, however, it has a full wax pool which it maintains independently afterwards, so the wick size might be just fine.
The rate at which a candle burns is something to pay attention to if you are striving to make a 7-day candle that will actually burn for 7 days. I am estimating that the green candle would probably burn for 5 days if I didn’t blow it out, but I bet I could get a full 7 days from the purple. The next time I try this, I will shoot for 12 ounces of soy to 1 ounce coconut oil and see how that affects the burn. I am fairly sure that will hit a happy medium for the wick, and I might get a 7-day burn from it.
Step 5: Pour and cool.
Whatever you’ve decided on as your wax “formula”, once it has cooled to 135 degrees Fahrenheit, it is ready to be poured into the container. Ideally, you should try to warm up the container a bit so that the wax cools at about the same rate in its interior as it does its exterior. If the rates are a bit off, some parts of the wax will stick to the glass and make it look like there are “wet spots” on the side. Soy wax is also prone to “frosting” against the glass as the wax solidifies, which some people think looks like mold. Moreover, as the candle cools it will also crack as some sections are cooling faster than others. The top of the candle is especially prone to cracks or “sink holes.
For these candles, I wasn’t too worried about what they would look like on the exterior because of what I was planning to do with them later. These cooling issues don’t really affect how the candle burns. So I let the purple candle cool on the kitchen counter where the ambient room temperature was about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure enough, it developed a big sinkhole, frost and cracks. I did want to take care of the sink hole since the top would be visible, and that is a pretty easy fix. All you do is make the hole a little worse by pushing through it with a chopstick or skewer, then pour a light level of wax over the hole until the top is level. After that, it will cool with a clean top or a smaller hole that can easily be filled by lightly melting the candle top with a heat gun or a hair dryer set on hot heat and low air.
What a difference room temperature vs. warm environment cooling has on the external appearance of the finished candle!
In order to show the difference cooling can have on the final appearance of the candle, I used a different technique for the green candle. I set my oven on its lowest temperature, 150 degrees Fahrenheit. When it came to temperature, I set the wicked jar on a foil-lined sheet pan (so in case it spilled I could clean up more easily) and let it heat for about 5 minutes as my wax cooled to temperature. Then I poured the wax and returned the jar to the oven where I let it sit for another 5 minutes before I turned the oven off. This created a warm, insulated environment that would slowly cool down to room temperature (77 degrees) over the course of a few hours. I went to bed, and the next morning I took the candle out of the oven. It was practically perfect. No frosting, cracks, or wet spots, and only a very tiny hole in the top that looked like a bubble. A quick shot with my hairdryer took care of that.
In the end, I was left with two fantastic candles that I should have taken a glamor shot of before I moved on to decoration. And the cost per candle wasn’t that high either. I got 4 pounds of soy wax from Michaels for $14 with tax (I had a 40% off coupon). And their box of six medium 9-inch wicks was $2.53 with tax (I had a second 40% off coupon). The cost of the hot glue is negligible, so in the end my unit cost was $2.63 cents in wax per candle and $0.42 cents per wick, so a grand total of $3.05 per candle. It may be three times the cost of the cheapest 7-day candle, but it’s hardly at risk of breaking the bank.