When we first launched our candle line (as Disorderly Candle Co.), I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go. At the time, we were working hard at building Disorderly Decor (RIP), and I was trying to save money to leave a full time job that was draining every ounce of my spirit and drive.
Needless to say, it was important to me that we go bare bones with our first launch, I needed to stick to as tight a budget as possible. Even though I knew (at least, hypothetically) it was important to fully test my candles (wicks and fragrances) and even though I read through article, after article, after article on how to properly perform these tests, I was impatient, and tbh a little overwhelmed with all the research.
I want to share our origin story to help other makers discovering the science to what may initially just seem a fun side hobby. I think it’s incredibly important to bring insight and transparency to a space that can sometime feel overwhelmingly competitive and isolating. We’ve put together three major candle launches since we started in 2021, so we’ve been through the testing and positioning process a few times, and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!
Without further ado, let’s dive into what worked (and what didn’t) with our first few candle launches and what we do now!
Alright, first things first: Picking your vessel!
This might seem obvious, but it’s not something I immediately thought of. Like I mentioned above, I needed our first launch to work, and I needed to not spend a fortune making it happen. I ended up buying a crate of 8oz mason/jelly jars from Target.
This was fine, and I think shopping in small quantities like this can actually be a great option for small businesses just starting out. The problem for us was that these jars weren’t actually the same jars I knew I wanted to eventually be using. I had always loved the look of glass amber jars, but I figured that I could just do my launch with these mason jars, and once they sold and I had made back some capital, I would invest in the nicer jars.
This makes sense in theory but, in reality, this meant that within a month, I had to do not one, but TWO wick tests, since our amber jars where a lot wider, and thus needed a larger wick.
Lesson #1: If you know the vessel you actually want to use for your first candle launch, just take the plunge and order a few to test on, it’ll save your time and money later.
In a different life, I still love these little mason jar bbys. They will always hold a special place in my heart for being the beginning. But we’ve grown a lot since this point.
As I mentioned, shortly after this first lineup, I took the plunge and ordered over 100 amber glass jars from Amazon, since the fall season was in full swing, and I wanted to put together a last minute Halloween collection. These were the jars we used (and still use for some scents) for the longest period of our candle history. I’ll talk more about this when I get to the lessons we learned while wicking, but I definitely made some mistakes here too. In hindsight, I really should have just ordered 1 pack and figured things out before taking the risk on ordering over 100 jars, but we got lucky.
I don’t think I truly figured out the importance of identifying the vessel before anything else until our most recent re-brand. When we transitioned to our newest collection, I purchased 10 tester jars of each size (even though they were a fortune individually to not buy in bulk) so that I could fully test them before making a commitment to them. At the end of the day, I think another lesson here is timing.
Lesson #2: Don’t rush into a launch. You need to make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time to test and explore your options.
Here’s a little timeline of our first two candle launches:
To reiterate, I gave myself 2 weeks from ordering materials FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER to then pouring our first batch of candles.
Launching the amber jars, it may seem like we had more time, but if memory recalls, even less testing went into those initial formulas *smh*.
This isn’t good, and in the end, you’re probably going to wind up with fragrance blends that could be better (hot throw, anyone??), wicks that don’t work their best, and maybe even wax that looks like it came down with pox (soy wax is TRICKY y’all).
Take. Yo. Time. It’s not a race. The industry is already saturated, so in my case, all I did was rush an average product to the market, that didn’t have a whole lot of intention or thought backing it up.
If I could re-do our first launch, this would be a realistic timeline, knowing what I know now.
Alright, so we’ve covered the importance of a realistic timeline, what’s next?
Picking a wax- wait, there’s different types of wax?!
Ok, sorry for the cheese. Yes, I’m pretty sure if you’re going into a candle making business, you are at least a little familiar with the different types of wax. Here’s a short list of the most common waxes, and some brief strengths and weaknesses of each:
- Paraffin Wax
- Paraffin wax is made from a petroleum by-product (yummy), and is a pretty affordable wax that’s generally easy to work with. Paraffin wax candles tend to burn pretty quickly, compared to some other options on this list.
- Soy Wax
- Soy wax is usually 100% all-natural, vegan, and eco-friendly. Soy wax is a bit more expensive than paraffin. It holds fragrance very well, and it pretty easy to work with finding a good fragrance throw but note that coloring the wax is a little more tricky. Soy candles burn slower and cleaner (less sooting) than most other waxes. Soy wax is a lot softer than other waxes, and thus has more frequent abnormalities in it’s appearance when it cools. Best used in containers.
- 100% all-natural, and made during the honey making process, beeswax is a great natural alternative to paraffin wax. It offers a much harder wax composition, making it a great contender for pillar candles, unlike soy. However, beeswax is VERY expensive, and it is not vegan, if that is important for your brand.
- Coconut Wax
- Coconut wax is made from hydrogenated and refined coconut oil. It is a firmer wax, and doesn’t have any odour, unlike Soy. Also unlike soy, it tends to have a bright white color. It is also one of the most expensive waxes on our list.
I decided early on that I wanted to work with soy wax. Recall the hubris before? I simply determined that I wouldn’t have trouble working with soy, and that was that.
Lesson 3: Soy wax is difficult AF, and there’s so many intricate differences between soy wax blends.
I ended up testing and working with a total of 5 soy waxes before landing on the one I still use today. Big mistake buying 10-11lb bags, just assuming that they would all work the same.
With soy wax, you have a lot of intricate differences between brands and as long as you have the patience and time to modify your process until you nail it, you’ll be fine!
We have jar, and we picked a wax, lets get wicky!
I’m not going to play around here. Let’s get our lesson out of the way.
Lesson 4: Wicks are not all made equal. There are so many different types and considerations to make and choosing between cotton and wood is just the beginning.
For us, the choice between cotton and wood was pretty simple, and pretty practical. It came down to cost. I knew that I could get cotton wicks from Candle Science for somewhere between $0.09-$0.25, and I stopped there. When I first started testing, I didn’t know what wax I was going to use (that should be an honorary lesson 4.5, btw), so I didn’t really understand how even different soy waxes burn differently. I ended up ordering 6 different wick sizes to test with, and luckily all seemed to work relatively well in my first wick test (albeit, before I really learned how to wick test properly). I went with the one that I thought worked the best, and the rest is history.
I need a whole other blog to really go into how this testing should have been done, and what this process really should have looked like. But the lesson was learned after a few customers reached out with varying issues. Some candles simply started tunneling (i.e. the flame was not large enough to warm the wax all the way to the edge of the jar); On the other hand, some had a massive flame that ended up burning way too hot (the wick was too large).
Candle wicking can be a goldilocks situation: under-wicked, over-wicked, and just right.
Testing now, here’s the key points we look for:
- Flame should be about 1” tall, and it shouldn’t be flickering a lot (we call it a dancing flame)
- After ~2 hours of burning, the wax should be melted across the top of the container reaching all edges
- The melt pool shouldn’t be too deep (I wouldn’t want it to be more than 1”, but I’ve seen some guide recommend no more than ¼”)
- The wax should be burning cleanly at the flame, i.e. there should not be smoke or soot visibly rising from the flame while it’s burning
- After the candle has been fully burned from top to bottom, there shouldn’t be any wax stuck along the edges, it should all be fully consumed
Now, our wick testing is a lot more extensive (possibly overboard). For our upcoming collection, I tested a total of 25 wicks to find our perfect (or closest to perfect) wick situation.
I can’t speak to the different types of wood wicks, but here’s some basics I found exploring cotton wicks:
- CD wicks: flat braided, compatible with most waxes; coated in a “proprietary wax blend”, so if you are trying to be conscious of only using 100% natural waxes, this might not be a good fit for you.
- ECO wicks: built similarly to the CD wick, but is coated in a natural vegetable wax, rather than paraffin.
- LX wicks: designed to reduce mushrooming, reduce smoke and soot, and is relatively self-trimming. We’ve found these wicks to be the most versatile, and a bit more forgiving when not properly sized to the container.
Candle Science has several amazing wick guides (this one too!) that I found really helpful when starting out, and I really used the heck out of this guide from Lone Star Candle Company when I was trying to figure out our newest jars.
Alright, last lesson (for now): fragrance is everything.
Every step up to this point matters. At the risk of oversimplifying, it really matters that your candle works. But something that is SO key, is making sure you’re also testing fragrance oil in all of your sample candles. Fragrance oil is a key determinate in how a candle burns, and even slight changes in the composition of any of the components of your candle can seriously impact the way that it burns. In some of our first samples, and even in some of my early tests for our newest launch, I forgot how critical this was.
Often, fragrance oil (FO) will put more strain on your wick to warm the candle. This means that if you were using, for example, an LX 16 wick in your test jar without FO, adding a 9% FO load may mean that you need to size your wick up to an LX 18 to achieve the same quality burn. Again, it all comes down to testing, and patience with yourself as you make even tiny tweaks in your process.
Lesson 5: Fragrance blend WILL make or break everything else.
Let’s wrap this up.
That was a lot, thanks for baring with me on our first long-form blog! These were the top 5 lessons I learned when first starting out, but are by no means the only 5 I’ve learned over the past year of candle making. Let me know in the comments, or over on our Insta if you found these tips helpful, and if you’d like to see a part 2!