Fall is giving way to winter here at the Desert Homestead. The sun goes down early and the winter rains make for some gloomy days. During the day, Barbara keeps the house warm and inviting by baking on a regular basis. Today, apple crisp in the oven will fill the house with one of my favorite odors. But, in the evening and during the days of clouds, snow, and rain, we rely on our candles to bring a measure of joy and a feeling of cozy warmth to our straw bale house in the desert. Despite the cold and wet weather, candle burning season is great!
We love the fragrance of scented candles, but they are expensive. So Barbara has come up with a frugal method of ensuring that we have our much loved candle light and fragrance whenever we choose, with little cost. We do occasionally purchase scented candles and, even more likely, receive them as welcome holiday gifts from friends and relatives who know how much we enjoy them. But most of our candles are “personally modified” by Barbara.
After burning our purchased or gift candles until the wick is a blackened stub at the bottom of a well of unburned wax, the candles often have as much as 25% or more of great scented wax remaining. This holds true of last year’s rehabbed votives, as well. Throwing the remains away would be a real waste, so we rehab the candles.
The first step is to clean up last year’s votive candle holders. Barbara puts them on a pan in our solar oven. You can use the oven in your kitchen, of course. The pan keeps spills from the oven which could hurt the flavor muffins baked in the solar oven or your kitchen oven. What tragedy that would be! A kitchen oven set to about 275 degrees should work fine. Whichever method of melting you use, be careful. Don't burn yourself.
As the old wax melts, Barbara removes the burned wick stubs and wick bases and pours off the remaining wax into a pint glass jar for reuse. This year she accumulated nearly a pint of delightfully scented wax just from our last year’s candles.
Note: It is important to remember that wax and water don’t mix. To clean our used votive holders, we heat them until the wax is just melted and wipe them with a paper towel. Don’t bother trying to wash them in soapy water.
When melting the wax, it’s important to remember that a solar oven can get well up into the 300 to 400 degree range. Don’t neglect your melting wax. If it begins to smoke, which it will if left too long in the solar oven, you have allowed it to get too hot.
During the summer, we look for sales on unscented votive candles and buy a few dozen. Most of our votive candle holders are about the same size and shape, so when we get ready to rehab our candles we want to know how much scented wax will fit in our holders without submerging our new votives, not filling the holder enough, or, worst case, spilling wax over the lip of the candle holder. Barbara does a few experiments with a typical votive holder filled about a third of the way with water. She puts a new votive in the holder partially filled with water.
When the water in the holder just meets the top of the new candle, she notes the level. She then removes the water and dries the holder. Melted scented wax is then poured into the votive holder and the new votive is placed in the melted wax.
Note: Your wax should be just barely melted. If it is too hot, it will melt the new votive, the wick might collapse, and you’ll have a mess.
While occasionally we do use tapers, especially for the dining table in the evening, we prefer our votives for a variety of reasons. We can reclaim unused wax. We rarely have to clean up wax drips from the burning candle. They are less expensive to burn, so we feel very comfortable about having candle light on a regular basis.
We try to isolate our candles by fragrance, keeping sandalwood, bayberry, cinnamon, and vanilla separate as we prepare the candles. But, I’m sure that we wind up with “mystery fragrance” from time to time. As yet, I have not found one of the rehabbed candles to have anything but a delightful scent. You can do your own custom scents by adding some beeswax or some scented oil to the melted wax. Experiment and have fun with your homemade scented candles. For us, this is all part of simple, rural living. There is no rule that says you can’t make your own scented candles in town, as well.