A couple weeks ago I got the idea in my head that I wanted to make my own citronella candles to use outdoors this summer to keep those nasty mosquitoes away. It can’t be that hard, I said to myself, to make a nice little homemade citronella candle. Let’s do it!
Well, once again I learned that the creative process is often a messy, frustrating, and persistent endeavor where you learn as you go, and hopefully still enjoy yourself along the way.
When it was all said and done, I did end up with two very nice little homemade citronella candles, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for a newbie candle maker like me.
Learning the Hard Way – Spillage and Sink Holes in my Candles
For several years we had an outdoor citronella candle that was in a terra cotta pot and my first plan was to try to recreate that style of candle. I still had some votive candles hanging around the house from my daughter’s wedding (3 years ago!) as well as a few old chunks of paraffin wax that I don’t even remember why I bought in the first place. I bought a cute little terra cotta pot from the store and set to work.
In the past when I’ve melted wax I’ve just used the tin can method in a pan of water (see more about that method in the post about Homemade Fire Starters). For this project I decided to just get an old saucepan from a second-hand store that I could dedicate to wax melting projects.
I melted my wax and added some citronella essential oil – so far so good. But when I poured it into my terra cotta pot, it sloshed a little bit and spilled down the edge of the pot. Oh well, I thought, I’ll just scrape that off once it hardens.
Nope, that doesn’t work. Once wax is on terra cotta, it just absorbs right in and it wouldn’t budge. The more surprising thing to me though was the strange sink hole that had formed in the center around my wick. This was not turning out right at all!
Try, Try Again – My Second Candle Attempt
On a positive note, when it comes to candle making and projects with wax you might also have the luxury of just being able to melt down the previous project and start over! And that’s just what I did. I decided to take a hammer to my terra cotta pot, remove the candle inside, melt it, and start over.
My next plan was to get a little tin bucket from the dollar bins at Target for my candle, but instead spotted a couple of cute glass jars that really struck my fancy and bought those instead. At this point I was still assuming the weird sink hole had something to do with the terra cotta pot. I melted down my wax again, poured it into my new glass jars and waited – and was greeted by more sink holes. Boo!
After some internet research (you can check out this article on common candle making mistakes), I found that homemade candles that sink in the middle are almost to be expected and that if you want to get a good looking candle from a “single pour” you should buy specific wax that states it is single pour. Otherwise you should plan on only melting half the wax first and pouring it in your container, and then melting the rest and doing a second pour to cover the sunken area.
The Final DIY Candle Fix
So it looked like a second layer of wax (or a second pour) was going to have to happen if I wanted to finish this project with a decent looking candle. I decided to buy another little package of candle votives from the dollar store so I could do a second pour of wax. I was kind of bummed because the whole point of my project had been to be resourceful and use up some odds and ends of wax and candles I had around the house. But I had come this far, had already spent a little extra on my glass jars, and so decided to press on and not worry about one more little dollar store purchase.
Once again I was back at the stove melting, this time with my four new little candles. I added a few more drops of citronella essential oil, poured the new melted wax on top of my sink holes and hoped for the best. Thankfully, and FINALLY, I had a finished project that was what I was hoping for (although one of the candles still had a teeny bit of sinking in the middle).
So here are my instructions for how to make your own citronella candle based on everything I had to learn the hard way!
Make Your Own Citronella Candle
You Will Need:
- Wax (old candles, dollar store candles, or other wax for melting)
- Candle Wicks
- Container for your candle
- Citronella Essential Oil
- Tin foil to protect your work surface
- Hot glue gun is also helpful
1. Prepare your work surface by laying down some newspapers and/or tin foil. The tin foil in particular works well for any wax spills that might happen as the wax can’t soak through the tin foil.
2. Next, put a wick in the container you will be pouring the wax into. I used waxed candle wicks with metal tabs on the bottom. I secured the wick to the container by putting a little hot glue on the bottom of the metal tab so it would stay in place. I also put a couple of bamboo skewers next to the wick to keep it centered.
2. Next you will melt some of the wax for your candle. If you are melting down purchased or old candles, you might be able to pull the wicks out of them ahead of time. Otherwise you will just have to fish out the wicks from the pan with a wooden spoon once the wax is melted. The best way to melt wax is with some kind of a double boiler method. I used an old saucepan that was in a larger pan of water.
As the water heats in the larger pan, the wax will melt in your smaller inner pan. Once you’ve melted the wax add a few drops of citronella essential oil. For my first melt of wax I used 15 drops of essential oil.
3. Pour the melted wax into your container. I found it worked best when I poured the wax right into the center of the container, not worrying about if it poured over the wick. When I tried to pour the wax more to the side of the wick, it was too easy to accidentally slosh some over the sides. This first pour filled my containers about 3/4 full which was fortunate because I didn’t realize I would be doing a second pour!
4. Once the wax is poured into your container, you will need to let it cool. After a couple of hours of cooling you will probably find the center of your candle has sunk. Now you will melt the rest of your wax, using the same method as before. For my second little pour of wax I added 8 drops of citronella essential oil. Pour this new batch of melted wax into the container over the top of the previously poured wax and let cool. Hopefully after this second pour of wax the top of your candle is more level without too much sinking in the center.
5. Trim the wick as needed and enjoy!
Remember – Do NOT ever pour any unused melted wax into the sink. It will harden up in your sink and in the pipes and cause problems. If you have more melted wax than will fit in your containers, just let it harden up a little bit in the pan and then scrape it out and throw it away, or you could also save it for melting for another project.
So all in all, I think these homemade citronella candles can still be a pretty thrifty project and a good way to use up leftover odds and ends of candles. You’ll probably find the most expensive part of the project is buying the citronella essential oil. For me, I like keeping various essential oils around the house for DIY projects and even though there may be an initial outlay of money at first, I’m always finding creative ways to keep using them so I feel like I get my money’s worth.