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How To Make Candles From Recycled Wax

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When I first moved into my off-grid cabin, no one had lived there for more than 10 years. However, the previous tenants did leave behind a couple hundred candles and cases of glass jars with no lids. I used candles and lanterns to get by that first winter and by spring there were two things I had in abundance: Empty jars and little burned candle stubs.

I decided to make some gifts for Mother’s Day that year, and I put my seemingly useless assets to work. I ended up with beautiful and unique gifts that cost literally nothing. There’s not a whole lot to it, but making candles is a great hobby. If you burn candles regularly or have beehives, then you’re halfway there. You also will need glass jars, cotton string and a pencil.

The first step to making these candles is to save up, and then clean, your leftover candle stubs. Take a sharp knife and slice the stub in half along the wick.  Pull out the wick and cut the rest of the stub up into dime-sized pieces.  You also can scrape off any parts of the candle that are burned or discolored.

If you have leftover jar candles with wax in the bottom, don’t try to cut it out using a knife. You risk shattering the jar if you do. All you need to do is put the jar in a double boiler for a few minutes until the wax is soft. Scrape it out with a spoon and let it dry again on parchment paper. Or you can make it into a liquid and pour it out. You might want to strain the wax if you pour it out. This can filter out the remnants of the wick and anything else that might be in there, like dead lady bugs or pet hair.

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Once you have a lot of wax saved up, find yourself a nice glass jar with a wide mouth. You also can get more creative with the container, using old coffee mugs or small bowls. Just remember that it needs to be fireproof.

You will probably need more wax than you think, so be sure to save up plenty. If you have a jar in mind and want to fill it with the wax to be melted, you will need to have at least twice as much as the jar holds in dry wax.

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So now you’ve got tons of wax laying around waiting to be turned into candles. The first couple I made I did in a double boiler on the range top. After that, I used a double boiler on top of the woodstove. No matter where you are going to heat the wax, a double boiler is necessary. Put some water in a large pot and keep it at a simmer. Then take the wax and put it in a smaller container and place it in the water.  The wax will take a while to melt and you will most likely need to add in wax as you go. Stir it once in a while, just to get the big chunks off the bottom.

While the wax is melting, you can get the rest of the setup ready. Take your jar and clean it inside and out. Once the wax goes in, any dirt or stains on the glass will stand out in contrast, unless you’re lucky enough to have a stain the same color as the wax you’re using.

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Now it’s time to prepare the wick. Take the string and tie it tightly around the middle of the pencil. Cut the string to length so that it hangs just above the bottom of the jar.  If the string is coming off of a spool or has a lot waviness to it, just dampen the string with a little water to make it hang as straight as possible. Holding the pencil horizontally across the lip of the container, center the string in the middle of the jar as best you can. If you want, tape the pencil to the jar so that it doesn’t shift. If the wick is too close to the sides of the jar, you run the risk of the glass cracking when the candle is lit. This also can potentially cause hot wax to shoot all over the area.

Once the wax is uniformly melted, slowly pour it into the jar. If you’re using a really large jar, you can even make layers of different colors at this point, letting each color dry before adding the next layer. Once the wax cools, it will most likely leave a hole in the center of the candle because it has shrunk during the cooling process. So during the initial pour, don’t fill the jar all the way to the top. Leave a little room so that you can re-melt the leftover wax and fill in the hole in order to have a nice smooth top.

With a large jar you may have to wait a day or two until the wax is completely hardened. But you can cut the wick from the pencil as soon as you’re sure it won’t fall into the liquid wax and disappear.

This is a great way to recycle what would otherwise be junk, and there is an almost endless variety of candles that you can make. You can add some essential oils or leftover scented wax for a subtle aroma, or make coordinated stripes with colored wax. No matter what your finished product looks like, it is a great way to spend an evening getting rid of garbage by turning it into something useful.

Have you ever made candles from recycled wax? What advice would you give?

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  1. When I was a kid we made candles from paraffin, crayons, string, ice, and a half-gallon milk carton. Melt
    crayons (nowadays, you have to check they are non-toxic) and paraffin until have the color you want. Pack milk carton with cracked ice. Pour molten wax into carton. Suspend string by pencil across open top of carton. Wait until cool. Clip string close to pencil. Pour out water from carton, and peel carton carefully off the candle. Resultant candle is a structural oddity. They were pretty at Christmas, made in red and green. Today, the non-toxic crayons might better be saved for waxing cheese for storage, and just use candle stubs or paraffin like in this article.

  2. When I was a kid, I learned to make cool lighting systems from LED’s and batteries. Candles? Uh, I’m not living in the 19th century am I?

  3. I served on my (former) church’s altar guild for a number of years. Every week we had to change out the “eternal candle” (the one that usually hangs from a fixture and burns for 8 days in its own glass), plus the regular wax candles that are placed in various types of candle holders and discarded when they burn down to 2-3″. The church just discarded all the empty glasses. In fact, they’d leave the 8-day candles burning in the sacristy until all the wax was consumed then discard the glass. Not when I was there. I collected dozens of the glasses, and when there was wax left in the bottom, I extinguished the flame and took that home in the glass.

    I stacked the glasses into a large metal pot with some water around and melted the wax in the glasses. (I used an electric range and kept the heat low. This is a perfect project for the positive induction cooking appliance currently advertised on TV where the temp can be precisely controlled.) Then I poured the liquid wax into an old crock pot to be used to pour back into the washed used glasses.

    This recycling process also produced a large collection of wick holders—little metal disks that sit in the bottom of the glass containers and keep the wick centered and bottomed. Simple metal washers would probably work as well and are really a good idea to keep the wick centered.

    Where I currently live, I have the good fortune to be near a large company that sells all manner of candle-making supplies (where that church bought its supply) and offers classes on candle-making. It can be a rewarding hobby and a great recycling project. A search for “candle-making supplies” just called up over 2 million hits, so anyone interested can find good wicks and any other items that might not be readily available in the home.

  4. Years ago — late 60s or 70s, I got involved in candle-making as a hobby. One type of candle that was popular at that time was the “sand candle.” One got a large bucket or tub, filled it with clean fine wet sand, then dug a hole in the sand. Using something like the top of a glass soda bottle (they were still glass in the 60s), we’d poke 3-4 holes in the sand to become “feet” for the candle, then pour in a quantity of melted wax and let it harden. The tricky part was to insure the feet were all at the same level so the candle would sit level.

    As indicated in the article above, this often left a depression or void that had to be filled in after the first cooling. Also, these candles were usually fitted with multiple wicks, since they were so large, so they’d provide more light.

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