My cat and I love each other probably too much. Heck, she’s sitting next to me as I type this right now. We buy her the best food that money can buy, I snuggle her everyday, play with her relentlessly, and clean her litter box (a.k.a The Poo Palace) every single day. While I’ve been able to make most of Stella’s basic functions sustainable, like by composting her renewable wood cat litter, her canned food practice is so so so wasteful. Even though I recycle the cans, it still feels like 24 cans per month is a lot to go through on the regular. Yes, I could switch her to all dry food, but I like the nutritional benefits of her eating grain-free wet food, and I can’t afford fancy raw food that I see at the pet store. But then, what to do with ALL THOSE CANS???? I decided, to turn a few into candles, and I’m really happy with the results!
It wasn’t a huge leap to see a cat food can and think, “I could turn that into a candle.” I really truly thought that this would be relatively easy and straightforward project that just about anyone could do, and don’t get me wrong, it is. It’s also probably one of the most involved DIY projects I’ve ever done because not only did I have to purchase most of the supplies to make the candles, I essentially had to earn a new badge in candle making to do the project and write up a tutorial for you. It turns out there is much more to candle making than picking out a container, sticking a wick in it, and pouring in some wax.
The last time I made anything that resembled a candle was in seventh grade. Those candles were kind you make from dipping a wick in wax repeatedly until you have a long candle. My only other candle experience before that was at a birthday party in elementary school where someone’s parents hired a professional candle maker to help us craft candles with real flowers in them for mother’s day. It was not my favorite craft because A) it was super complicated and involved for a birthday party for elementary aged children and I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing B) I didn’t even get to keep my candle, the peer pressure to give it to my mom was too great.
I’ve been seeing candle projects float around the internet for years, typically from upcycled materials, and I’ve definitely pinned my fair share of them. I thought after my minuscule candle-making experiences as a kid that this project wouldn’t be too difficult to get the hang of. But again, it turns out that candle-making is more of a science than an art. Regardless of the complexities, my research paid off because these candles burn beautifully. Before I lit one I was paranoid that they would burn fast like tea lights, making them unenjoyable for multiple uses, but I was wrong. These candles burn well, and after 30 minutes of burning, I only noticed a small dent. I wouldn’t expect hours and hours from them either, but it’s safe to say that they can be enjoyed. Plus, they make great gifts. Who doesn’t like candles?
Here are some things I learned about candle making that you might find useful:
- You need to purchase the right wax depending on whether you’re making a container candle or a candle in a mold. Molded candles need a harder wax so they can stand upright.
- The diameter of your container determines the wick size you want to purchase. I know! It turns out that you can’t just stick any old wick into your container, you need to know what your buying or your candle won’t burn evenly. This handy-dandy calculator will take the diameter of your container and the wax you intend to use and spit out the kind of wick that you want to buy.
- If you’re using standard 4-inch cat food or tuna fish cans for this project like I did, I’ve linked to the wax and wicks that I purchased below so that you don’t have to become a candle making expert.
- Soy wax is more ecofriendly and softer than other waxes, so I recommend it.
- CandleScience.com is a great resource for all your candle making projects, I highly recommend browsing their tutorials.
- Cat food or tuna fish cans, washed thoroughly and completely dry
- Soy Wax
- Candle making pitcher
- Hot glue gun
- Popsicle sticks longer than the width of your cans
- Medium sized pot
- Access to a cooking range, stove, or hotplate
- Decorative paper
- Wood or Metal utensil for stirring wax that you don’t care about.
- Paper towels or old rags for cleaning up
- 1 intact wrapper from the can to use a template for paper covering
- Tweezers (for picking out stay debris before your candle dries)
- Thermometer (most professional candle making tutorials will suggest having one, I didn’t use one and my candles turned out fine. Just don’t let your wax burn)
- Essential oils for making your candles smell nice
- Spray paint (if your cans are a boring metallic color and not gold like mine, you might consider spray painting them gold, rose gold, or silver for a more polished look before you pour your wax in.
- Using a hot glue gun, dab some hot glue to the base of each wick bottom and glue them into the center of each can.
- Place your popcicle stick against the wick, balancing it on each end of the can, and use a clothespin to hold it in place. This is done to keep your wick upright as you need your wick to be straight for the candle to burn properly.
- Fill your medium pot half way with water and place on stove. Turn the heat to med-high. Fill your canister with soy wax and place canister inside pot with water. The wax will start melting relatively quickly. I stirred it with a separate popcicle stick. When your water starts boiling, turn the heat down to med low. You don’t want to burn your wax.
- When the wax is completely melted, take out of the pot and add your essential oils if you want scented candles. You may want to use more essential oils than you think you need, my candles turned out only lightly scented. Give the wax a quick stir to distribute the oils.
- Pour wax into cans, making sure to end before the inner ridge.
- Repeat the wax melting and pouring until all your cans are full of wax. At this point, walk away. Go eat lunch, read a book, take a shower, just don’t watch your candles because it’s a little agonizing.
- When candles are hard and cool, cut the wicks down to size, I left mine about a half an inch.
- Using the original wrapper you saved as a template to cut new wrappers from decorative paper for your candles. I used scraps of paper I already had on hand.
- To glue the wrappers on, wrap the wrapper around the candle and dab hot glue to the ends of the paper and secure. Don’t glue the entire piece of paper, it’s unnecessary.
- You now have beautiful tea lights!
- If your wax gets a hot enough, it will melt the hot glue holding the wick inside your candle, essentially ruining your candle attempt. If this happens, pour the wax back into the canister and wait a few minutes for the wax to cool. You’ll have to reglue the wick of that candle.
- If you have pets (and if you’re doing this tutorial you probably do…) stray hairs might fly into your freshly poured candles. You can use tweezers to pull them out before the candle has cooled.
- Your cans will be very hot when you pour the wax in, and will also be very hot when your candles are lit (just like tea lights). The paper on the outside can help make them easier to pick up, but you prefer to keep your candles bare, use caution when handling.
- Whatever you do, don’t put your essential oils in the wax while your canister is on the burner. Essential oils go rancid pretty quickly once exposed to extreme heat and their smell will fade.