5 Types of Candles and Where to Use Them

Although the soft, dancing glow of a candle's flame can transform an ordinary space into something extraordinary, different types of candles look best in different settings. For example, tea lights and votives create different looks than tapers and pillars do, which means you can perfect your decorating right down to the last wick if you know where to place each type of candle in your home.

1. Tea Lights

Burn time: three to five hours

Tea lights are small, circular candles encased in a metal cup. The cup holds liquid wax when the entire candle is melted. These candles don't put off a lot of light, but they are easy to contain and create a soft flicker. Although they're designed to heat tea and edibles, like fondue, these tiny candles can pack a powerful style punch if you use them creatively. Most tea lights are white, although it is possible to find colored ones.

You can choose from tea light holders that distribute light or decorative tins that create dynamic scenes. Tea lights look great clustered on a tray, mixed in with pretty floral displays or in single holders as dramatic accent pieces that look lovely whether or not they're lit.

2. Votive Candles

Burn time: ten hours

Votive candles are small, cylindrical candles that fit neatly into votive holders. If you burn a votive without a holder, you won't get several hours of burn time; instead, the wax will spill out and pool at the bottom, where it can't burn.

These candles, which are taller than tea lights, are generally available in a variety of colors; that makes them great accent pieces. Votives look best on small spaces, like desks and coffee tables because of their compact size. They're great for a nightstand, a bathroom counter or cozy nooks on countertops where not much else fits.

3. Taper Candles

Burn time: 12 hours

Taper candles are some of the most formal candles available. They're long and slender, designed for use in a candelabra or holder. A standard taper candle measures just under an inch at its widest point (7/8 of an inch, to be exact) and is between six and 12 inches tall. Unlike their stouter counterparts, tapers can't stand on their own; they need to be in a holder before you light them.

Choosing the right holder is essential if you're using tapers. A candelabra that holds multiple candles can be a dramatically beautiful addition to a formal dining table, while a few single candle holders create a romantic ambiance in a more intimate space.

4. Pillar Candles

Burn time: Varies

Pillar candles range in size from slightly larger than a votive to so large that they require five or more wicks to burn properly. It's important that you burn a pillar candle for at least three to four hours each time you light it; otherwise, you'll cause what's called "tunneling," in which the wax around the wick burns and creates a tunnel. The rest of the wax stays solid and never burns.

These candles are perfect additions to nearly any space. Try placing a few pillars of varying heights on your coffee table, desk or dresser for depth and style, or put a single, large pillar in the center of your breakfast table to create a cheerful environment.

5. Flameless Candles

Burn time: Until the bulb goes out

Typically used as an electric alternative to traditional candles, flameless candles are available in several shapes, sizes and colors. You can find flameless tea lights and votives, as well as non-burning pillars and tapers.

Most flameless candles are battery-operated and use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, to create a flame-like appearance. Some even flicker as genuine candles do. Flameless candles don't pose a fire hazard like their waxy counterparts do, and they're often more affordable because they last longer than candles that burn away after several hours.

Fragrances, Colors and Other Considerations

Choosing the right candles is essential to pulling off a perfectly polished look in any room. Because they add warmth and depth to your decorative scheme, and because they come in a wide range of fragrances and colors, it can be tough to choose what's right.

When you're determining which candles are the best fit for each room in your home, consider:

  • How much space you have to work with and whether the size of the candle will complement or detract from other decorative elements
  • What color palette you're working with. Remember, it's okay to have a candle serve as a focal point, so you can choose something bold and outside your palette
  • Whether fragrance is appropriate or not. In a guest room, for example, fragrance-free is the way to go because you can't be sure whether a certain scent will appeal to your guests
  • Whether you should opt for flameless candles for safety reasons

Putting the right mix of candlelight in your home can create the perfect ambiance for entertaining or enjoying your alone time. You don't have to put candles in every room, but they make terrific focal points and accents that work hand-in-hand with your style when you make the right choices.

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