Removing Candle Soot from the Wall

Dear Home Ec 101,
I am a 25 years old mother. My daughter just started her terrible twos and I need some me time. A great way for me to relax is to curl up on the sofa once she is asleep, light some candles and put my iPod on. It helps me relax. But about a week ago, while cleaning the house, I noticed that the candles left big black spots on the wall! I tried washing them with every product I have in the house and it’s not working. Do you have any tips for this? I really want to avoid repainting the wall! And I need my candle light, iPod me time.
Signed,
Burnt Out

how to remove candle soot from paint

Heather says:

Oh, I feel your pain, we’re on the tail-end of the third round of terrible twos. (It doesn’t end magically on their birthdays.)

Unfortunately, depending on the paint you have, wetting the walls was probably not a good idea. Soot is oily and once it gets wet, it can become difficult, if not impossible to remove and it is possible that you’ve created a situation where repainting is your best option. This happens. It’s a pain in the butt; file it under live and learn. (That’s the thickest file in my personal filing cabinet, in case you were curious).

Have you tried a dry cleaning sponge? These sponges work a lot like erasers, but a little bit different than the Magic Erasers so many of us use. Unlike Magic Erasers these can be cleaned and reused.

Home Eccers, do you have any suggestions?

Once you have your soot problem fixed, let’s work on not recreating it.

Before burning a candle, trim the wick to ¼ inch and place the candle away from any drafts. A flickering candle is creating more soot than a candle burning with a steady flame. Some scented candles tend to create more soot than unscented due to the oil in the wax.

If you have a fireplace, burning candles in the fireplace is a great option as the smoke and soot is drawn upward.

Don’t get smug saying, “I only buy soy, it’s the environmentally sound candle.” There are tons of environmental issues that go into soy bean farming.

If you research the type of candles you use, looking for one that produces less soot you’re going to find a million articles claiming that soy -no beeswax -no paraffin -no a palm blend is best. It’s mostly about the wick and the quality of the candle itself. Be careful buying cheaply made candles, they are often the worst offenders with soot creation. For the cleanest burning candle, you need a candle with hard wax and thin wick.

how to take care of your walls

Click the picture for more tips!

Finally remember, if soot is landing on your walls, it’s also landing in the ductwork of your home and more importantly your family’s lungs. Make sure you have a high quality filter in the intake of your central air or heat to help reduce the airborne particulate matter. Also be aware that scented candles can trigger headaches in for some people. If you know someone who is prone to migraines only use unscented candles (or none at all) when they are around, as a courtesy.

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.



16 Comments

  1. Jeff on March 28, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Don’t know if this will work for anyone else, but I used very hot soapy water in a bucket and a clean wash rag. The soap was Palmolive. The rag cotton. The water from the tap and it was a little hotter that I could stand. Wash a little then dipping the rag a few times in the bucket squeezing it out to clean the rag as I cleaned. After getting a section of the wall clean I followed with cool clear water and a second cotton rag to remove any soap residue. Then to the next section.

    my wife likes the candles and the scent. Cleaning the walls periodically does not seem to be all that much work but it does require work. But I do have to move the furniture and I do one wall at a time usually days apart till all are clean.

    Also assisting is we have a good quality paint on the walls that will withstand cleaning. If you do repaint, don’t use the cheapest paint. They are not all equal. Get a good quality paint that is made to be cleaned. If you search the internet or go to a paint store you can enquire there.

  2. Judy on July 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    The previous owners of our home painted the powder room a chocolate brown… not a color I would have been brave enough to try, but I liked it and left it…. i hung a multi-tealight candle holder on the wall… and it smoked up the wall all around the intricate design of the metal hanger that it was on… a nice design but not soot on the wall :0 I tried to get it off with numerous products and elbow grease and couldn’t so I just hung the candle holder back up and ignored it… so now here we are a couple of years later and we have sold the home… now the soot has to come off or I have to re-paint the room! no thanks! I found this discussion … I tried the windex (actually a store brand)… it took off most of it… then I followed that up with some Dawn (I did have the name brand of it)…. and it is all gone! Thank you all for your advise!… you saved me a LOT of work!

  3. candles wholesale on December 8, 2010 at 4:36 am

    do u use pure cande?as we know,if u take 100% pure paraffin wax and no stearic acid or palm wax to mix,it will never cause soot. try it,we r the factory to making candle and paraffin wax

  4. Never again on October 16, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Why do people suggest other types of candles instead of answering the question?

    I have the exact same problem and have yet to find an easy solution to getting rid of the soot.

    I have tried TSP, Windex, Mr Clean and a variety of other "miracle" cleaners to no avail. Even those dry clean erasers did not work.

    Looks like I will have to repaint and ban my wife from burning those things.

    • HeatherSolos on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 pm

      I answered the question and gave tips to prevent the problem in the future.

  5. Burnt Out on October 3, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I tried some disposable erasing pads, the store brand ones, and it worked great. Those pads are my new best friends.

  6. Allannaa on October 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Okay, first of all, why are you burning candles that close to your walls?!! Stop that! Second, depending on your paint or wallpaper, you can try the method I use for "oily" stuff.
    1. Windex. Yes, the brand name. Spray it on ABOVE the mark and let it drip INTO the mark. Then spray lower down till you've wiped the mark away. This will work on any paint or vinyl wallpaper. It will not work on "uncoated" papers.
    2. Dawn. Again, yes, brand name, because of the properties of the formula. About 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of water; suds it up, and slather it on, scrubbing with a cloth. As above, works on anything but "uncoated" wallpapers.
    3. Vinegar. Straight, undiluted with water.
    If none of those work, you will have to repaint, alas. But stop burning those candles that close to the wall; doesn't matter WHAT they're made of, open flames close enough to a surface to cause sooting, will get you trouble.

    • Jennifer on January 12, 2016 at 1:49 pm

      I burned a candle on top of a tv cabinet. Not close to the ceiling at all. It left a burn mark on the ceiling. I would never have thought it would travel that far.

      • Heather Solos on January 13, 2016 at 6:32 am

        A couple of things play into that, including the kind of wax and the length of the wick. Some candles burn cleaner than others and won’t leave noticeable soot marks in a single session. That said all candles will create some airborne particulates, they’ll just take a lot longer to be noticeable.

  7. Ronica Skarphol Brownson on October 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Those little metal/ceramic jar candle toppers (they sell near the Yankee candles) really work. They attract the soot so it doesn't end up all over the walls and in your heater's filter.

    • HeatherSolos on October 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      That makes sense, it's just another kind of chimney that directs the soot where it needs to go. Great suggestion.

    • KristenCowles on March 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      They don’t attract the soot, it actually has to do with the air currents in the jar.  if you light a jar you will notice that the flame doesn’t dance when the wax is still high near the top.  As your candle burns down the flame will begin to dance because of the circulating air.  Watch this video, it will explain it all!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sV7nB8Z2xIA&feature=youtube_gdata

  8. fawnahareo on October 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    A former roommate of mine did this to the walls with her cheapo candles, too. You can probably avoid black marks on the wall by burning (good-quality) candles on a coffee table, FAAAAR away from the walls. You might also consider an alternate light source, such as a salt lamp (which use either small lightbulbs or small candles) which would still be soothing but perhaps not so problematic.

    • HeatherSolos on October 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      Right, higher quality candles usually are significantly less messy. Great suggestion with the salt lamp.

  9. silver on October 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I've never heard anything about it being the content of the candle that causes the soot. I've always heard that it was only the wick. Specifically, some of the cheaper candles have metals in the wick and that causes it. I've never looked too much into it, so I don't know how true that is. But I thought I'd share, in case someone could back up or refute that.

    • HeatherSolos on October 1, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      I have heard that, anecdotally, but I wasn't sure so I didn't include the info about metals.

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