What is a candle warmer? Everything you need to know about warming vs burning

Experts explain what is a candle warmer, including the safety benefits of this flame-free method

Two candle warmer lamps
(Image credit: Amazon)

“What is a candle warmer?” you ask, wondering why you’d need anything besides a standard lighter or even a match. Trust us, a candle warmer is so much more than a way to light a candle.

This is a way to alleviate your stress every time you leave a room and wonder if your candle is going to go rogue and somehow ignite your drapery across the room. It’s a foolproof trick to never, ever wonder if you remembered to blow out the candle before leaving the house. And it’s the best thing you can do to throw fragrance throughout your space without burning through your candles in record time.

To get into the specifics of what a candle warmer is, how it works, and whether it’s actually a safer option for burning candles, we talked to home and candle experts for their perspectives on 2024’s hottest candle device. Plus, we rounded up a few of the best candle warmers on the market right now.

What is a candle warmer and how does it work?

Candle warmers do exactly what their name indicates — they warm candles. But it may not have occurred to you that simply warming one of the best candles could bring the same end result as taking a match and lighting a wick. 

“Candle warmers work by heating a candle or wax melt to release its fragrance without the need for a flame,” says Melanie Summers, professional organizer and owner of I Speak Organized. “This method not only maximizes scent dispersion but also extends the life of the candle.”

The candle warmer can either use a bulb to heat the candle from above, or it may have a warming plate below, acting as a coaster to heat up the candle. While igniting the wick of a candle with a match or lighter will use the wax as fuel and melt it away, a candle warmer heats the wax to replace the fragrance, but it does not burn it. A candle warmer also does not cause the wax to evaporate. The only thing that disappears — eventually — is the fragrance, but most experts will tell you that the candle warmer actually extends the lifespan of your candle

“With a candle warmer, the wax melts slowly, often resulting in a longer-lasting fragrance compared to burning a candle, which consumes the wax more quickly,” says Tay Baker, founder and owner of Claranda Tay Candles Co.

Are candle warmers safe?

Summers, who specializes in home and organizational strategies with an ADHD perspective, points out that candle warmers are a safer home fragrance option because they reduce the risk of an unattended open flame (who hasn’t walked away from a candle only to scurry back into the room?). She notes that safety with a candle warmer starts with proper placement. If you see a wobbly surface, keep on looking for the next spot.

“Ensure that the warmer is on a stable, heat-resistant surface away from flammable materials,” says Summers.

Also, pay attention to the size of the base on the candle warmer. Not every base is designed to accommodate every size of candle. “Use candles that fit well within the warmer’s design to ensure even heating and prevent spillage,” says Baker.

And don’t get carried away thinking that no flame means no heat. Kate De Palma, Founder of Scented Designs Candle Co., explains, “Keep in mind that its surface and the candle vessel itself can get hot. Without the flame of a burning candle to remind us that it's hot, it may be tempting to move or adjust it while it's not safe to touch.”

When it comes to children and pets, candle warmers can be safer than an open flame, but that doesn’t mean there’s zero risk. A curious child can easily burn themselves on a hot warmer. Baker advises keeping both candle warmers and their cords out of reach of children, while also educating them on what it is and that it is hot. 

Summers adds, “It’s wise to look for models with automatic shut-off features for added security.”

How to use a candle warmer

Candle warmers are super easy to use. If you have a candle warmer that’s similar to a lamp with a bulb above the candle, you’ll place the candle on the base, turn it on, and the bulb will slowly heat the wax, which releases the fragrance. Many of these candle warmers are dimmable so you can choose how much you want the light to heat the wax (pro tip: the higher temperatures will always throw more scent). Others have a timer so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn it off. 

If you have a candle warmer that looks like a coaster, you’ll place the candle on the base, turn it on, and it will heat the candle from below. Both of these candle warmer styles will heat the wax evenly, so you won’t have to worry about the tunneling that happens when you use a match or lighter to ignite a wick.

After the first use, you’ll be hooked, especially when you realize your celeb-approved candles are lasting twice as long. “Candle warmers are a great option for filling a room with fragrance because they consistently release the scent over time without the need to blow a candle out after the recommended 4 hours-at-a-time maximum burn time,” says De Palma. 


How long can you leave a candle warmer on?

Generally, you should only leave a candle warmer on for about four hours, which is the same as a candle that’s burning. However, the beauty of a candle warmer is that you can get one with a timer that you can set for four hours so you don’t have to remember to turn it off.

How hot does a candle warmer get?

While it doesn’t have an open flame, a candle warmer still gets hot enough to burn you if you touch it! The average candle warmer will reach temperatures of 100 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, with some getting as hot as 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep all fingers, toes, and pets away.

Chances are, you’re already looking into putting your beloved Diptyque candle on a candle warmer rather than ever getting a match near it again. If you’re considering buying a candle warmer, you’ll want to consider the price (there are tons of affordable, under $50 options out there!), bulb wattage, whether it has a dimmer and a timer, and, of course, style. 

As long as TikTok keeps catapulting the reputation of candle warmers, retailers will keep trying to beat each other to the punch to make the most stylish and tech-savvy of models. And that means you have options to get a candle warmer that’s just as chic as your most precious candle.

Heather Bien
Freelance writer

Heather is a lifestyle content creator and writer who grew up in Richmond, VA, and went on to the University of Virginia, where she studied Art History and Architectural History. She and her husband, Adam, split their time between their condo in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington, DC, and their cottage on the Rappahannock River near Urbanna, VA. She loves good food, frequent travel, and a homemade latte.