17 natural materials you can use to make your own candle wicks at home! Learn how to make your own candle wicks with natural materials. The following 17 natural DIY candle wicks are all natural, sustainable, non-toxic (not treated with chemicals like store-bought candle wicks), easy to make, cheap, readily available and of course work as wicks for candles and oil lamps! You probably have the materials for your homemade candle wicks lying around the house or you can simply collect them in nature.
I love to make homemade candles and oil lamps with DIY candle wicks!
After making homemade candles wicks with cotton string, rushlights with DIY rush wicks and leftover cooking fat, and homemade tallow and beeswax candles, I now tried which natural materials work as candle wicks and which don’t.
After using rushes as natural wicks for the first time I was amazed how well they work as homemade candle wicks. No wonder that rush wicks have been used since ancient times! Rush wicks don’t smell, don’t soot and burn for a long time with a steady flame. So rush wicks inspired me to try different natural materials to make DIY candle wicks.
‘It appears that the word rush was formerly sometimes used as a synonym of wick. Thus Baret, writing in 1580, speaks of “the rush weeke, or match, that maintaineth the light in the lampe.”‘ (Gardeners Chronicle & New Horticulturist, 1874)
You can make homemade candle wicks with all kinds of natural materials like wood, rushes, nettles, cotton, moss or thistle fluff! I tried 26 natural materials to make DIY candle wicks but only 17 of the natural candle wicks worked! My favorite homemade natural candle wicks are rushes, braided cotton string and wood splinters wrapped with cotton for wax candles; and moss, thistle fluff and cattail fluff for oil lamps.
You can use the natural DIY candle wicks for homemade beeswax candles, tallow candles, oil lamps or emergency candles.
Natural Wicks For Wax Candles Vs. Oil Lamps
Braided Wicks For Wax Candles
After collecting your natural candle wick materials, make your DIY candle wicks. All the following natural homemade candle wicks – except rushes, wood splinters and orange pith – are braided together in a simple 3-strand braid. Braided wicks are the best for wax candles because braided wicks burn better than just twisted wicks. Additionally, braided wicks are also self-consuming which means that you don’t have to trim the candle wicks with scissors.
‘A flat wick’ gives ‘much better and clearer light, with less smoke, than a round one that consumes the same quantity of oil.’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855)
Before braiding you have to prepare some of the natural candle wick materials: e.g. you have to cut paper and bark into strips or twist fluffy fibers into a string. See below for detailed instructions.
Natural Wicks For Oil Lamps
Some of the natural candle wick materials – like moss, thistle fluff & cattail fluff – can’t be made into braided wicks. But you can still use the fluffy mass as wick in a DIY oil lamp. These natural wicks for oil lamps burn with a steady flame that doesn’t soot.
But of course you can also use all other natural candle wicks in oil lamps. Braided cotton string and rush wicks are my favorite DIY wicks for oil lamps.
How Thick Should I Make DIY Candle Wicks?
To find out the best wick thickness, you should make some tealight-style test candles. If in doubt, it is better to make the candle wick too thin than too thick.
The thickness of the wick depends ‘on whether the candle is desired to burn quickly or slowly. […] if I wish the candles to burn faster or slower, and therefore to give a greater or lesser light […] then I use more or less yarns in each strand of the platted wick […] it will be desirable, when commencing with any cord, to try a few candles first, to ascertain whether the combined wick is too strong, or too weak’ (A Treatise on Chemistry Applied to the Manufacture of Soap and Candles , 1856).
‘If the wick be large, a great deal of carbon vapour remains unburned in the interior of the flame, and breaks out at the top in the form of smoke […] The smaller the wick, the clearer and whiter will be the flame’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855).
How To Make 17 Natural DIY Candle Wicks
Some of the following natural materials didn’t work as DIY candle wicks like pine needles, wood without cotton and orange pith. However, I’ve listed how I made them for the sake of completeness.
Cotton Cord, Sisal Twine, Linen Yarn Etc.
- cotton, jute, linen, sisal, silk, wool, cocos
If the twine is thick, unravel a piece of the twine. Braid some of the strands together into a 3-strand braid.
‘The finer the cotton, the greater will be the number of capillary tubes formed by the threads’ (A Treatise on Chemistry Applied to the Manufacture of Soap and Candles, 1856)
Grass, Straw, Pine Needles Etc.
Braid three grass stalks (pine needles etc.) together.
- nettle fibers, bramble fibers, lime bast
Prepare fibers like you would for cord making. If you don’t know how to do this, there are a lot of videos online like this one on how to prepare bramble fibers. Twist the nettle fibers into a kind of string. You can use the other fibers as they are. Then braid three small strands together.
Cut the paper into thin strips. Twist the strips. Then braid three twisted paper strips together.
- birch bark, mullein bark
Peel the bark off. Cut the bark into thin strips and braid three strips together.
Cut off small splinters of wood with a knife. For a tealight-sized candle, make the splinters about the same size or smaller than a matchstick. I used fir for my wooden candle wicks but you can use other wood as well.
Wood + Cotton
Unravel a piece of cotton string. Wrap one strand of the cotton string around a small wood splinter.
Wooden ‘wicks are formed of very thin slips of wood, bound round to a considerable thickness with very fine unspun cotton, but such that the size of the wick does not much exceed that of the wick of a common candle.’ (The Family Encyclopedia of Useful Knowledge and General Literature, 1834).
Peel the green outer bark off the white rush pith. Leave a small strip of green bark on the pith because this stabilizes the wick. Then after drying use the rush pith as it is as wick.
After drying, use the orange pith as it is as wick.
Moss, Lichen, Thistle & Cattail Fluff
These four materials can only be used as wicks for oil lamps. On the moss shouldn’t be too much soil. Let all materials dry at room temperature. When completely dry, use a small handful as wick in oil lamps. You can also twist cattail fluff into a kind of thick twine and use that as oil lamp wick.
Can I Use My Natural DIY Candle Wicks Right Away?
Before you can use your natural homemade candle wicks for candles and oil lamps, you must let them dry completely.
Dry The Natural DIY Wicks
Let the natural wick materials dry for a couple of days or weeks depending on the material and weather. All natural wicks must be perfectly dry before you can use them as DIY wicks for candles and oil lamps.
By the way, you can braid most natural wick materials before or after drying. But it‘s better to braid brittle materials before drying such as pine needles and grass.
Related: 3 Ways To Make DIY Candle Molds
Natural Candle Wicks In History
What Natural Materials Were Used For Candle Wicks In The Past?
The following antique text mention rushes, nettle, mullein, linen, hemp, papyrus, cotton, hop stalks, moss, silk, straw and wood were used as natural candle wicks.
‘The wick of a lamp serves only for the purpose of raising up the oil [or wax], and thus giving a constant supply of just the necessary quantity of the flame. It furnishes no part of the light by the combustion of its own substance; for the quantity consumed is too small to deserve notice, and it is usually coated over with a hard deposite of carbonaceous matter, which cannot burn for want of the access of air; the flame, in fact, keeping the wick from it.’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855)
‘The ancients used the stalks of many different plants for the wicks of their candles and lamps. The rush, stripped of its bark, was as commonly in use with them as with us for that purpose; and they also used the nettle, […] mullein, and many other plants, whose stalks were composed of tough filaments, for the same purpose; beating them out like hemp, and when dry dipping them in melted resin, and other such inflammable substances.’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1817)
‘I cannot say when cotton wick was introduced. Oakum (stuppa) and papyrus (scirpa) were the ancient substitutes; but most probably, with us, the wicks were made of linen, gradually giving place to cotton, as the material became more familiar.’ (The Photographic News, 1883) Romans made wax candles with wicks ‘of strings of papyrus, or rushes’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855). ‘Hop-stalks or bines were also used as candle wicks.’ (Transactions, 1820) ‘The Esquimaux make their lamps of a kind of pot stone […] Their wicks consist of moss laid in the oil.’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855) For candle wicks I used ‘sometimes rags or rope-yarn, and sometimes the dried rind of a weed like nettles’ (The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, 1856).
‘Tryal was likewise made of several wicks; as of ordinary Cotten, [linen] sowing Thred, Rush, Silk, Straw, and Wood. The Silk, Straw, and Wood, would flame a little, till they came to the Wax, and then go out; of the other three, the [linen] Thred cosumed faster than the Cotten, by a sixth part of time; the Cotten next; then the Rush consumed slower than the Cotton, by at least a third part of time. For the bigness of the Flame, the Cotton, and [linen] Thred, cast a Flame much alike, and the Rush much less and dimmer.’ (Sylva Sylvarum, Or, A Natural History in Ten Centuries, 1670)
By the way, animal fibers – like wool and hair – are unsuitable as wicks because they are naturally fire retardant.
Historical Cotton Candle Wicks
Cotton candle wicks have been considered superior to all other kinds of wicks since the Middle Ages. Cotton was already ‘imported during the middle ages’ to make candle wicks in England. (The Life and Times of Samuel Crompton of Hall-in-the-Wood, 1862) ‘Cotton is found to be the best material for forming wicks; so remarkably is the case, that spun cotton was imported from the Levant for the wicks of lamps in England, ages before it was made use of by the weaver.’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855)
Since the Victorian era all candle wicks have usually been made of cotton: ‘The wicks of candles are usually made of cotton, which is found to be the best material’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1844). ‘The cotton threads should be finely and uniformly spun, white, well cleansed, and without smell […] The finer the cotton, the greater will be the number of capillary tubes formed by the threads […] Candles of best quality require a fine and carefully made wick, but for the commoner kinds, such as “dips” and the lower grades of “moulds,” a wick of coarser thread and cheaper quality may be employed.’ (A Treatise on Chemistry Applied to the Manufacture of Soap and Candles, 1856)
Historical Wooden Candle Wicks
‘The candle-makers at Munich have for several years past prepared tallow candles with wooden wicks, which afford about the same quantity of light as a wax candle, burn also with great steadiness and uniformity, and never crack or run.
Related: How To Make Tallow Candles
These wicks are formed of very thin slips of wood, bound round to a considerable thickness with very fine unspun cotton, but such that the size of the wick does not much exceed that of the wick of a common candle. […] made of pine, willow, and other kinds of wood, but most commonly of fir.
Some take shoots of the pine tree a year old […] scrape off the bark, and reduce them to the size of a small straw; they then rub over these rods with wax or tallow […] after which they roll them on a smooth table in a very fine carded cotton […] These wicks are then placed very exactly in the middle of the mould, and retained in that position; and good fresh tallow […] is then poured round them […] These candles will not only burn longer than the common ones, but they do not flare’ (The Family Encyclopedia of Useful Knowledge and General Literature, 1834).
26 Natural DIY Candle Wicks – The Result
The Best Natural DIY Candle Wicks
My favorite homemade natural candle wicks are rushes, braided cotton string and wood splinters wrapped with cotton for wax candles; and moss, thistle fluff and cattail fluff for oil lamps.
What Natural Materials Worked As DIY Candle Wicks?
- nettle fibers
- wood + cotton
- birch bark
- lime bast
- bramble fibers
- thistle fluff
- cattail fluff
Cotton, wood + cotton and rush wicks are all easy to light and burn with a big, steady and bright flame.
Linen, jute and nettle wicks also burn with a big, steady and bright flame but are a little more difficult to light.
Silk, birch bark and sisal wicks are also suitable as homemade wicks: they burn with a steady and bright flame. Despite being an animal fiber like wool which are usually naturally fire retardant, silk also burned well, especially after being lit a second time. Birch bark burns to high when lit but burns normally after a second or two. And sisal is a little more difficult to light.
Grass, straw, bramble, mullein and lime bast wicks burn with a smaller but steady flame. Grass (hay) and straw (usually wheat stalks) are of course similar but they behaved differently as wicks. I used cocksfoot grass (dactylis glomerata) but you can use other grass as well. Grass is a little more difficult to light. And you should use a straw wick with care, especially indoors, because a straw wick can spark from time to time! That’s probably because straw is too stiff and the ends of the wick are too far apart when burning (you can see it in the video).
As DIY wicks for oil lamps, dried moss, thistle fluff and cattail fluff work equally well. All are easy to light and burn with a big, steady and bright flame that doesn’t smell or soot.
What Natural Materials Didn’t Work As Candle Wicks?
- wood splinters (without cotton)
- hop stalks
- pine needles
- plantago fibers
- cocos fibers
- orange pith
I’ve read on the internet that others use the wick-like pith inside an orange as DIY wick substitute. However, I’ve already tried twice to use this orange pith wick in a wax candle and an oil lamp. And both times it didn’t work!
And I’ve also read on the internet that others use DIY paper wicks for their candles. But you should be very careful with paper wicks because paper wicks burn too high and fast after lighting. Paper wicks for wax candles are too dangerous in my opinion! But as always you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet!
Dried hop stalks worked to some extent as DIY wicks but the hop stalks wick burns with a very small flame.
Pine needle, wood splinter (without cotton), wool, plantago fiber and cocos fiber wicks wicks go out immediately after lighting. That wool didn’t work as wick didn’t surprise me because wool is naturally fire retardant. That’s why, in the past, wool clothing was worn when cooking over an open fire! But I was a little surprised that cocos fibers didn’t work. I was also surprised that wood splinters didn’t work as wicks since you can buy wood candle wicks! That means that these wooden candle wicks must be treated with chemicals.
Unlike moss, dried lichen didn’t work as wick for oil lamps – the flame went out after lighting.
Safety Precautions For DIY Candle Wicks
If you want to try out these natural DIY wicks yourself, follow a few safety precautions. Because these wicks are made of natural materials, your wicks can behave completely differently than mine!
- Light the candles on a fireproof surface.
- Keep a jar of water nearby in case you need to extinguish the flame quickly!
I followed the same safety precautions when I tried my candles. I lit the wax candles and oil lamps on a fireproof surface. And I also had a jar of water and pieces of wool fabric (wool is naturally fire retardant) close by so that I can put out the flame immediately if necessary!
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