Find the perfect candle for every occasion with this handy guide.
greentree home candles american made
Credit: Johnny Fogg

Candles can warm a space, emit heady scents, and serve as a beautiful decorative element. Coming in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and inside an array of vessels, you have a lot to consider when selecting a candle for your space or event. From tapers to tea lights, sculptured to scented, we're sharing everything you need to know about each type of candle so you can find the right one for your needs.

One important thing to consider when choosing a candle is its scent. Joy Kwon, owner of Lighten Up Shoppe, recommends thinking about where you'll be using the candle as what's considered calming and relaxing in one place may not suit another setting. "Scents like lavender and eucalyptus will set a calming tone to any space," she says. "If you're planning an event where food will be served, I tend to steer away from scented candles, as they can clash with the menu you've planned, but this doesn't mean you have to skip candle décor." Here's everything you need to know about every type of candle, and how to select the best one for your specific needs.

Votives and Tea Lights

If you're tight on space or don't want the candles to be a focal point, votives and tea lights are ideal. Tea lights will come in a metal case, which allows all the wax to completely melt, while votives can stand freely or sit on a pedestal or candle holder. "Votives and tea lights are extremely versatile because of their size and price point," says Lauren Lamagna, director of product development and merchandising at Homesick. "You'll see them used most commonly in a dining setting like in a restaurant or at a wedding. They're also great for smaller spaces at home like bathrooms, or outside if paired with a tall holder so the flame isn't easily blown out by a gust of wind." Lamagna also notes that with votives and tea lights, you're also not limited to traditional candles and can experiment with different home fragrance products like wax melts.

Pillar and Taper Candles

As its name suggests, pillar candles are typically sturdy in their circumference while the taper candle is thinner and requires a candelabra or other receptacle. With both, the burn time is determined by the height and width, so keep the candle's purpose in mind—like if they're decorative or a source of light for a long event—when shopping. "I'd recommend using larger decorative candle forms, like pillars, on holders or in vases either in or near the fireplace or on a dining room sideboard table," Lamagna adds. Taper candles are ideal for adding to a tablescape. "Beautiful taper candles can elevate any dining table into a stylish table setting," says Kwon.

Jar and Container Candles

Not all candles have to be freestanding. There are endless decorative options when it comes to jar and container candles. "I would recommend container candles for decorative purposes because you can choose the size and color according to your décor," says Lorena Cicciari, proprietress of Fiamma Candles. "You can select the candle that works best in your desired space. Larger container candles will typically burn longer. Container candles are classified by the burn time and measured in hours."

Jar candles are also convenient because they are contained, unlike other freestanding candles. Because of their easy storage and available styles, they're ideal for a cozier, more personal setting. "Even more versatile are jar candles because they usually double as a fragrance and décor accent that looks great in nearly any space—whether it's your coffee table, home office, bedroom, and beyond," Lamagna says. Scented candles are best left unlit during meals—you don't want conflicting tastes and smells—though, so be cognizant of where and when you're lighting them.

Sculpture Candles

Freestanding like pillar candles, sculpture candles are an original way to add an unexpected focal point or design element to your space. And with the variety of shapes (bodies, renaissance busts, and flowers are available), you can easily find something that suits your style.

Comments (3)

Martha Stewart Member
September 14, 2021
I thought the article went over the basics ok. It would have been nice if it went more into how to care for Candle tins or Pillar candles or get more burn time out of them.
Martha Stewart Member
September 14, 2021
I thought the article went over the basics ok. It would have been nice if it went more into how to care for Candle tins or Pillar candles or get more burn time out of them.
Martha Stewart Member
August 28, 2021
This was so poorly written, I quit reading after the first couple of paragraphs.