It is no secret that nothing sets the mood for romance like good ol’ candles. But did you know that with the help of some water, you could also easily trigger a chemical reaction within the hot wax that would send an epic fireball curling upwards into the air?
Recently, a colleague told me about her unusual experience during a romantic candle light dinner that she was having the night before. According to her, it was all going well until her date decided to pour a cup of water onto a pool of almost completely melted candles in an attempt to douse the fire, and that’s where they got the shock of their lives.
As if to retaliate against the attempt to put it out, the melted wax instantly released a fireball that shot up two feet into the air. The surprise combustion briefly lit up the room and left the two of them wondering if they had accidentally poured vodka into the wax instead. They even stood there wondering if it could have had anything to do with paranormal activity for a moment. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and we found a scientific explanation for what happened that night.
We eventually found out that it was not alcohol or paranormal activity; my colleagues’ date did attempt to put out the melting candles with water. In fact, the there is a scientific explanation behind the intriguing phenomenon called ‘Wax Fire’.
DIY MUSHROOM EXPLOSIONS
Upon further research, we found a lot of experiments and DIY guides with wax fire where people have managed to produce much larger fireballs. In many cases, these fireballs resembled the nostalgic and almost cliché Hollywood-grade nuke-like mushroom explosions.
However, unlike Hollywood-grade explosions that would usually involve expensive and sophisticated methods and materials to set off, wax fire is disturbingly simple and cheap to set off. And while we are obviously against the idea of putting your life and the lives of others in danger, we found that anyone with a candle, firewood, and water can easily recreate the iconic effect.
Most fires need three ingredients to burn – oxygen, fuel, and heat.
1. When candles burn, only the top surface is exposed to oxygen, so fire burns slowly as the wax melts. But that is not the case when water is added to hot liquid wax.
2. Notice how dripping wax freezes and floats on the surface when you drip it on water? That’s because water is denser than wax. So when you add water to hot liquid wax, it will sink to the bottom immediately.
3. As burning wax quickly heats up to well over 200°C, the water instantly vaporizes and expands by a thousand-fold in volume.
4. This rapid expansion violently forces the hot wax layer above it into the air as small droplets.
5. Now that a much bigger surface area of the wax is exposed to oxygen, the droplets are ignited very quickly to create the fireball that we are talking about.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of pyrotechnic DIY guides available. With a bit of search engine know-how, one can learn how to make anything from five minute cost-free projects to expensive and sophisticated fireworks which rival commercial-grade ones. But before we tickle your pyro-curiosity too much, let us get back to the fact that there are high risks involved in pyrotechnics, so it is best that we leave it to the professionals.