Introduction: Cleaning a Chanukah Menorah

About: Unix/Linux/Networking/Security engineer by day, alpha geek by night. So, basically the same thing.

Chanukah is the Jewish festival of light but after 8 days of burning 44 candles, it becomes the festival of cleaning up melted wax, leftover bits of wick and other gunk. Growing up, my Dad had the tedious task of picking and scraping the wax with a knife, and as we got older his job grew when each of us four kids got our own menorah. Being a surgeon, he was quick with the knife, but the rest of us not so much. After a few years, I started dipping my menorah in boiling water which worked fairly well but left a thin waxy residue on the menorah, and worse, a thick coating of wax on the pot which then had to be scrubbed by hand. I experimented with lining the pot with aluminum foil, using disposable pans, Teflon-coated pans and whatever else I thought was clever but it was always much more of a pain than it should have been. I've seen others run a menorah under hot water but that wastes a lot of water and a lot of electricity. We're more evolved than that now, aren't we?

Enter power tools.

Now I can clean a menorah in about 10 minutes, leaving it spotless with no residue anywhere. How? A heat gun. If you don't have a heat gun a hairdryer will work as long as it has a high-heat/low-fan setting. Otherwise, it'll blow the wax everywhere making a bigger mess you can't easily clean with boiling water.

This one's for you, Dad.

Step 1: Get Your Tools: Heat and Rags

You'll need:

  1. A heat source like a heat gun or hairdryer. Don't use a blow torch. Seriously. (My brothers know who I'm talking to.)
  2. Oven mitts or other heat-safe gloves. Don't try this with just one. You risk dripping hot wax on the heat gun or the hand holding it, which could burn you, especially if you then drop the heat gun.
  3. Something to keep the counter clean, catch the wax and wipe the menorah as you go: old towels, newspaper or paper towels. You know, a schmatta.

I like to fix smartphones and tablets, where a heat gun is crucial, but it's really just a hairdryer on steroids: less air, much more heat. You really don't need that much heat for cleaning a menorah so your average hairdryer will work fine as long as you use the high-heat/low-fan setting. Despite the picture, I keep the heat gun at about 1/3 power.

Step 2: Start With the Bottom Half, Like My Shamash Branch and Trunk

My menorah is all metal so very heat-resistant but then again your menorah is meant to hold burning candles so it should be heat-resistant too. Your hands? Not so much. Put an oven mitt on the hand not holding the heat gun so it can hold the Menorah without worrying about molten wax, heat gun breath, or a hot menorah.

Just to be safe, start applying heat carefully: low temperature, low fan. If the wax doesn't start to melt after 30 seconds or so turn up the heat. Once the wax softens it'll melt very quickly. Make sure to keep the heat source moving so that liquid wax doesn't solidify on a cold section of the menorah.

Of course, all of this should be done on top of the newspaper or schmatta.

After the wax melts and drips off use a paper towel or a corner of the schmatta to wipe that part of the menorah clean. I shouldn't have to warn you, but I will anyway: it's going to be hot. Use the gloves.

Step 3: Hold It Upside Down and Do the Top

Hold the menorah upside down and repeat the process starting with the middle of the trunk, which is now the highest waxy point. Sure, you could do the whole thing without turning it upside down but then you end up chasing wax down the entire body of the menorah which is messier and takes longer.

Plus, if you heat up the candle holders for about a minute while holding them upside down, the plug of wax and wick will fall right out. You may have to tap it a little, but you definitely won't have to scrape. If there's any wax residue left in the cups a quick pass with the schmatta will take care of it. Those who are extra picky should have q-tips handy.

Step 4: That's It!

Start to finish this should take 10-20 minutes, depending on how much wax you've built up, how complex your menorah is and how exacting you want to be. What you see here took 15 minutes, including shooting the pictures.

Obviously, this process can be used during the holiday to clean out the wax cups before each lighting, or in case your in-laws are coming over and you want the menorah to be spotless. Frankly, I like a waxy menorah during Hanukkah, but maybe that's just me.

Chag Sameach!