Incense has been a part of our lives for centuries. It was used in religious practices as far back as ancient Egypt and Babylon, but may be much older. It is used for everything from religious practice to simply combatting unpleasant odors.
If you’re new to burning incense and want to try it out, the good news is that it’s pretty simple to use. There are many different kinds of incense, each with its own characteristics. We’re going to cover just a few of the most common types of incense.
Stick incense may be the easiest and most straightforward way to go. Sticks are usually bamboo, and come with aromatic substances adhered to them. These substances can include ground dried plant materials, or they can be made with essential oils. You put the stick in an incense holder, and light the tip of the stick with a lighter or a match. Once it catches, you gently blow out the flame. The stick will continue to smolder with a red ember at the end, releasing aromatic smoke and leaving ash behind.
Some incense sticks are made without a stick core. Joss sticks are one example; this type of stick incense comes from many different Asian traditions, from Japan to Tibet. This type of stick incense varies in width and may require a different type of holder.
A typical stick of incense can burn for 50-90 minutes, so keep that in mind when you light one.
Coil incense is similar to stick incense, but it’s formed into a spiral shape. You’ll want to place the coil into an appropriate burner. Use one with a wide, flat bowl bigger than the coil to prevent accidental fires. Some of these holders will have clips that attach to the center of the coil and hold it above the bowl; these give more room for oxygen to reach the coil.
Light the outside end of the coil with a lighter or match. Gently blow out the flame, leaving the smoldering ember. The coil will burn around to the center, leaving ash behind.
Coil incense can burn much longer than stick incense, depending on the size of the coil. It may burn for multiple hours.
Cone incense is a combination of combustible materials and aromatic oils molded into the shape of a cone. Place the cone point up in an incense burner. Cones produce more heat than sticks or coils, so you’ll want to make sure your burner is heat proof. Spreading a layer of sand, salt, or uncooked rice can also help absorb the heat.
Light the tip of the cone with a lighter or match, and allow to burn for five to ten seconds. Then blow the flame out, leaving the smoldering ember behind. Allow the cone to burn down to the base.
Incense cones will burn for around 30 minutes, but may produce more smoke than other kinds of incense.
Powder incense is made of aromatic plants, woods, and resins ground into a powder. This type of incense is typically burned on a piece of charcoal. The charcoal will produce a lot of heat, so you need a heat proof container - like a thurible - and the container should be on a heat proof surface. This is another situation in which you can use sand or salt to dissipate the heat. Burning charcoal can reach 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit!
Use a charcoal disk meant for incense burning. Never hold the charcoal with your hands while lighting; use tongs or pliers. You’ll want to apply flame to the side of the disk for about twenty seconds, or until the charcoal ignites. Then place it in your heat proof container.
Allow the charcoal to burn and heat up. This can take up to three minutes. The charcoal disk will start to look grey around the edges. Sprinkle a small amount of resin, herbs, or powdered incense on top of the charcoal. These will burn until they are gone, as little as a few minutes. Add another small amount of your incense to enjoy it longer. Pieces of resin will burn longer than powders. The tablet itself will burn for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size, but can stay hot for hours.
A Note on Safety
Never leave burning incense unattended. Incense left burning can cause fires and put you and your home in danger.
Always use an approved incense burner, preferably made from heat proof materials. Some types of incense may come with a cardboard burner on the box; do not use these burners.
If burning powder incense or resins on charcoal, do not use charcoal designed for a backyard grill. These pieces of charcoal can release noxious fumes in your home and may be hazardous to your health.
Some incense is made with artificial ingredients that may release materials that are hazardous for your health. It’s best to find all-natural incense, made with plant-based ingredients and real essential oils. We offer all natural, easy to burn stick incense, never made with synthetic fragrances. Check out our clay incense burners, too!