How to Burn Incense

Written by Laura Peto


Posted on May 20 2022

How to Burn Incense

Incense has been used in ancient religious practices for centuries, with the first recorded use being the Egyptian dynasty. For Egyptians, burning incense was a daily practice used for medicinal purposes, rituals and ceremonies.

More and more people in modern times are being drawn to the powerful allure of incense. Whether you use it for meditation, study, ritual workings, altar offerings, religious practices or as an every day air freshener is up to you!

If you are new to incense burning the good news is, it's a very simple practice that you can start at anytime. Here are a few basics to know when you are first starting your incense journey.

Stick Incense

Stick incense is the most popular form of incense and is very easy to find. The stick is usually made of bamboo and will have the incense molded around it. The ingredients range from ground plants, flowers, herbs and/or spices. Many incense sticks include essential oils or fragrances.

To use this form of incense, place the incense stick in a fire proof incense holder/burner and light the tip of the incense. Once it has caught fire, gently blow it out. Always make sure the glowing red end is completely lit or your incense may go out prematurely. If you need to, relight the incense, allow the flame to catch all the way around the tip and gently blow it out again. That's it! Your incense will do the rest all on its own.

Most incense sticks will burn around 30 minutes, but this does depend on room conditions. If the incense is in line with moving air, it will burn out quicker.

Stickless Incense

Tibetan Incense sticks

Stickless incense are made without the use of a stick and are generally a paste that is rolled and allowed to harden. These incense are best burned in either a dish with sand or incense burners that have larger holes.

To burn, stick one in either sand or a large hole incense burner and light the other end. Allow the flame to catch the tip and gently blow out.

Cone Incense

Cone incense is the second most popular form of incense, due to its ease and little to no mess. Cone incense use combustible materials (usually wood or charcoal) and oils. 

Place the incense cone point up on a fireproof burner and light the tip. Allow it to catch and gently blow it out. Make sure the entire tip is glowing to ensure an even burn. If needed, relight the tip and allow it to catch again.

Because incense cones are smaller than sticks, they burn a shorter time. Usually around 20 minutes or so.

Backflow Cone Incense

Backflow Cone Incense are just like regular cones, but have a hole in the bottom and are used in special backflow burners. The hole, along with the special burner, allows the smoke to cascade down the burner, making for a lovely visual display.

Rope Incense

Rope incense

Rope incense is a popular incense found in Nepal and Tibet. It is made by placing herbs, powders, spices and other aromatics in a piece of rice paper and twisting it. The red end is then lit and placed in a fireproof vessel and allowed to burn. 

Powder Incense

Incense Powder

Incense powder is aromatic woods, herbs and resins ground into a fine powder. This powder can be used with an incense cone mold to make your own incense cones, it can be burned on a charcoal disc or it can be sprinkled along with smudging plants (White Sage, Cedar, Yerba Santa) and used for energetic cleansing.

If you plan on burning incense powder on a charcoal disc, please be mindful. Always use a burner that is specifically for charcoal. Charcoal discs get very hot, so it's important to have a quality burner. Use tongs to hold the charcoal while lighting the disc and to place the hot coal in the dish. Place a very small amount of powder on the hot coal. Start small and see how much you need to fit your own taste. Some people like just a light scent in the air, so will use just a tiny bit. Others want to really purify their space and will use quite a bit to "smoke out" the energy.

Granular Resin Incense

Black Copal granular resin

Granular resin is incense in its purest form. Resin is usually the secretion from tree that is used for protection and healing of that tree when it is wounded.

This type of incense is best used on a charcoal disc with a charcoal burner and tongs. Hold the charcoal disc with the tongs and light it. Place hot coal in heat proof vessel and place a small amount of resin it the cup portion of the disc. As the resin heats, it will begin to bubble, smoulder and melt. It is throught this process that the aroma is released into the air.

Safety Precautions

  • Always be mindful of what is around your incense when it is burning. Burn in an open area, free from hanging drapery, cords, plants etc.
  • Never leave incense burning unattended
  • Never leave children or pets unattended around burning incense
  • Always use a heat proof/fire proof vessel for your incense
  • If you have health concerns about yourself and/or children and pets and incense, please do your own research before burning
  • It is best to burn incense in a well ventilated area