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How To Burn An Incense - The Right Way

Updated: Oct 4, 2022


Incense burning is a traditional way of using fragrant woods, herbs and other materials to create an aroma. In this article, we will share with you in detail the types of incense available and also how to burn incense, not just the sticks but also the oils used in them so that they can be released into the air and spread the scent throughout your living space.

When it comes to incense burning, below are a few things you need to know in order to get the most out of your experience. Whether you’re a first-time burner or have been using types of incense for years, the below points will help you get the most out of your incense burning practice.

What all goes in an Incense

Incense is the substance itself, not the smell it emits. Incense is made from aromatic tree resins as well as aromatic flowers, seeds, roots, and barks. The fact that perfume evolved from incense is reflected in the name itself, as 'per' and 'fumum' imply through and smoke or fumes in Latin.

Incense being burnt in a thurible in an orthodox church

Incense is made up of aromatic organic ingredients that when burned produce perfumed smoke. Incense sticks, a phrase that creates an environment of fresh air and fragrance that leads to a calm feeling to breathe.

Various types

There are many types of incense available in the market today. They come in different shapes, sizes, fragrances, and prices. Here is a brief overview of the most common types:

Conventional Incense

Conventional incense is made from natural wood incense, resin, charcoal and other ingredients. It is usually rolled into small balls or sticks and burned as part of religious ceremonies or to create a relaxing atmosphere. Some conventional incenses include sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh, and cedar.

Natural Incense

Natural incense is made from essential oils and plant materials such as flowers or leaves also known as flora or masala incense. They can be burned as part of religious ceremonies or to create a relaxing atmosphere. Some natural incenses include jasmine, lavender, rosemary, palo santo, white sage, bergamot, and ylang-ylang.

Incense classification based on burning

Direct Burning Incense

Direct burning is when incense and incense sticks are burned directly with fire. Instead of heat or fire from an external source, direct burning incense burns independently of anyone. When burning incense directly, the tip or end of the incense is burned with fire until it begins to turn into ash at the end of the burning.

A girl lighting incense stick with a lighter indoors

Also, it is recommended to follow all safety procedures like using a heat-resistant surface or an incense burner to hold the stick incense while it is burning and keep all flammable articles away from the area as ashes can fall on them and start a fire.

The incense is either expelled, crushed into a structure, squeezed, or coated with supporting material in direct burning incense or incense sticks. This smell is created using a moldable substrate, an aromatic finely ground or a liquid fragrance substance, and an odourless glue.

The composition of such sorts of direct incense burning must be modified in order to provide an appropriate scent with the proper concentration for smoother burning. The distinguishing feature of direct-burning incense is that the incense substance itself can take almost any shape like


Incense coils that have been extruded and fashioned into a loop shape without a base.

Closeup shot of brown sandalwood incense coil on a white background

This incense may burn for a longer amount of time, from hours to days, and is typically used in Chinese culture.


Cones are another type of incense that can be burned directly. In comparison to indirect or other types of incense burning, direct burning incense burns quickly.

Brown Incense cone burning  inside a ceramic buner kept on a brown wooden surface surrounded by incense cones

Such incense was first developed in Japan in the 1800s.


Another variant is cored sticks, which are stick incense with a bamboo core for support. The higher quality cored sticks have a fragrant sandalwood base that is covered by a thick coat of incense material that burns with the smouldering heat of the core.

burning incense stick along side jasmine flowers

This type of incense is commonly produced and used in India and China. In Chinese folk prayers, cored sticks are also known as joss sticks. Such firm sticks are designed to be easily broken into fragments, allowing the user to choose the length of incense they choose to burn. These are the most popular incenses in Japan and Tibet.


This class's powdered incense is considered unusual since it is free incense powder form and is used for manufacturing indirect incense that may be burned anywhere without any further changes.


This family also includes paper incense and incense sticks that are infused with incense, collapsed accordion-style, ignited, and combusted out.


Incense powder is transferred into paper sheets, turned into rope, entangled firmly, grown at that point, and bent again to create two strands of rope in the rope kind of incense. The bigger end of such rope incense has a harbour or inlet that can be maintained vertically in a shallow stone dish, and the pointed end is utilised as a light source.

White colored rope Incense burning on a wooden incense burner

This type of incense may be easily transported across longer distances by keeping it fresh for an extended period of time. For a long time, rope incense was notably popular in nations such as Tibet and Nepal.


Another sort of direct incense burning is Joss, which is derived from the Latin term "Deus" also means god and is derived from the Portuguese 'deos', Javanese' dejos. Joss is also lit at sanctuaries in several locations in East, South, and Southeast Asia.

Indirect Burning Incense

Indirect-burning incense, often known as "non-flammable incense," is a fragrant blend of resins. They do not contain combustible components that necessitate a variety of burning sources. This smell may differ depending on how long the material's surface burns.

Because of their higher surface area, more sensitive fragrance components tend to burn faster than coarser or thicker fragrances with smaller surface areas. The burning of stick incense in such types of incense is frequently ensured by charcoal or coal powder.

The indirect burning of incense sticks and incense is further classified into three types: whole, powdered or granulated, and paste. The aromatic ingredient is directly burned in its raw natural state over coal embers in the entire form of incense. In contrast, incense material in powdered or granulated form is turned into finer particles that aid in speeding the burning process. This scent is quickly metabolised and produces strong odours in a short amount of time.

Incense granule being burnt inside a ceramic crucible atop a burning coal block kept on a red surface surrounded by resin granules

While the powdered incense is mixed with a sticky and incombustible binder such as honey, dried fruits, and resin, it is moulded into balls or small pastilles. They can be created in a controlled environment where the smells can be mixed and combined. "Bukhoor" or "Bakhoor," a type of Arabian incense, are the best examples of granulated or powdered incense.

The Japanese utilise a similar type of incense substance, which is distinguished by a kneaded incense known as nerik or awasek. The Eastern Orthodox Christian Convention, on the other hand, uses fine powder or ground incense. In this sort of incense, crude frankincense is crushed into fine granules and blended with various sweet-smelling essential oils.


How to Use Backflow Incense Burners: Waterfall Incense Burners

Allow 5 to 20 seconds after igniting the incense cone's tip with a match or lighter before extinguishing the flame.

Backflow Incense burning atop a ceramic waterfall shaped burner with smoke flowing downwards creating a waterfall effect

When blown out, a billowing spiral of smoke emerging from the tip of the incense waterfall cone indicates that the embers have caught and the cone is starting to burn. Wait a few minutes, and the smoke will slowly trickle down, creating a spectacular waterfall effect.

How to light an incense cone

Hold the cone's tip over the flame or use a matchstick or a lighter when the cone is kept on a stand. Wait until the point burns evenly and emits a red glow. Extinguish the flame and set the cone on a heat-resistant surface or support.

Incense cone kept on a stand being burnt with the help of a lit matchstick

Because of their therapeutic advantages, incense cones are commonly used during meditation activities around the world. Its pure incense form creates a more uniform aroma that can be used for a variety of purposes, including purifying a place prior to the start of a meditation session.

How to light an incense charcoal

To burn incense charcoal, prepare a non-flammable ceramic or metal bowl or dish lined with at least 1 inch of sand, fine gravel, or unscented kitty litter. To light the charcoal, place it on an insulating material bed and light an edge with a lighter. It should sputter and spark all the way through the charcoal when it starts sputtering.

Brown incense powder kept on a charcoal puck on top of an incense burner ready to be lit

Wait until it is uniformly burning and a layer of fine white ash covers the charcoal now place a piece of resin or powder the size of a lentil or small pea in the centre of the coal & enjoy the aroma.

How to light an incense coil

With a lighter or match, light the outside end of the coil. Blow out the flame gently, leaving a smouldering ember. The coil will burn all the way to the centre, leaving just ash left. Depending on the size of the coil, coil incense can burn significantly longer than stick incense.

How to light an egg incense

As you would a candle wick, light the pointy end of the incense cone with a match or lighter. Make sure the incense is immersed in the flame until a little flame appears (note the flame may not say lit as it might on a stick incense) Gently fan or blow out the flame or flame leftovers.

Final Thoughts

Incense and incense sticks are commonly burned all over the world. They are used in several religions and places of the world in various forms, such as powder, cones, ropes, paper, or sticks. Their size and design may have differed from religion to religion and region to region, but since time immemorial the goal was to worship the deity, eliminate negative energy, and replenish the area with positive energy.