How To Burn Incense


Incense is burned across cultures and all over the world both in spiritual and religious practices as well as to scent a space or cover up unwanted smells or repel insects. Over the course of many centuries, humans have developed several ways of burning incense. While its form varies greatly, incense is generally made from the same materials- plants, oils and resins.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, here we'll cover the types of incense we have carried, currently carry or might carry again and how to burn each of them. 

Please Note: Not all incense is created equally! We have done extensive research and testing, and every brand we carry meets or exceeds our rigorous standards. There is plenty of cheap, low quality incense available on the market, but unless you can trust that your source is using high quality materials, you may be risking your respiratory health and that of those in the room. 

Stick incense burning in a wooden holder

Stick Incense

Maybe the most well-known type of incense is stick incense, made from powdered plant matter scented with essential oils and mixed with organic binders and formed to long, thin bamboo sticks. 

How To Burn Stick Incense:
Fit the exposed wooden end of the stick into the hole of your incense holder. Adjust the angle as needed to make sure the entire length of the stick is positioned over the burner or that your burner sits on a fire-safe surface, like glass or ceramic. Using a lighter or a match, light the tip of the incense. Let it catch fire and burn for a second or two before blowing the flame out and allowing the ember to smolder. A stick of incense can burn for 45-90 minutes. 

We carry Sea Witch Botanicals brand of stick incense.

There is a style of stick incense that does not have a stick inside them, but they require a different kind of burner.
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A rope incense on its side on a piece of lumber in front of a black backdrop.
Rope Incense


A lesser-known style of incense, but one that we love, is rope incense. Rope incense is typically hand-made from powdered herbs and other plant matter and essential oils and is rolled, into thin paper that is then twisted together into a rope with a loop and one end and twisted off points at the other. The burn time of rope incense depends on the length of the rope and how you burn it.  

How To Burn Rope Incense: You can hang rope incense from its looped end over a fire-safe surface using a hook specifically made for this purpose or you can bend wire yourself. You can also burn it lying on a fire-safe surface or clipped with the burning end pointing down in an empty bottle. There are also rope incense burners that you work the rope into a hole so it stands upright before you light it. However you choose to burn it, light the pointed end with a match or lighter and allow to catch fire before blowing out and allowing to smolder. The cleanest burn does come from hanging upside down or being upright and burning it on its side can and often will leave some resin behind. The resin can be washed away with soap and water.

We carry Shaman's Market rope incense, which is handmade by women in Nepal. 
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Cone incense in a small stone bowl on a table
Cone Incense 


Also popular is cone incense, made from powdered plant material, essential oils and an organic binder. They're similar to stick incense but instead of being formed around or into sticks, they're rolled into little cones or cylinders then soaked in essential oils before they're allowed to dry. Burn time depends on the size of the cone and what they're made of, but generally you'll get about 30-45min out of a cone.  

How To Burn Cone Incense: 
Set the flat bottom of the cone or cylinder on an incense burner or fire-safe dish, tile or surface and light the pointed end with a match or lighter. When it catches, gently blow it out and allow to smolder. 

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Smudges and Palo Santo

Similar to other types of incense in materials, these types are burned in their whole form. Smudges are bundles of herbs (often sage) and sometimes flowers or other plants that are bundled together with cotton string into a cylinder.  Palo Santo (and other sacred woods) are pieces of wood from palo santo trees that are lovingly revered and cared for by people in South America where there are strict laws surrounding its harvest and use.  These types of incense belong to Indigenous people in the Americas and are heavily used in rituals. 

How To Burn Smudges Palo Santo:
To burn a smudge OR palo santo, light it on one end, preferably over an open flame like that of a candle. You can, of course, use a lighter or matches, but it takes a little while.  Allow it to catch fire and burn for a few seconds until the entire end is ember-red, then blow out. Waving the smudge or Palo Santo in the air will keep it burning, or you can prop it up on a fire-safe surface. 

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Resin and Powdered Incense

Lesser known, at least in the western world, are resin and powdered incense. They're both versatile and can be burned in several ways. One way to use powdered incense is on a bed of compressed fine sand by compacting the incense powder with specialty tools into intricate metal forms and then burning. Another method that is often used is using tongs or scoops to place the resin or powder on briquettes or cups of pressed charcoal and/or herbs that have been allowed to become smoldering by lighting it on fire (usually lit with a torch or long lighter) and letting it burn for 15-60 seconds before blowing it out. These types of incense can produce a lot of smoke when burned this way, so if you can, use a burner with a cover that only allows some smoke out at one time, and be sure to only burn in a well-ventilated area or outside where certain varieties can repel insects! 


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