stick of incense burning in front of brass vessels on an old wooden table

Popular Types Of Incense And How To Burn Them- Which Incense Type Is Best?

Incense has been used by various cultures worldwide. It is available in many different forms, but it can be broken down into two main types

What Are The Two Main Types Of Incense?

The two main types of incense are direct burning incense and indirect burning incense.

Direct Burning Incense

Direct burning incense is incense that is lit directly such as incense cones and incense sticks. Direct burning incense is lit and then blown out, but continues to smoulder, releasing smoke and fragrance. It can be extinguished by placing the lit end in water, sand or soil to smother it.

Types of Direct Burning Incenses are:

  • Incense sticks- with bamboo core

Incense sticks are produced by wrapping the incense mixture around a central core (usually a bamboo stick). They are generally placed over/in an ash catcher and lit before immediately blowing them out so that the incense remains slowly burning until it burns down to the stick and is extinguished.

  • Japanese Incense Sticks (no core)

Japanese Incense Sticks are produced similar to the regular incense sticks but they do not have a central bamboo core. These types of incense sticks burn with a lot less smoke than regular incense and produce a cleaner smell.

  • Incense Cones

Incense cones are created by mixing a burning agent, a binding agent, and a fragrance. They are moulded into the shape of a cone so that they can stand on their own. With an incense cone, you light the tip and allow to burn for 5-10 seconds before blowing it out, similar to incense sticks. Allow the cone to burn down to the base. Incense cones need to be used on a non-flammable dish/holder. They tend to produce greater scent as the cone burns down and are useful for scenting a room quickly, however they also tend to produce a bit of smoke. This makes incense cones great for producing stunning waterfall displays, such as those produced by the backflow incense cones in the backflow burners.

  • Incense Coils

Coil incense is similar to Japanese stick incense. It consists of incense material that is shaped into a long stick without a bamboo core and is then bent into the shape of a coil. Coils are lit directly the same way you would light an incense stick. Incense coils tend to last a lot longer than the sticks (simply because you get a greater amount of incense in a compact size), for this reason the incense coils are great for scenting large areas.


 direct burning incense stick in a brass lotus shaped incense holder in front of apothecary bottles


Indirect Burning Incense

Indirect burning incense is usually loose incense- a mixture of resins and herbs that are placed on top of a separate heat source such as charcoal or embers from other combustible materials. This type of incense requires constant heat and cannot be lit and left to burn by itself. Because this incense requires constant attention it is not as popular as the direct burning incense types such as the incense sticks

Types of Indirect Burning Incenses are:

  • Kneadable Incense

Kneadable incense is what is traditionally used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Kneadable incense also known as Neri-koh, is a mixture of fragrant incense woods, herbs, spices, fruits and honey. These compounds are kneaded together and left to mature, traditionally buried underground, in a sealed earthenware pot, for a minimum 3 years.

Kneaded incense is not burnt directly, rather it is placed on a heating plate to gradually emit the scent. For this reason it is not as strong as the stick/cone or coil incense and can be used in smaller rooms/ less ventilated areas.

  • Powder/ Loose Incense

Powdered or loose incense consists of the fragrant incense only with no binding additive. This type of incense is placed in a non-flammable bowl with a burning charcoal disc, causing it to smoulder and release the fragrance of the elements in the incense. It can sometimes be directly lit if the incense contains wood pulp or other slow burning elements. 

  • Pressed Incense

Pressed incense, also known as In-koh, is a blended incense that has been shaped into different moulds. In-koh is used by placing on a heating plate or by placing on a burning charcoal disc.

  • Aromatic Wood

Wood smoke has been used traditionally for its fragrance for many years, from incense to smoking food etc. Traditionally, there are two methods for using wood as incense. Monkah, involves placing a small piece of the wood on an electric heater that is heated at a constant temperature. Soradaki, another form of using wood for incense is performed by placing the wood next to, or on, hot coals of charcoal that have been burnt down into a dish of sand.

brass incense burner burning wood incense



Which Type Of Incense Is The Best?

The type of incense that is best is very personal and there are many factors that affect which type of incense you should be using. Factors can include- price, availability, culture/ practice etc.

Direct burning incense tends to be a lot cheaper than indirect burning incense. It is easy to come by (in Australia incense sticks are sold pretty much everywhere these days) and easy to use.

Direct burning incense, particularly incense with a bamboo core, produces a higher volume of smoke compared to indirect burning incense. This characteristic makes it well-suited for ceremonies where the smoke is a significant component. Certain rituals, such as the Hindu Puja, call specifically for incense sticks to be rotated three times in a clockwise direction. In cases such as these, the incense sticks with a bamboo core are the best to use. 

Direct burning incense also seems to be much better at scenting large areas quickly. If you need to fragrance/cleanse a large area such as a foyer, you would be better off using some coil incense, rather than a slow releasing indirect burning incense such as the Neri-koh (kneadable incense).

Indirect burning incense, on the other hand is much harder to use. It needs a constant external heat source as it is not burnt directly. This requires either charcoal/ embers from another combustible material or an electric heating plate designed for burning incense. Because you are dealing with an external combustible material, other implements may also be required such as charcoal tongs/ sand etc.

Indirect Burning Incense/ heated incense is much more mild and soothing and is better for use in very small areas such as individual rooms/ apartments.

At the end of the day however, the best incense to use is up to you. Try a few different types and decide for yourself. Many people also like to switch up the different types of incense they use for different purposes.


What is your favourite type of incense? Have we left any out that we should know about? Let us know in the comment section.

* If you are looking for incense sticks, check out our range of incense here

 *If you are looking for loose incense, including censers check out what we have in stock here.




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