Incense Sticks vs Loose Incense- Which is Better?

Incense Sticks vs Loose Incense- Which is Better?

Incense has been a large part of many cultures worldwide and the preference for loose vs stick incense is generally dictated by past experience and cultural usage.

loose incense in a censer being swung in a churchThe Catholic church for example tends to use a lot of loose incense in the form of frankincense etc, whereas it is commonplace in temples in Asia to see stick incense being sold and used. If you are just starting  to experiment with incense, you may be wondering if there is a benefit to using stick incense over loose incense. In this article we will try to shine a light on the advantages and disadvantages of both. 


Advantages Of Using Stick Incense:

Stick incense is convenient- Stick incense comes pre-formed with the exact ratio of fragrance so that it burns easily and is quick to use.It is easy to light and can be burnt in most places.

Stick incense does not require much initial investment. With stick incense, you do not even really need an incense burner- I have often just jammed the end of the incense

incense stick burning outdoors

stick in a door jam (facing out onto concrete or something that cannot burn) and lit it there. The scent of the incense still wafts through the house and  the only investment that I made was the purchase of the incense sticks themselves (and a lighter/matches). Incense sticks can also be placed into a garden pot filled with dirt- this way the incense burns down, the ash cannot set anything alight as the dirt will not burn. Loose incense, on the other hand usually requires more initial investment. Aside from the actual dried resins/woods/herbs or blends that you will be using, you will also need some type of heat proof container, charcoal discs and optional tools such as charcoal tongs. 

Consistency of fragrance: Stick incense tends to offer a more consistent and controlled release of fragrance, as the composition is uniform across the length of the stick. 

Less Mess: If your incense stick is contained in an incense holder or pot, the ash produced by the burning of the incense stick is contained within the ash catcher and can be easily disposed of - preferably in the garden, making clean up easy.

Portability: Stick incense is more portable than loose incense. Stick incense usually comes in a box, no large than 30 cm and will fit in most bags for easy travelling. Loose incense on the other hand is messy to travel with (being loose), and requires charcoal discs, censers or fire proof containers- not exactly portable.

Burn Reliability: If you have ever tried to burn botanicals and had it just not work for some reason, you will know what I am talking about. Loose incense can be finicky- either

lighting stick incense

the charcoal does not want to light, or you smother it too much and it just does not want to play nicely. It's a bit like lighting a campfire- without enough air, it will not light, without enough material (sticks etc, it will not stay alight) Stick incense on the other hand has been made by creating a paste of aromatics, water and binding agent and rolling it around a stick. Because stick incense has been something that has been around for a long time, companies have generally got the ratios down pat and it will light and stay lit until it burns out or is put out.

Less Smoke: Stick incense generally produces less smoke than the loose incense. This can be a good thing if you are burning incense in a domestic environment (however you should never burn incense in an enclosed environment). Stick incense such as the Japanese Morning Star incense, produces even less smoke as they do not have the bamboo core that other "stick" type incenses have (but as they are rolled as a cylindrical stick we will include them in the stick incenses).

Safety: Generally speaking, incense sticks are safe to burn. If we disregard the issue that the hot end can burn you, the actual incense sticks, if burnt in an open environment, are safe to burn. On the other hand, if you are blending your own incense using herbs, resins and spices, you need to do your own homework. If a plant is known to be poisonous- do not burn it! If you do not know what it is- do not burn it! If it is not common in incense- do research prior to burning it! This is not a Harry Potter Potions Class - herbs were one of the first medicines, and as with modern day medicine, if they are not used as prescribed, they can cause damage which is sometimes irreparable!

Advantages Of Using Loose Incense

Customisation: Loose incense allows for more customisation than stick incense. You can blend different herbs, resins, and oils to create a unique fragrance tailored to your preferences. 

Traditional Rituals: Loose incense is often associated with traditional rituals and cannot be substituted. It provides a more hands on, intentional approach to the use of incense.

Artistic Expression: Some people like the process of blending their own incense, whether it be for the fragrance of the incense, or the magickal, spiritual or health properties of each ingredient.

Natural Ingredients: Loose incense often contains more natural ingredients in their

loose incense burning on charcoal

unprocessed form, which is often more appealing to those who prefer a more holistic experience. Also due to the lack of binding material, the fragrance is often stronger and more authentic.

More Smoke: I know- confusing. Previously I said that less smoke was a benefit of stick incense, now I am saying that you want smoke? In certain instances, smoke is necessary- such as in smoke cleansing. When you are performing cleansing with herbs where you want the smoke, loose incense is more beneficial.

So which is better Stick Incense or Loose Incense?

As with all things, the "which is better" debate is a complicated one and it truly does come down to what you want to get from your incense.

If all you want your incense to do is to smell nice, stick incense is probably the way to go. Stick incense is convenient, available in a wide range of fragrances and can be purchased from a wide range of places including our store, online at other stores or from most major shopping centres.

If however you have been exploring the benefits of herbs and their magickal properties and have been finding that the incense that is available commercially does not quite suit your needs or you would just like to have a hand at crafting your own magickal and spiritual incense blends, loose incense is the way to go.

loose incense

Personally I think that both types of incense have their place. Incense sticks are quick and convenient and a professional has already done the blending for you, however if you are crafting a magickal incense, the intention that you put into crafting your specific loose incense blend and the ritual that is centered around burning your incense is given more power simply by your participation in the process, making loose incense a better choice in this situation. 


Let us know in the comments section which you prefer. Do you have any favourite blends of loose incense or favourite incense sticks?

 If you are looking for incense sticks, visit our collection here.

If you are looking for loose incense, check out our collection here.

If you are looking for charcoal discs and tongs, visit our collection here

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.