How to Use Incense Sticks at Home
The word incense comes from the Latin word incensum, literally meaning ‘to burn’. There are different forms of incense, but they are all designed to give off a particular aroma once lit. The type of incense we are talking about today at oneHOWTO are incense sticks, also known as joss sticks. Incense has been used in religious and spiritual ceremonies for millennia, some even claiming it to have healing and purifying properties. However, it is also now more commonplace in the home, whether used to create ambience, add an aroma to the air or even help us to relax.
We show you how to use incense sticks at home. We explain safe joss stick usage so you can experience the benefits, without risking your well-being.
Is it good to use incense at home?
Even though incense sticks can be used from 100% natural materials, smoke can still be harmful to the lungs. In fact, the smoke from incense sticks can be more harmful than tobacco to our lungs, although we fortunately do not breathe it in the same way. Some of the consequences of incense smoke intoxication can be serious, even carcinogenic in certain circumstances.
Animal testing studies have suggested that the smoke from incense is not very damaging, but there needs to be more human trials for a more conclusive understanding. For this reason, there are some guidelines for the safe use of joss sticks in the home:
- Firstly, incense should only be burned in well-ventilated areas of the home. Proper ventilation is the best way to keep your air free of harmful toxins, while still being able to reap the benefits of its aroma.
- Avoid exposing yourself directly to incense smoke for any long periods of time. If you do want to burn an incense stick in the home, you should not burn it for more than an hour and a half. This will help limit any damage to your health.
- Take a look at the color of the smoke which emanates from the joss stick. If the smoke is very dark, it means the incense might be highly concentrated. This is more harmful to your body, so you may need to choose a different kind.
- Always check your incense has a quality certificate. This will help you to know the incense has been vetted and should limit potential health problems. Some places may provide quality incense sticks, but do not have this quality approved certificate. In these cases, you can generally tell by the price. More expensive should mean better, but there may be exceptions.
You should know that incense sticks often vary according to country of origin. Japan, Nepal and Tibet are three of the most well-known producers and exporters of natural incense. They are usually very good in quality as their infrastructure supports its production well.
They also make incense of a very high quality in India, using natural materials. Unfortunately, it is also home to production of synthetic varieties which are inferior in quality and, usually, cheaper in price. This also occurs in countries like China, Thailand and Indonesia. Of course, there could be poor quality manufacturing in any nation, but using geography can give us a better idea of the likelihood of good quality.
What is incense used for?
Many joss sticks use frankincense to create the aroma, although it will be mixed with other scents. It is said to be very relaxing and positively affects the nervous and endocrine systems. It has been used since ancient times and is famous for being one of the gifts given to the Christ in the story of Jesus's birth in the Bible. While this is one of the most famous examples of its use, incense use in religious and spiritual ceremonies predates this story.
Although the use of incense in the household varies according to the individual, it is often used similarly to these religious rituals. Many people light incense to be calm, meditate, provide a cleansed state of body and mind. However, you don't even need to be in any way spiritual to feel like this. Many people will use it because it creates an atmosphere of calm or may use it for non-spiritual mindfulness meditation.
Of course, many people use it simply because they like the smell. If this is the case, you can find out more interesting ideas with our article on how to scent your house.
How to light incense at home - method and tips
Although there are different ways to light incense at home, joss sticks are the most convenient. They are a long thin stick, often even thinner than a match stick. There is an uncoated end at the bottom, but the rest is coated in the incense which is dry and hard. It needs to be this consistency for it to light and burn properly. It will catch fire with a flame, but once you let it burn for a few seconds, you blow it out and the joss stick will smoke slowly.
The joss stick will not be able to stand upright on its own. For this reason, you need to have a censer or incense holder. These can come in many forms, perhaps the most basic being a little ceramic tile with a hole in the middle to hold the end of the stick. There are also many incense holders which catch the ash from the joss stick. One of the most popular is a wooden holder which is long. The incense stick is inserted into the end and the ashes are caught all along the stick as it burns down.
In general, to burn and incense stick safely, you need to:
- Place the joss stick by inserting the wooden end into the small hole of the incense holder.
- Light it at its upper end with a lighter or match. You will see how the stick begins to change color in the heat of the fire.
- Put the incense away and let the stick burn out.
- Relax and enjoy.
You've seen how easy it is to burn incense. We only hope that these tips have helped you to decide which procedure to choose yourself. Remember: the quality of the incense is important to your health.
You can also use an incense burner. They are very easy to find in markets and very practical when lighting incense at home.
Extra safety tips for incense sticks
Incense sticks are relatively safe to use. Although the end of the stick will have a burning ember, it does not have an open flame. The ashes which are dropped will be hot, but not very hot and will not set fire to materials unless they are particularly flammable. However, there are some precautions we need to take:
- Do not set the incense stick near a curtain, sheet or piece of material which can be set alight easily. Although there is no open flame, the burning end of the incense stick will be hot enough to set certain materials on fire, so be extra careful.
- Shelter it from the wind. Wind will not blow out the incense stick, but it can known it or its ash over. If the joss stick fell on the floor, it might burn the carpet.
- Be cautious with children and animals. Not only can children burn themselves on the incense stick, but their developing lungs should not breathe in the smoke. Pets can have similar problems. In general, it is best not to use incense around children.
Be careful with how you burn incense. It is something which should be enjoyed safely and in a relaxed, well-ventilated environment. If you think you may have inhaled too much smoke, our article on how to clean your lungs naturally might be of some help, but you should speak to a doctor for an examination.
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- Organization of Consumers and Users (2013). Some air fresheners, incenses, and oils emit more benzene than tobacco. Organization of consumers and users. Available at: https://www.ocu.org/organizacion/prensa/notas-de-prensa/2013/ambientadores. Retrieved March 8, 2021.
- Jia-Chen Tung, Wei-Chien Huang (...) (2017). Auramine O, an incense smoke ingredient, promotes lung cancer malignancy. National Library of Medicine. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28722353/. Retrieved March 8, 2021.