Does incense go bad: What is the shelf life of incense?

incense burning outside

Incense has been popular for thousands of years, lit in churches and temples, and playing a ritualistic part in ceremonies, meditation and aromatherapy. It has an incredibly distinct yet beautiful aroma that I absolutely love! Incense has been a central part in both asian and western religions for thousands of years and has a long history of being spiritual. I like to keep plenty of incense at home, but recently started to ask myself the question: does incense go bad?

Incense does not expire, as it does not deteriorate to the point where it becomes toxic. Like most things, when it is stored properly it will keep for many years. Sometimes the fragrance will fade and it won’t be as strong as it once was. A good quality incense stored correctly can last years.

How long can Incense be stored?

If you have just bought some incense for future use leave it in its original packaging and put it in a dark cupboard. A linen closet is ideal as any escaping fragrance will add perfume to the sheets and towels. Incense may come in a cardboard box or cellophane, so don’t unwrap it. it should not be stored near mothballs, cedar -blocks, or perfumed sachet bags, as these may contaminate the incense.

How to Properly Store Incense

If the incense has been opened and exposed to air store it in an airtight container once again in a cool dark place. Your incense sticks need to be stored away from heat and damp sources, so don’t store them in a kitchen or bathroom instead choose another part of the house which is cooler and drier. When incense is stored properly it will keep its scent for a few years, the sticks contain essential oils, so do not store them in plastic as this can cause the oils to become unstable. Store the sticks in either wax or craft paper to ensure that they last.

How long does Incense Burn?

The answer to this question depends on the length of the stick and the environment, and the time taken to burn one is anywhere between 30-90 minutes. Put your incense stick at a slight angle and it will burn more slowly, also keep it away from drafts as the wind will cause it to burn down quite quickly. If you need to put your incense stick out while it is burning, water is the most effective method, whether you are using a stick, cone or coil just dip the end in some water. When you have to leave the house it is better to put your incense out so that it does not become a fire hazard.

If your incense is burning too fast, it is mainly due to convection and putting the stick at an angle will definitely slow it down. If you are living in a very humid climate that will also cause the stick to burn more slowly.

Can Incense Grow Mold?

Does incense go bad, no but if it gets damp it could grow mold. This is why it should be stored in a dark, dry place.

Because incense is a plant-based material it is possible for it to become moldy if not packaged and stored correctly.

You can still use the incense sticks, either scrape off the mold with a knife or wipe it off before lighting and the heat will certainly kill any remaining mold spores.

Incense Storage Boxes

A bamboo box (looks like an old fashioned pencil box), is ideal for storing your incense sticks. Because the Chinese have used incense for thousands of years they have made these boxes for safe storage. They come in various sizes, for small sticks and long sticks.

There are also wooden boxes available, like a carved jewelry box to keep your incense in a cool dark place. Storage boxes are also available in different colors which will look decorative in your home.

Why do my candles sink in the middl... x
Why do my candles sink in the middle?

Check out one of my favourites incense boxes here, on Amazon.

What is Incense made of?

Incense is made from mostly natural aromatic materials, sage, wood, resins, and other things. The fragrance is gradually added from flowers, into the process, plus materials to hold the sticks together. Charcoal dust added into the sticks to make them easier to light, and because incense is used for ceremonial and aesthetic reasons it is important to get the balance right.

Incense can be separated into two types, indirect burning is one that requires a separate heat source and direct burning is lit directly by a flame.

The direct-burning upright incense sticks are usually formed around a bamboo stick.

You can make them yourself too, here’s my helpful guide on how to do it!

History of Incense

Incense was used by the ancient Egyptians in their meditation rituals. Incense was burnt to cover up bad odors and also to keep insects away, as well as being used to appease the ‘Gods’. India also adopted incense oils. The Chinese have been using incense since 2000 BC, and Chinese erected buildings specifically to hold incense ceremonies. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the use of incense spread to the middle and upper classes in Japanese society. So it was used throughout the world.

Indirect-burning Incense

This is a non-combustible form of incense requiring a separate heat source because it is usually more coarsely ground and burns more slowly. Heat is provided by charcoal or embers. We know this type of material as Frankincense, mentioned in the Bible as the purest form of incense. Japan has a history of using Neriko a raw form of Frankincense.

Does Incense go bad? Can you still use old Incense?

Because incense does not really expire you can still use it, but burning anything does cause smoke, and if the fragrance has changed too much or excessive smoke is generated it may be time to buy some more. The burning of incense releases some fine particles into the air, so it is a good idea to light it in a large room which will allow the fragrance to disperse into the environment.

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Incense and Meditation

Incense use for meditation is a very comforting smell, and there are many different ones to try. Fragrances are very complex and are made of raw aromatic materials and may also contain some synthetic materials. When you are lighting your incense and burning it you may prefer totally natural materials. Breathing in smoke from synthetic materials may not be good for you. There are many types of incense available on the market and if you are burning the sticks for your meditation the Japanese companies use beautiful natural ingredients.

American companies also make great incense and Native Americans used dried herbs and wood for rituals and prayers, so they also invented their own form of incense.

Pure Essential Oil Incense

Pure essential oils are usually chemical-free and smell amazing like going for a walk in the woods. This can make you feel much more energized and will help to elevate your mood as you meditate. Tibetan incense is also mostly pure and natural being herb-based and some come from Bhutan. It is much better to stick with a chemical-free product where possible, especially if you are using it daily.

I personally like this set on Amazon.

Questions about Incense

Q. Should you open a window when burning incense?

Yes as this allows the air to circulate, and any smoke to escape.

Q. Is it safe to leave incense burning?

No, put it out before going to bed. Also, don’t leave it burning while you are out of the house.

Q. How long does the smell linger?

About two hours after you have finished burning it.

Q. What is an incense burner made of?

Bronze or pottery with a perforated lid and the incense is burned inside.

Q Is burning incense spiritual?

Yes, the origins of incense were Religious but uses and reasons change. Where it was once used for prayer, it is now more widely used for meditation.

Q. Is incense bad for the lungs?

Not if you use a Natural incense and leave the window open to allow any smoke to escape.

Q. What incense is burned in Church?

Myrrh and sometimes Frankincense are often mixed together and burned. As they are both mentioned in the Bible they have particular religious significance and smell amazing together. In the Catholic Church, a third fragrance is sometimes added. Often and incense burner gift set is given to a child following their first Communion.

Click here to check out church incense on Amazon.


We all love the symbolism of incense, and the perfume can take us right back to childhood, or our time in religious settings.

The smoke of burning incense is interpreted as a prayer of the faithful rising towards heaven, and this is where the expression ‘holy smoke’ comes from. In ancient times incense was a highly valuable commodity, and its use in worship predates Christianity.

Incense is a sacramental used to bless and sanctify and as such will always be part of our tradition and lives.

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