Historically, incense has been used as a timing device. There were even incense clocks that measured time in minutes, hours, and even days.
Typically, an incense stick can burn for 15-60 mins, and an incense cone can burn for 10-35 mins. But the amount of time it takes for an incense stick or cone to burn in our present day depends on a few factors. Stick length or cone height play the most significant role. But their width and the quality of their ingredients also influence how long they burn.
Curious to know how long your incense sticks and cones will burn? Let’s explore this topic.
What’s the Difference Between Incense Cones & Sticks?
Incense cones are small, but their compact conical shape is packed with concentrated ingredients. Since these ingredients are compressed together, you’ll experience a stronger scent when burning incense cones over sticks.
The paste used to make incense cones is a little dryer than it is for sticks. I believe that stiffer paste holds it shape better when placed inside incense cone molds. A dryer paste also expedites drying time, which is important due to the uneven shape of incense cones.
Here’s a video demonstrating one approach:
There are two main ways that incense sticks are made. The approach most associated with Indian incense involves molding incense paste around a wooden stick. When done by hand, the resulting sticks are called masala incense. Here’s a demonstration:
An approach mostly used by Japanese and Chinese brands is to press incense paste into a hand-held device or machine that divides them into sticks.
In the video below, you can see an example of one of the semi-manual machines that will press out incense sticks. You’ll also notice that incense making methods can cross cultural boundaries. The video below was filmed in India.
Making natural incense – whether it’s sticks or cones – is an involved process. Collecting the herbs, bark, resin, flower buds and so forth takes time and requires skill to determine what to select.
If you’re interested in learning more about the full process, the video below details how a Tibetan incense company makes their natural incense sticks.
In this example, you can observe how Shoyeido makes their incense paste, extrudes the sticks, quality checks them, measures and cuts, and then bundles their woodless sticks. It’s mesmerizing to watch the process of cutting the sticks in preparation for the drying drawers.
Charcoal-based incense cones and sticks also exist. This type of incense is molded into cones or pressed around sticks, and then dipped into fragrance oils.
In each scenario, there are lots of variables involved that contribute to burn time variation.
What’s the Burn Time for Incense Cones vs Sticks?
Generally speaking, incense cones take less time to burn than incense sticks. But because there’s approximately the same amount of ingredients in a cone as in a stick, just in a different form, it gives off more smoke and fragrance in a short amount of time.
Since sticks come in different lengths and widths, this information might be reversed at times. Also, incense sticks without a wooden core burn more evenly and slowly than ones with a wooden core. Coreless sticks might be shorter, but sometimes they can last the same amount of time as longer incense sticks with a bamboo core.
Another point is that even when sticks and cones are measured, there are often slight variations between them when rolled and formed by hand. This can also affect burn time.
The best way to know how long your incense cone or stick will burn is to look at the packaging. It should indicate an approximate burn time. Otherwise, you can light one of your sticks or cones, and then set a timer to see how long it burns.
Brand by Brand Burn Time Comparison
Let’s look at how a handful of brands compare to one another.
For instance, Shoyeido offers a Floral World collection of incense cones and sticks. The cones burn for approximately 10 minutes. The sticks can burn up to 15 minutes, but they’re short, at close to three inches long. It’s not unusual for incense sticks made by traditional Japanese companies to range in length from two to six inches. But they also sell longer ones.
In comparison, Hem offers the Precious collection, which is their premium range of incense sticks and cones. The cones burn for 20 minutes and sticks in the same scent burn up to 30 minutes and are 9 inches long.
Wild Berry Incense
Another brand example is Wild Berry. Their average length stick option is 11 inches and will burn for an hour (60 minutes). Biggies (19 inches long) can burn up to three hours. Their incense cones, about one-inch tall, burn for 30 minutes. Wild Berry incense is hand-dipped into fragrance oils.
Also hand-dipped, Gonesh sticks and cones are made using High Charcoal, which causes them to burn more cleanly. Their sticks take about 45 minutes to fully burn. Gonesh incense cones are tall (over 2 inches) but very narrow in comparison to the typical incense cone. They burn really quickly, like for less than 10 minutes.
Jembrana incense is handcrafted in Bali. Their sticks are on the thicker side and burn up to 45 minutes. At 1.6 inches tall, Jembrana incense cones burn for 35 minutes.
Brand Comparison: Burn Times of Incense Cones & Sticks
|Cones||10 mins.||20 mins.||30 mins.||+/- 10 mins.||35 mins.|
|Sticks||15 mins.||30 mins.||60 mins.||45 mins.||45 mins.|
According to this small sample of products, cones can take less than 10 minutes to burn and up to 35 minutes. Incense sticks can take as little as 15 minutes to burn and as long as 60 minutes or more.
To be more exact, the average incense cone burn time across the five brands is 21 minutes. And the average incense stick burn time across these five brands is 39 minutes.
That’s a wide range within each category, which supports the idea that too many factors contribute to burn time to narrow down into a specific time frame.
What you can count on, though, is getting a lot of fragrance within a shorter period of time when burning incense cones versus sticks.
Within Brand Comparison: Nippon Kodo Incense
Another good comparison is of one brand’s incense offerings.
Nippon Kodo’s Herb & Earth collection is similar to masala incense sticks in that they have a wooden bamboo core. What’s different, though, is that the wooden core of these sticks if very, very thin. A thinner core means that the smell of burning wood is less noticeable.
In a sample of this collection, the actual stick length is over 11 inches but there’s 10 inches of incense to burn. The stick smolders for 25 minutes.
What’s interesting is that in one of Nippon Kodo’s other collections, Kayuragi, the coreless sticks also burn for 25 minutes. These sticks are about 6 inches long. That makes this a good example of stick length not always determining how long the incense will burn.
One version of their incense cones from the same collection are a little over 2 inches tall and burn for about 9 minutes. Wild Berry incense cones, on the other hand, are an inch tall but burn for 30 minutes.
Incense cone and stick burn times can’t be consistently determined.
Should You Burn Incense Cones or Sticks?
Your decision to burn one versus the other depends on your preferences and goals. If you just learned that you’re about to have company over and would like for them to be greeted with a pleasant fragrance right away, then you might want to burn an incense cone a few minutes before they arrive.
This way, you will have filled the space with a wonderful scent, and it will linger for a couple hours at least.
On the other hand, if you are working, studying, or will have company for a few hours, then you might want to burn incense sticks instead. Fragrance from incense sticks are released over a longer period of time. Depending on the brand, the scent may last longer as well.
As you can see from the chart, the amount of time the stick burns will vary by its brand and length, but this doesn’t always determine the strength or duration of the fragrance.
For example, Nippon Kodo offers different varieties of premium short incense sticks. Usually they burn for 13 minutes or less. But the fragrance lingers for hours. Then there are some longer sticks of incense made by different brands, and their scent might not linger at all.
So you have to test out different brands and types of incense in order to learn which ones will best fit your needs.