Incense vs Candles, What’s the Difference?

Who doesn’t love walking into a house that has a pleasant smell? There are lots of different ways to add fragrance to your house. On this site I’ve talked about essential oils, warming wax with heated lamps, and even aerosol air fresheners. But when it comes to incense and candles, you may wonder, what’s the difference?

While you can light a match to them both in order to release fragrance, that’s about the only similarity. The main differences are how they are made and how they burn. Candles release fragrance as its wick burns, melting the scented wax that’s surrounding it. But incense is fragranced plant material formed into a paste that smolders down around a wooden stick once lit.

There are many more specifics about how incense and candles are made and used. Keep reading if you want to learn more about making the right choice between using incense or candles to improve the way your home smells. 

Incense vs Candles

What Is Incense?

In short, ground up plant materials are combined with essential oils and formed into a paste and then shaped into a cone or compressed around a wooden stick to produce incense. 

How Does Incense Burn?

When incense burns, it does so without an active flame. This is called smoldering. In the process, you light the incense and allow the flame to burn for a few seconds before gently blowing out the flame. Once the flame is blown out, smoke unfurls and the incense stick or cone continues to smolder until all of the fragranced plant material burns away. 

How Do You Use Incense?

Incense is primarily used to fill a room with strong fragrance but some people burn incense for personal reasons beyond fragrance. For some people, more focus is placed on ritual and religious or spiritual experience. And for others, incense is used as a form of aromatherapy.

A lot of smoke is released when lighting incense and this can cause some people to stray away from it. If organic materials aren’t used to create the incense, there is no way of knowing what you are truly inhaling once the incense is lit. Finding clean burning incense would be the best option, and it’s always a good idea to have a window open or some other form of ventilation when lighting incense. 

But its concentrated fragrance is unparalleled and that makes it an attractive option. So if you are looking to quickly fill a room with fragrance and are not too concerned with smoke, then this can be a good option for you. 

What Are Candles?

For starters, candles can be scented or unscented but since we are comparing candles to incense in this post, I will only talk about scented candles. 

In general, a scented candle is fragranced wax molded around a wick inside some kind of a container. Once the wick is lit, the wax melts and releases fragrance into the air. But the kinds of wax and wicks used to create the candle can significantly alter your experience. 

Does It Matter How Candles Are Made?

In the past, candles were only made using paraffin wax. Although they function just fine, when they burn, they not only gave off a lot of smoke, that smoke contained toxins. So every time one of those candles were lit, they could also cause serious harm to the people and pets inhaling that smoke.

Now that more candle wax is created with soy or beeswax, burning candles is a healthier experience. Since they are natural ingredients, there aren’t any harmful chemicals to be concerned with.

But wicks are equally important. Older wicks contained metals that contributed to the harmful fumes of paraffin wax candles. More and more companies are using 100% cotton wicks because they aren’t toxic, help distribute fragrance more evenly, and help promote an even burn as the wax melts.

How Do I Choose One Over the Other?

So now that you know more about incense and candles, you might be wondering how you can go about choosing which one might work best for you. Ultimately, the choice is always yours, but here are some thoughts to consider when deciding which one might be the best fit.

Thoughts About Choosing Incense

Two of the most popular forms of incense are sticks and cones. Once you ignite incense, the stick or cone burns down to ashes until all of the plant material has completely burned away. Aside from having to clean up the ashes afterwards, burning incense is a low-maintenance endeavor. 

Narrow incense holders lead to more clean-up time because the ashes can fall onto the surface on both sides of the holder, but there are some incense holders that are wide enough to catch the ashes as they drop down. Here is an example if you’re curious about how one might look:

Ceramic Incense Holder for Cones & Sticks

This holder is great because you can burn cones or sticks or both simultaneously. It is wide enough to catch all of the ashes from incense sticks and since it is made of ceramic, it can last longer than many of the wooden holders.

If you are looking for incense cones or sticks, here are some I like:

Jembrana Incense Cones

This set includes 10 each of six scents, lotus, healing spirit, amber, sandalwood, gardenia, and mindfulness, all neatly packaged and labeled to help you choose the best fragrance to match your mood.  

If you prefer sticks, this same company offers 24 sticks in each of the same scents.

In terms of time, it takes only a few minutes for the concentrated fragrance from burning incense to fill your house. And if you have to leave out or would prefer a shorter burn time, you can dip the tip of the incense stick in water to stop it from smoldering. 

Once it is completely dry, like in a day or so, you could always burn it again to improve the smell in your home. 

If you choose incense, you will get a strong scent to bring calm to the atmosphere, but keep in mind that incense is not a light source. 

Thoughts About Choosing Candles

Although you have to be safe with incense and candles, in comparison, candles require more attention. Since the flame remains intact in order to keep the wax warm, more care must be taken to ensure that nothing falls onto the flame, or that the candle gets knocked over. Because of this, it is best not to leave candles unattended for any period of time.

Candles have to be monitored for the entire time that they are lit. Falling asleep or walking into a different section of the house can lead to irreversible accidents. Trust me, I know from personal experience how hard it can be to remove red wax from beige carpet. So, always, always, monitor your candles once you have lit them. 

Time is also a factor. Candles have to burn for at least an hour not only to disseminate its fragrance but also to ensure that the wax melts evenly. The overall lifespan of the candle is significantly reduced if the wax burns unevenly because it creates a tunnel in the center and wax buildup on the edges that never burns down. 

On the upside, with candles also comes ambiance. If you are looking to add fragrance in a calming atmosphere, you can turn off the lights, and then light one or a few candles. Gentle flickering of ambient light can help you destress and wind down for the day. 

Here are a couple of candle sets I like:

Set of 8 Aromatherapy Candles

If you are looking to add a bohemian vibe to your home, this set of aromatherapy candles might be a good fit for you. There are some common scents (green tea, lavender, lemongrass, pine) as well as a few less common ones that can add unique fragrance to your home (coco cake, fig, Oolong milk tea, and coffee whiskey).

Each candle is 2.5 oz (71g), burns for 15-20 hours, and is made with smokeless soy wax. The best part is that each one comes in a beautifully decorated tin that can be repurposed once all of the candle wax has been burned. 

Winbattle Citronella Candle Gift Set of 4

This candle set can be used indoors or outdoors to naturally repel bugs. Each candle is 4.5 oz (128g), made with smokeless soy wax, and is also inside a reusable decorative tin.

Don’t miss our favorite candle brands list if you like candles.

Closing Thoughts on Incense vs Candles 

As you can tell, understanding the difference between incense and candles can help you decide which one would work best for you. Here are a few closing thoughts to consider:

  • Incense also comes in citronella fragrance that can be used as a natural bug repellant. 
  • If you have children or pets, both incense and candles should be kept out of their reach.
  • Incense gives off smoke so if someone in the home has a lung condition, candles might be the better choice.

Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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