incense smoke

Does Incense Go Bad?

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Incense is favored by many thanks to its unique scents and long, meaningful traditions of ceremonial use. In addition to this, it’s often used for its health benefits. Many times, incense can promote sleep and even help boost your concentration. It’s easy to buy lots and lots of it, and to start a collection.

But, does incense go bad? Unfortunately yes, incense eventually loses its scent and goes bad. It’s a question many incense lovers ask. Below is more information about why this happens and how you can prevent it. 

What is Incense?

Incense is a material that emits a strong aroma when heated. This substance comes in several forms, including sticks, cones, resin crystals, and coils. Some types of incense are made of natural ingredients, such as sage, wood, and resins like frankincense.

Many manufacturers will also add essential oils and herbs to it for a stronger smell. Some manufacturers may claim their selection is natural, but defining “natural” is… in the eye of the beholder. 

A small stick can burn for up to two hours. Once it starts to evaporate, it will slowly burn itself out. This way, you don’t have to worry about extinguishing it. Most people will use about 2-3 sticks at a time. 

How is Incense Made?

To make incense sticks, a thin piece of bamboo is dipped into a fragrance mixture. Some might instead be coated with scented sawdust. There are two types of incense you can buy – Eastern and Western. 


Eastern incense grinds spices into minuscule pieces. Once they are made into a dust-like texture, water is added to make a thick paste. The bamboo stick will be rolled in the paste until it’s evenly coated. It will then be left to dry. 


Western incense focuses on using tree bark resin. The bamboo stick will be dipped into it and then sprayed with an aroma. 

Indirect vs. Direct Burning – What’s the Difference?

When burning incense you can either do indirect or direct burning. Indirect burning requires that the stick has a consistent heat source. Otherwise, it would burn out. This heat source will slowly burn the incense stick until it disappears. You can often see a small ember at the end of the stick as it burns. 

Direct burning is similar to indirect but is instead molded into a special shape, such as a cone. While it must be lit to burn, the flame can be blown out. Despite this, the incense will continue to smolder. 

Does Incense Go Bad?

Does incense go bad if you don’t use it? 

Incense won’t rot if you don’t use it. But could lose its scent over time. Its aroma will fade after about three years. However, if stored correctly, incense could last for decades. 

How to Protect Incense

If you want to prevent your incense from losing its scent, you can use these tips. 

Keep Incense Out of Light

One of the most important things to do to protect incense is to keep it out of sunlight. Direct sunlight can degrade its materials. This won’t only cause it to slowly crumble but could soften its scent. You’ll want to put the incense into a drawer or cabinet and ensure it stays closed. 

Remove Sticks From Moist Areas

As mentioned above, incense won’t rot if you keep it in correct conditions. Despite this, it could start to deteriorate if you store it in a humid or moist area. Because incense often contains paper or paper-like materials, they will start to develop mold if wet. 

Store it in a Dark Box

Another way to keep your incense in good shape is to store it in a dark box like the one shown here.

Incense Storage box

There are a variety of incense boxes you can place these sticks into. Typically made of wood, incense boxes will preserve the sticks and prevent their scent from escaping. They’re also equipped with a tight lid that will stop air from leaking in. This will keep them fresh even years later. 

Separate the Scents

Sometimes the incense could lose its scent simply because it’s stored with other fragrances. This could encourage them to absorb the surrounding scents. Over time, you’ll notice the incense might not smell as strongly as it once did.

To avert this, use different containers to store them in. 

Never Refrigerate Incense

A handful of people make the mistake of putting their incense in the fridge. They believe this will preserve the scent better. Unfortunately, the cold temperature can damage incense. This is because the cold can cause condensation to build on the incense. 

Invest in Incense With Fewer Oils

Incense that has oil in it, such as essential oils, are prone to deteriorating faster than those that don’t. This is because the oils make the substance a bit damp. If you want a long-lasting incense, purchase those with less oil. 

Incense is a sturdy material, but it could lose its scent and durability if not stored correctly. By keeping these tips in mind, you can easily protect your stash.