Best Incense of 2021
We are very impressed with the overall performance of the Bless International incense. The fragrance is pasted to the outside of a bamboo stick, which lights easily and burns cleanly and completely. The scent was pleasing to our testers and feels elegant and natural. It comes in a sturdy, crush-proof box, and the 25 included sticks are sealed in plastic inside. The scent strikes the perfect balance between strength and subtlety, with enough potency to be enjoyed in a large room but not so much as to overwhelm users in small spaces.
On the downside, only one scent variety is included, and, for the price, there are much better values on the market. But if you don't care for variety and just want a great scent, we'd recommend this product. If you are looking for the best deal on bulk fragrances, look elsewhere.
Tom's Six Most Popular provides 20 sticks each of six different scents, all of which are bold and pungent. The low price makes this product a great value for those who want some variety. The pack includes fragrances called First Rain, Patchouli, White Sage, Dragon's Blood, Frankincense-Myrrh, and Lavender. They are on the strong side, easily filling a room or small apartment with plenty of scent that will last for hours. The sticks burn consistently and completely and are easy to light. They come packaged in plastic inside crush-proof tubes, all of which are wrapped in a plastic bag, ensuring the product arrives intact. Plus, this set comes with a holder, which is very useful for users who are just starting out.
Some of our testers didn't like how fragrant this gift set is. Across the six scents that are included, they are all strong. A full stick is enough to provide fragrance for a large apartment or small house. In small spaces, we had to extinguish the sticks before they burned all the way down because they are so potent. Some testers noted how the scents are more like perfume than something natural or earthy. Still, for the price, this variety pack and included holder provides an excellent value.
The Sensari Hand-Dipped is our favorite variety pack in this review. The scents were pleasant to our testers, who noted that the fragrances are not too strong and not too weak, just right for most spaces. Furthermore, the scents are pungent enough without being overwhelming, remaining balanced and dispersed, and never feeling too concentrated. The sticks burn flawlessly, igniting quickly and combusting completely. We also found burn times for this brand to be impressive, regularly clocking in around the 40-45 minute mark per stick. The package also includes a personal letter from the founder and a holder for easy set-up.
The packaging could be better, as each of the 12 fragrances are packaged individually in plastic bags, which are then placed in a larger plastic bag with the holder. This doesn't provide any protection for the sticks during shipping, and it also seems like a wasteful amount of plastic, especially if users are looking for a brand they can purchase again and again. That said, the quality of the fragrances and sophisticated scents make this a great variety pack and gift set.
The Chakras Root to Crown Set includes seven varieties of fragrance (one for each chakra) with 20 sticks per fragrance and a holder. The package is a large, sturdy box, and each individual chakra scent is enclosed in a different card sleeve. This ensures safe handling and delivery of the sticks to the user. The sticks burn for around 40 minutes per stick, which is longer than most other products that we tested. They ignite easily and burn efficiently and completely. The scents are also nicely fragranced.
The only downsides for this set are the price and the scent strength. This product is the most expensive in our comparison and doesn't provide a dramatically better smell than other options. The scents are also on the weaker side, which is actually perfect for single rooms and small spaces — however, in larger spaces, the fragrances take a while to become noticeable. Still, this is a great set for users who prefer gentler fragrances or for small spaces like studio apartments or treatment rooms.
In the arena of fragrant wood, Luna Sundara Palo Santo is our favorite. These chunks of wood produce an aroma that was highly appealing to our test team. The scent is strong and pungent but not overwhelming or synthetic. You may recognize it from your favorite yoga studio, where it often gets used to clear the space between classes. With nine sticks included in the package and at least 50 uses per stick, this product provides great value and many uses.
Compared to traditional incense sticks, Palo Santo does not remain lit and must be held under a flame for 15-20 seconds to ignite. Once flaming for a few seconds, the user blows out the flame, and the embers emit smoke for about 30 seconds. If you want more smoke than that, you'll have to reignite the wood and perform the routine again. So, it's hard for Palo Santo to produce as much smoke as a traditional stick without constant lighting. Still, in small spaces, this product produces plenty of fragrance. If you are tired of the smell of traditional sticks and want something more natural, we highly recommend Palo Santo for a different fragrance that might become your new favorite.
Palo Santo is wood from the Bursera graveolens tree, which is found in Central and South America. The wood of the dead tree is dried, concentrating its naturally-occurring oil, which is then burned to release a pleasing aroma. Palo Santo has been used for centuries, starting with indigenous peoples, as a ceremonial fragrance and calming scent.Recently, the sustainability of Palo Santo harvesting has come into question. The most recent data shows that the Bursera graveolens tree is not endangered, but the dry tropical forests in which it grows are increasingly threatened.
If you are looking for a natural, woody aroma rather than the more perfume-forward traditional option, the Incienso de Sante Fe varieties are worth checking out. We tested the Hickory and Alder, but all of their woods are worth checking out. This product is available in Cedar, Fir Balsam, Juniper, Mesquite, and Piñon. The scent is aromatic, balanced, and pleasant and doesn't smell perfume-y or synthetic at all. The fragrance is strong but not overwhelming and gives the feeling of a fragrant campfire. They come in a resealable zip plastic bag inside a small but protective card box.
Minor downsides include a slightly longer ignition time and shorter overall burn time per stick compared to other products in our comparison. But, the fragrance is unique, and if you are looking for an earthier scent than traditional sticks provide, we recommend you give these fragrant bricks a shot.
The Nag Champa Gift Set includes 12 scent varieties with 12 sticks per scent. The fragrances are strong and pungent, easily overwhelming users in small spaces and who are sensitive to powerful aromas. This product is best used in large spaces and outdoor areas. That said, the variety is impressive, and the sticks burn for a long time, with little problems during ignition or combustion.
The smell of this product overwhelms the packaging and perfumes any room in which the product is stored before burning. If you are interested in traditional, Indian-made incense and want the most variety possible, the Nag Champa Gift Set is for you, as long as you don't mind the most pungent of scents.
The Stamford Aromatherapy pack contains six varieties and 20 sticks per scent. The packaging is robust and protective, with each scent contained in its own crush-proof tube and plastic wrap around the sticks. The scents are on the strong side, and in general, our testers enjoyed them, but in a couple of instances, they felt overpowering and too strongly scented like perfume. Some users enjoy this pungent smell, and it works well in large spaces, but this product may not be best for users in small spaces and individual rooms.
We noticed a couple of instances of incomplete combustion where the paste would burn away, but the bamboo stick would remain. This only happened a couple of times, but it is still worth mentioning. This didn't affect the scent, but it is still undesirable. Our testers also noted that the fragrances have confusing names that don't help users identify the scents very well, such as "sensuality" and "refreshing." That said, if you like strong, pungent varieties and are looking for a new set of affordable aromas to try out, this is an option.
The Goloka Nag Champa 12-pack includes 144 sticks of classically-scented incense at a low price. The scent is very strong, and can be overwhelming for small spaces without ventilation, but for large spaces and outdoor use, the fragrance is great. The sticks burn for a long time, up to 40 minutes per stick.
Unfortunately, the super-thin cardboard packaging is a bit flimsy and won't protect the sticks from violent handling while in transit. We also experienced a few issues related to incomplete combustion, when the inner bamboo stick would not combust entirely, leaving a stringy substance hanging from the ember. If you are burning a lot of incense and don't mind the aesthetics of incomplete combustion, this won't be an issue. And if you like a traditional scent and don't need variety, this product is a good option.
The Alternative Imagination California White Sage offers plenty of burning material for about 150 uses. The product includes three bundles of dried sage leaves, which are wrapped together using thin white string. The leaves are easy to light and are tightly bundled when they arrive. The scent is subtle, but the leaves themselves produce a lot of smoke, so this product is not for those who don't like smoky air.
Although the leaves ignite easily, they don't stay lit for long — the embers last for an average of about two minutes. Our testers were also split over the scent of this product. In general, burning sage smells mostly like burning leaves, with a little bit of floral aroma mixed in. The result is an earthy fragrance, more akin to burning wood or leaves than to burning incense. The smell is not for everyone. But, if sage is your thing, or if you are hoping to switch it up from a traditional fragrance, this could be a good option. Sage is also a classic choice for "smudging" or cleansing a space and is reported to be calming by many folks.
Why You Should Trust Us
For this review, TechGearLab editor Jeff Dobronyi led the test team. Jeff brings a wide variety of objective, metric-based testing to this comparison, having reviewed dozens of categories from ski jackets to car chargers. After studying Buddhism in college, Jeff began burning fragrances while studying and relaxing. An avid international traveler, his curiosity with incense grew during trips to South America and Asia. Now, he seems to have some variety of essential oil, Palo Santo, or aromatic wood constantly burning at home while he relaxes and rests from his day-to-day work of Mountain Guiding.
To assemble this review, we researched over 50 brands of incense, fragrant woods, and herbs before purchasing the top 10 at retail price for our rigorous, head-to-head testing process. We scored the performance of each brand in four metrics, including scent, combustibility, burn time, and quality. We compared each product by burning it in both large and small rooms, indoors and outdoors, and by burning different brands consecutively to arrive at objective conclusions. Everyone's individual preferences and uses will vary, but our review remains as objective as possible to deliver factual findings about each product.
Analysis and Test Results
We tested a wide variety of incense, from individual scents to multi-scent packs, and also included fragrant woods and herbs. Our scoring metrics evaluate each product on key performance attributes.
This metric measures characteristics of the smell, like how strong or weak the product is, whether the scent is pungent or gentle, and if the scent matches the description. To test this metric, we burned each variety in both large and small rooms, from well-ventilated to stuffy. We asked multiple people what they thought of each scent and compared products to each other in close succession. We found a wide variety of scents, most of which are pungent and strong, filling small rooms easily and quickly, and in some cases, overpowering the user. A few of the scents were mellow enough to be burned in small rooms and around people who don't typically enjoy fragrances.
Of all the choices, our testers most enjoyed the scents of the Sensari and Bless International products. Both of these items feature scents that are well-balanced, meaning they deliver just the right amount of fragrance — not too strong and not too weak. The scents are floral, natural, and don't smell artificial or synthetic. We also love the scent of the Luna Sundara Palo Santo, which is similarly well-balanced. Palo Santo is a great scent to check out if you are interested in something different than traditional fragrances.
We also enjoyed the earthy, natural scent of the Incienso de Sante Fe, which is reminiscent of fragrant campfires and comes in seven varieties. Among traditional scents, the Tom's HEM is also a good choice for strong yet high-quality aromas and the Chakras Root to Crown Set contains seven mellow and well-balanced varieties for small spaces.
This metric assessed the state of arrival, packaging, and consistency, and any included extras for each product. Incense is a fragile material, so it's important that the product arrives well-protected and intact. Padded envelopes and sturdy box construction aid this. We also looked for products with resealable packaging to keep the scents contained until wanted and for easy, scent-free storage. We awarded higher scores for consistency across the included sticks, both in shape and in burning performance. It is also notable that some products include a holder, a nice addition.
Of all the products in our review, we were most impressed with the quality of the Chakras Root to Crown Set. This pack comes in a sturdy box, with each of the seven scents wrapped individually in smaller card sleeves and the sticks themselves wrapped in plastic. This helps protect the product during shipping and handling and also keeps the scent from escaping while the incense is not in use.
We also like the quality of the two fragrant wood products, the Incienso de Sante Fe and the Luna Sundara Palo Santo. The packaging for these products is great and contains little waste. Furthermore, the consistency from stick to stick is excellent and unwavering.
Incense and other burning fragrances need heat to produce their scents, and while each medium works in different ways, it is important that the product lights efficiently. We tested each product for combustion, noting how long the material takes to light compared to other similar products. We also looked for products that burn cleanly and completely and that can be extinguished easily when needed. We noted the contenders that burned evenly, as well as those that burned one-sided and incompletely.
The Bless International and Sensari varieties perform highly in the combustion metric. They are easy to light, catching fire after just a couple of seconds under a flame, and they burn completely and cleanly. We never experienced incomplete combustion of the bamboo stick with either product. The Nag Champa Gift Set, Tom's HEM, and Chakras also ignite quickly and burn easily and completely.
This metric measures how long each product burns, compared to other similar products of the same medium. In general, we favor products that burn longer, because they'll have more life and produce more scent. Plus, slower-burning fragrances produce less smoke density, making fragrances gentler on the user and preventing the scent from overpowering the space.
Of all the products we tested, the Chakras sticks lasted the longest, up to 45 minutes per stick. This product's scents are mellow and gentle, meaning that 45 minutes of burn time is completely tolerable even in small spaces. On the other hand, the Goloka Nag Champa also burns long, up to 40 minutes per stick, but features a very strong and pungent scent. Even 5 minutes is enough to thoroughly fragrance a small space, and 40 minutes would bring sufficient aromas to huge indoor spaces and outdoor venues.
After comparing the best incenses on the market, we've put together an in-depth, comparative review to help you choose. There is something for everyone, from bargain and bulk options to high-end scents and from traditional aroma to fragrant wood. We know it can be hard to choose the best fragrance, and we hope that our testing can shed some light on the best options on the market. Read through our options, and have fun selecting the best scent for your lifestyle.
— Jeff Dobronyi