Incense Storage

Questions regarding the storage of incense and preserving shelf-life come up frequently at ORS.  Here is a compilation of the tips and observations that have been offered throughout the blog over the years.  Thanks to the many folks who’ve given us the advice which has been distilled into the list which now follows…

  Incense with less oils (i.e. closer to true woods) are less volatile over time and may offer longer shelf life and less scent degradation.

  Temperature, humidity and light controlled environs are best for storage – a typical drawer in a home offers reasonable temperature, humidity and light control.  Avoid direct sunlight and dampness.  Refrigeration is probably overkill and may introduce moisture problems.  Vacuum sealing may eventually pull oils and aroma out of incense, so avoid.

  Storing various oil-laden incenses together can lead to fragrance cross-contamination, so for instance, you won’t want to put numerous, fragrant Indian incenses in the same box – and you definitely don’t want to store your prized kyara in the same box with your nag-champa!  Zip lock bags may be used to help isolate different incenses that are stored in the same location, but more potent aromas and oils may still permeate through.  It’s best to leave incense in its original packaging – whether it be a stiff plastic bag, wax paper lined cardboard box, cellophane wrapper, etc..

  Don’t store incense near mothballs, cedar-blocks, sachet bags, or the like that are often found in drawers, closets and chests.  If a chest or box is made from a particulary strong-smelling wood (ex. unfinished pine or cedar) it might also alter your incense over time and would not be an ideal storage container.

♦  Some incense, more commonly from Japanese manufacturers, comes packaged in a nice Paulownia wood box.  In addition to being an attractive material, the Paulownia swells with humidity and heat, so the box essentially self-seals (the lid fits tighter) and helps insulate the incense.  Take advantage of this clever design and keep your incense in this box if it came with one.  Reuse your empty Paulownia boxes to store other box-less incense!

  Some incense, most notably Indian, may actually improve with some aging.  Strong oils, plants and spices can mellow and the ingredients can more thoroughly combine or “gel” with time.

In short, by simply keeping incense in its original boxes and out of intense sunlight, it’s likely to be as comfortable in your home as you are!  Given the anecdotes from ORS, scent degradation is rarely an issue following these basic guidelines and many of us here keep large quantities of incense on hand for years with little concern about erosion of our treasured stock :grin:

22 Comments

  1. Jerry Joslen said,

    April 30, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    So my question is this…
    In the case of lets say Shoyeido Myo-ho which besides woods contains some oils… If maintained in an exclusive environment: What would you anticipate as an expected life expectancy (specifically the decline of essence output)?

    • clairsight said,

      May 4, 2013 at 9:40 am

      I tend to store sticks in the heavy walled plastic tubes from EOA. After, maybe 2 years there is some loss of “punch”. I am considering alumanum tubes or glass with a non-reactive top AND filled with inert gas(Wine Saver) for the more expensive stuff.

      • Gregg King said,

        May 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        There is one thing to consider with aluminum tubes Ross, and that is what’s called “white rust”, a condition we often run into at our manufacturing plant and affects aluminum in a similar manner that normal rust affects iron based metal. If you are going to use aluminum, make sure you use tubes that are shiny and don’t have a dulled surface, and fill with an inert gas.

        • clairsight said,

          May 5, 2013 at 3:20 pm

          Thanks Gregg, prehaps stainless stell, although the price might be crazy. I was trying to stay away from glass test tubes but I think there might bee coatings that could be applied to “earth quake proof” them.

          • Jerry Joslen said,

            June 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

            I purchased a few of the clear ABS, air tight “cigar” tubes and they definitely seem to meet all the criteria mentioned (that’s of course if you can’t obtain paulownia boxes).

            jj

  2. Lin said,

    January 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    Where can I find the Paulownia Boxes? I’d like to get some standard/bargain Japanese incense but I don’t think those come with the wood boxes…..the ones I’ve seen that come with the wood boxes are the more expensive incense.

  3. April 21, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Hello,
    We have paulonia boxes for natural granulated ritual incense. This wood keeps the air circulating at a good rate and is used to keep kimono s etc. For more expensive small chips such as kyara, we advice violet or black ebony kohgoh or a small holder for the incense. For sticks such as the Shohkaku and other premium incense, we have also ebony and keyaki round storages. One kind, you can add many lenghts to it depending on your incense. For lower incense, there are paper round boxes also.
    Always keep paulonia boxes, they are useful.

  4. ted said,

    December 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I’d like to add metal tins. Old saltine, whitman and canco tins make wonderful homes.

    • ted said,

      February 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm

      Need to transport a few sticks of fragile incense? Take the barrel out of a disposable ballpoint pen, put a few sticks in, and tape the end. When I mail out a gift, I usually include a few sticks of something they might like. It’s not the most formal presentation, but works in a pinch!

  5. fredfud said,

    November 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    I dislike burning incense, so I keep it in a single plastic cigar tube (Le Tube; pat. pend.) which has a VERY tight seal. It opens easily, and out slides the 5.5″ sticks. Found in tobacco specialty shops for between $5 & $10.

  6. Rex said,

    May 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    A little hint from some friends out west in the medical marijuana field… the “turkey roasting” plastic bags made from heat resistant nylon will isolate strong odors with little or no leakage over time. I’ve been using them to store incense for years and they work very well.

  7. Carrie said,

    April 30, 2011 at 9:56 am

    I seem to have amassed a pretty large supply of incense in the last couple months and had no place to store it. No extra drawers. No room for glass jars, although that would look wonderful :)

    I found that the ‘disposable’ Ziploc long rectangular containers are the perfect size, and you can stack them.

    Most of my Indian incenses each have their own container. My Tibetan stash is not so large yet, and they aren’t as strongly scented as the Indian, so I have them all in one container for now.

    My one Japanese incense, Kai en Koh, has it’s own container. ;)

  8. Kieran said,

    December 9, 2010 at 2:18 am

    HI All,
    once again I am an independant incense maker or incense crafter. I can say that Glass jars work well. Color tinted glass such as amber, blue, green, perhaps even yellow purple and red though even more rare work better at protecting from light damage and impart a color energetic. They can be strong and inspiring. The best incense container I would probably say would be made of clay porcelain as it will create the ideal moisture levels and light environment. Many incense have been made in the past this way such as Kyphi. It is a great way to “cure” or age your incense. Incense if good quality, I only refer to natural Incense when I mention Incense, should never expire if stored properly. If moisture is a problem one can use a dessicant like silica or other natural ingredients in the container. Sometimes placing on a tray at the low setting in the Oven can help draw out unwanted moisture.
    Ov the se7en, you’re now

  9. George Scheil said,

    December 8, 2010 at 8:15 am

    For storing incense as well as spices, nothing beats a glass jar – especially tight sealing ones like canning jars. Ditto to maintain moisture in popcorn.

  10. Tio said,

    July 2, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    America’s Test Kitchen tested freezer bags for permeability to moisture. Of all bags tested, Glad brand had the lowest moisture loss rate. All bags lost some moisture over time. There was a direct correlation between thicker plastic and lower moisture loss rate.

    How this relates to oil loss is unclear, but a bag that effectively keeps moisture in should do equally well at keeping it out.

  11. Mumon said,

    June 20, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    So why is a humidor good for cigars but bad for incense?

    • glennjf said,

      June 20, 2010 at 7:57 pm

      Hi Mumon,

      Why? Bad?

      You set me to wondering since I had never delved into how a humidor works. I thought I’d start with the current wikipedia page simply because it’s as good a place as any.

      Reading it, there’s aspects about humidors, their function and their construction that I think are not good generally if one was wanting to store incense in one. Seems they maintain a level of humidity ie from the wiki…“A humidor is any kind of box or room with constant humidity” then there’s the internal veneer of your regular type humidor, wikipedia says… “Spanish-cedar is the most frequently used wood for the interior veneer of humidors.” and goes on to say… “It imparts its aroma to cigars if they are stored in it for long enough.”

      That’s all good news for cigar lovers as that’s a scent that cigar lovers are (says the wiki) happy to have insinuate itself into their humidor stored cigars but probably not aspects that incense lovers would be jumping for joy about.

      • glennjf said,

        September 9, 2010 at 6:51 am

        I found myself looking at the exterior of a cigar shop today, first one I’ve ever found. Inside the place they sold, you guessed it, cigars, lots of cigars. They also were selling empty cigar boxes various humidors and various other cigar lovers paraphernalia.

        A quick sniff of a few of the empty cigar boxes told me all I needed to know. Each one smelled intensely of cigars so too I imagine would any humidor smell that had previously been used to store cigars such things would hold the scent of them to itself assiduously.

  12. Maharani said,

    April 25, 2010 at 9:20 am

    RE freezing, I would only recommend it if you have a frost free freezer. If not, the freezer goes through defrost cycles, which is bad for biologicals. Wrapping rolls tightly in foil with some silica gel might help. I keep all my my spices in the freezer and they last for ever. Personally, with Indian incense, they seem to last fine if you keep the sticks in their packaging. If I have extra I use the packets as drawer sachets, and usually have 1 or 2 in my linen closet. They scent the closets very nicely! And as noted above, some mellow well and are good even when old. I am currently burning some Shroff Amber 1882 that I bought last July and it still smells wonderful! It has been kept in its roll in a dark box or drawer at constant temp.

  13. Ross said,

    April 17, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    Those wooden boxes that many Japanese rolls come in are actually designed to self seal in the event of high moister/humidity/heat, all of which are the true enemy of incense. SO, reusing them is a great idea. So is obtaining air tight boxes, possibly high grade plastic that will really seal “air tight”.
    I have found that strong scented rolls (think India style) will blow right through zip lock bags, even the heavy ones. So will any other strong aromatics. I have real doubts about freezing, because of the moister factor, as you pointed out. However I also just noticed David Oller, who could very well have way more insight then most of us, mention it as OK.
    Vacuum sounded good at one point, until one of our readers with a lot more science back round then I pointed out that it would also leech the very oils you are interested in keeping right on out of the incense. DOH. A piece of Aloeswood is a pretty stable thing, the scent is in the resin ( which is within the wood) and as David mentioned, it needs high heat to become volatile. Sandalwood is based on the oils in the wood, so air tight sealing will keep that oh so wonderful scent for much longer.
    -ross

    • Steve said,

      April 17, 2010 at 7:18 pm

      That’s a good point about the wood boxes self-sealing, Ross! I’ll add that to the tips list.


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