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How to Burn Incense: A step-by-step guide to light and put out backflow incense cones

Posted by Bill Yen on

Incense has a long history in almost all regions of the world. Over time, the form of incense we use has evolved from leaves, flowers, dried wood and resin pieces, to ground powder that is mixed and dried into different shapes. There are several types of incense in use today, and we have previously shared a guide on how to use stick incense, the most popular form of incense.

What are backflow incense and how do backflow incense work?

Backflow incense are exactly as the name suggests – incense where the incense smoke (or plume) flows in the opposite direction as “normal” incense, that is, downwards instead of upwards. Most of the time backflow incense is made in the shape of a cone, with a small, hollow tunnel through the center, ending in a hole at the bottom center. Backflow incense can also be made in the shape of a stick which is completely hollow in the center, ie, a long, thin tube. 

This is how we think backflow incense works: incense smoke is actually more dense than normal air at room temperature because it contains tiny particles. But when a normal incense is lit, smoke flows upwards because the effect of the heat offsets the weight of the tiny particles, as hot air is lighter than room-temperature air. However, in the case of a backflow incense, as it burns, smoke enters the hollow center tunnel, where it cools as it follows the along the path. When smoke cools, it becomes denser, so when it exits the incense at the bottom, it flows gently downwards.

Below you’ll see a video of the backflow incense cone in action:

An overview of backflow incense burners  (aka backflow fountains, backflow waterfalls...) 

As many of you know, here at Kin we have created a collection of modern backflow incense burners, which are a minimal interpretation of the traditional backflow incense holderWe have always enjoyed the downward flowing plumes of backflow incense, and the way they can be guided and directed to form rather mesmerizing scenery. We really think this effect works strikingly well with our collection. 

We often get questions about incense fountains or incense waterfalls – these are in fact common alternative names for backflow incense burners or holders.  

However, as backflow incense is not widely used, today we will be sharing a step-by-step guide for lighting backflow incense cones.

Lighting backflow incense cones

Despite its unusual form, lighting a backflow incense is actually very similar to lighting a stick incense. Below you'll see a video demonstration, and a set of written instructions underneath.

* This video uses the Kin Valley of Fog backflow incense burner

Detailed instructions:

  1. Hold the incense cone with one hand or with some tweezers
  2. Light pointy end of the incense cone with a match or lighter as you would a candle wick. Ensure that the incense is immersed in the flame until it ignites with a small flame (note the flame may not say lit as it might on a stick incense)
  3. Gently fan or blow out the flame or remnants of the flame
  4. Check the incense tip where the flame was. If you see a small glowing ember, and smoke starts coming out of the bottom, then the incense has been correctly lit. If you're unsure, leave the incense for a minute or so, then check again. If you do not see a glowing ember, and there is no smoke coming out of the bottom, you have completely extinguished the incense by accident, and will need to repeat steps 1-3 above
  5. Place it into the incense holder. Be sure that the hole at the bottom of the incense aligns with the hole on the seat of the incense holder, or the incense plume will be blocked 

Putting out backflow incense cones

Once lit, it is difficult to put out a backflow incense cone and keep it for use at a later time (as we often do with our stick incense).

While we do not recommend the use of water for putting out stick incense, we do recommend it for backflow incense. The best way to put out a cone that has not been fully burnt is to immerse it into a cup of water. Just note though that once you do this, you will have to discard the cone, it cannot be used again.

Throwing away incense cone ash 

We often get asked the best way to dispose of burnt incense cone ash. This can be tricky as if you try to pick up the burnt incense cone, the ash will fall everywhere and make quite a mess. This is how we do it ourselves: 

  1. Wait for the burnt incense cone to cool down (about 5min) 
  2. Move a trash bag or move your garbage can close to the incense (don’t try to move the incense holder) 
  3. Pick up the small metal plate the incense cone is sitting on, and gently tip the whole burnt cone into the trash 

    A few words of caution

    As with all things flammable, we do want to remind you that you should take care in using incense. There are a few things you should be aware of:

    • Please ensure you put the incense on surface that is heat-resistant, and no flammable items like curtains or books are near where the ashes can drop 
    • Please ensure that you do not leave the incense unattended
    • Please place incense out of reach of children or pets
    • Do not touch remnants of the incense right after it has finished burning. Also do not touch metal parts of the incense burner right after burning. Both of these may still be hot. Give them several minutes to cool down

    Of course, if you have any other questions about how to use stick incense, please feel free to leave us a note in comments.

    Otherwise, enjoy!



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