Since ancient days, people have burned various plant materials to create aromatic fumes that supposedly repel insects.
That is why burning incense is considered a clever way to keep unwanted little flying creatures at bay.
Today, we have a wide variety of natural and synthetic types of incense for repelling insects – especially mosquitoes! People love the concept of incense because, besides bugging the bugs, incense has a pleasant fragrance that adds charm to your living space.
However, have you ever wondered whether it works at repelling insects and blood-sucking pests? For real?
Alright, of course – the smokey fragrance is there to enjoy. But do mosquitoes, flies, and other insects that bother us care about it at all?
Let’s look at both the science and the anecdotal evidence to find out.
How Does Incense Work for Repelling Insects?
The theory goes like this. Insects, especially those that feed on blood, have olfactory organs to target their victims. Specific aromas such as mint, citronella, and basil are well-known mosquito deterrents and one of the reasons that people plant them in their gardens.
On the other hand, the smoke itself can act as an insect deterrent – especially if you burn specific plants that repel them, spreading their aromatic compounds around the air along with the smoke.
Therefore, the fumes created by burning incense allegedly mess with the insects’ smell-o-vision, making it harder for them to target us – and less likely to visit the fire area in the first place.
This box of incense contains the natural oils of citronella and lemongrass. Perfect for checking mosquitoes at the park, campground, patio, or garden! The incense box contains 50 incense sticks and is DEET free.
How to Burn Incense
Store-bought incense comes in three primary forms: sticks, cones, and coils. You will need some physical support to burn them – you can buy or make incense holders or use an old fire-resistant dish.
Secure the incense in the designated holder and light the tip. After a few moments, blow out the flame gently and let the incense sticks work their magic.
But is it genuinely magic, or it’s just the fragrance that’s magical? The theory sounds perfectly sound, but let’s look at what the good ole’ scientific research has to say about it all.
The Science on Incense Insect Repellents
Unfortunately, all the theory gets murky when we look at the (scarce) scientific research on the topic.
Spoiler alert: there is no scientific consensus on the question of incense insect repellents.
The World Health Organization did a revealing scientific review on smoke as an insect repellent, focusing on indoor smoke. The results have been largely inconclusive, with no proof that the smoke reduces the number of mosquito bites.
Still, researchers suggest that burning certain plants might drive the bloodsuckers away from the area affected by their smoke.
Three scientists from India experimented to see if their custom-made herbal incense repels mosquitos.
The studies used dried powdered plant material such as pyrethrum flower heads, camphor, Acorus, benzoin, and neem leaves, mixed with the additives like joss and charcoal powder, and repelling essential oils like lemongrass essential oil.
They rolled the mixture into sticks and burned them near cages containing mosquitoes. They found that their mosquitoes indeed kept trying to escape the smoke. Also, they distributed the mixture sticks to several study participants and received favorable feedback.
All in all, it seems that using traditionally used herbs and oils can and do repel the mosquitoes. Still, the study fails to prove the technique’s usefulness in real-life situations with free-flying mosquitoes or provide some reliable statistics from the volunteer part of the study.
The same logic applies to almost all incense products. They may be proven to be efficient in the lab setting. However, whether they will work in real-life circumstances depends on too many factors to guarantee success.
The Risks of Using Incense at Home
As the awareness of the risks of air pollution grows, incense has also come under scientific scrutiny.
To make it simple: when you burn things in your home, it unavoidably produces a certain amount of indoor air pollution. However, the more compounds – the greater is the risk of breathing in harmful chemicals – especially synthetics!
One study investigated indoor air pollution brought on by liquid and disk mosquito-repelling incense. The analysts measured the concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), reactive oxygen species (ROS), and secondary organic aerosols (SOA) – chemicals all damaging to human health.
Researchers found that burning incense produces these compounds in amounts beyond those considered safe, deeming them harmful. Liquid incense showed to be slightly more polluting than disc incense.
Another Japanese study has yielded the same results – it has shown that incense is a source of indoor air pollution by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
We love the smell of incense. Sage, lavender, and pine are some of our favorites!
But, we think it’s a good idea to use them outside and in a well-ventilated area. Inhaling any smoke is likely bad for you – incense sticks included. So, if you burn incense indoors – make sure you have plenty of ventilation!
And – always follow the safety instructions for any mosquito repellent or incense that you use. Period!
We love the way this incense holder looks! It also has a strong metal build and excellent airflow. The burner's diameter is 6.2-inches and it weighs roughly .82 ounces.
Two More Insect Incense Repellent Studies We Found!
One of the most recent studies we found on insect repellent incense comes from the Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology. The research team combined dried herbs such as pyrethrum flower head, Acorus, benzoin, camphor, and neem leaves.
The study’s abstract statement concludes that their polyherbal incense is a very effective insect repellent. Yes!
We found another breakthrough incense insect study from the Department of Environmental Biology. (Canada.) The study found that citronella candles and citronella helped reduce mosquito bites.
But, the results weren’t dramatic. Citronella candles helped lessen mosquito bites by around 42%. Citronella incense helped manage mosquito bites by roughly 24%. Better than nothing. I’ll take it!
The Final Judgement! Does Incense Stop Insects? Or, Not?
If you ask me for a conclusion on the topic, I will put it like this.
Burning natural incense may help you reduce the number of insects in your surroundings, as well as the number of bites. The experiments show that mosquitoes try to avoid smoke from herbal incense mixes.
However, real-life circumstances differ from the lab.
The first thing I would like to point out is that if you live in an area where malaria other mosquito-borne disease is present, never rely on incense only to protect you!
However, in ordinary circumstances, incense can at least help. In an indoor space, burning incense will undoubtedly be more efficient than outside.
In case you want to keep your windows open on a summer night, burning incense can be an effective way to reduce the possibility of mosquito attacks – but not exclude them altogether!
Outdoor space is an entirely different story – both the smoke and the smell will spread in a spotty and chaotic fashion and may fail to do the trick.
On the other hand, adding herbs such as sage or lavender to campfires or fire pits can add to the protection given off by tremendous smoke emissions from these sources (and it smells so fine!).
Nevertheless, using additional topical repellents on your skin will add protection if the mosquitoes in your area decide they don’t care about our silly fumes.
Despite the marketing, commercial synthetic sticks and coils are unproven to be efficient at driving away from the insects in all real-life situations – and using them regularly can get pricey.
Add to that the risk of exposure to volatile chemicals that may damage your health. I don’t think the unproven effects are worth the proven risk.
Truly natural incense is an alternative – although natural still doesn’t mean entirely safe! In most cases, it means understudied!
Still, we don’t believe burning traditional and presumably safe natural incense herbs in a well-ventilated environment for a limited amount of time will do you much harm.
Our two cents? Even if the herbs fail to save you from every bite – the divine fragrance will likely help you keep up the mood despite some itchy spots.
Do you agree with us? Or are we wrong?
Let us know in the comments – and if you have a top-secret natural mosquito repellent idea that works? Please share!
Thanks again for reading – and have a great day!
These mosquito coils are perfect for porches, patios, and other semi-confined areas. Each mosquito coil burns for around four hours and helps protect a 10-by-10 area from mosquitos. The incense coils have a country-fresh scent.