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Cigar 101

Choosing the Right Cigar Humidification System

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

A humidor, no matter how much you paid for it, is only as good as its humidification system. For a humidor to function properly, a reliable humidification system is essential. With new technologies, a growing number of options exist today. Traditional methods still work too. You can choose a system that is better tailored to the climate you live in, the level of maintenance you’re comfortable with, and the humidor itself. We’ve outlined the best options available below.

Floral Foam Humidifiers

When you think of a traditional humidification unit (often like the vented black plastic or brass-plated reservoirs that are included when you buy a new humidor), on the inside you will find floral foam. Floral foam is a spongy phenolic foam used in flower arrangements. It aggressively soaks up water and disperses it with its capillary action – a quality similar to what is found in plants. Traditional humidifiers are designed with vents to the let moisture from the floral foam escape.

To fill the unit, use either distilled water or propylene glycol solution (also called 50/50 solution). Never use tap water as it can promote mold, which will infect your cigar collection and ruin your entire humidor. Propylene glycol offers one advantage over distilled water: it won’t oversaturate your cigars because propylene glycol stops releasing moisture once 70% RH (relative humidity) is achieved. Either submerge your humidification unit in a glass or dish of cold distilled water or pour (or squirt) the propylene glycol directly into the reservoir. Once the unit is saturated, drain the excess out over a sink before returning the humidifier to the humidor.

The only drawback to a traditional floral foam humidifier is that the humidity can spike and retract quickly. Using propylene glycol minimizes this potential. Floral foam produces unwanted humidity fluctuation, however, this generally occurs temporarily and only at the time of replenishment. Floral foam should be replenished every 1 to 2 weeks.

Humidity Pouches

Boveda packs have become an extremely popular, low-maintenance humidification alternative. Using Boveda packs is virtually effortless because they contain a salt and water solution that expels humidity at specific predetermined levels through a semi-permeable membrane. Exact humidification is achieved through a patented 2-way system that continually reacts to ambient conditions. Boveda packs discharge and absorb humidity to meet the predetermined RH they are designed to deliver. The packs can be purchased in small or larger sizes to accommodate a range of humidor capacities or quantities of cigars. The most common humidity levels for storing cigars are 65%, 69%, 72% and 75% RH. Because Boveda is a 2-way system, the packs won’t over-saturate your cigars. When a Boveda pack stiffens up, its humidity is exhausted, and it’s time for replacement. How long Boveda packs last depends on how many cigars you’re humidifying and how many packs you use. Generally, one Boveda pack is enough to adequately humidify 25 cigars and will last for approximately three months or longer. The more packs you use simultaneously, the longer they stay fresh.

Crystal Gel Humidifiers

Crystal gels are also an effective, low-maintenance humidification solution. Crystal gels are made from superabsorbent polymers that can absorb up to 500 times their weight in water. Because the gel crystals are pre-treated with propylene glycol, they can simply be soaked in distilled water. Pour distilled water into the crystal gel container, shake out the excess, and place the container in your humidor. Cigar crystals generally need to be recharged with distilled water every 2 to 4 weeks, or as the crystals shrink down to their un-humidified size. A container of gel crystals can last 1 to 2 years. Replacement is necessary as the propylene glycol dissipates and the crystals lose their ability to release humidity.

Cigar Humidifier Beads

Like Boveda pouches, cigar humidifier beads feature a 2-way humidification system. They are made from silica gel, a synthetic form of sodium silicate. Silica beads are a granular, porous form of silicon dioxide invented in 1919. Moisture adheres to the pores in the surface of silica beads, an adsorption (as opposed to absorption) process. They can adsorb up to 40 times their weight in water. Because, like crystal gel, silica beads are pre-treated with propylene glycol, they will output a consistent humidity level (60%, 65%, or 70% RH).

Simply soak your cigar humidifier beads in distilled water to humidify them, drain the excess out over the sink, and place the container in your humidor. Use only distilled water with silica beads and not propylene glycol solution. Silica beads generally need to be recharged with distilled water every 2 to 4 weeks, but the beads themselves can last for 3 to 6 years. Cigar beads are better suited for wetter climates. They are more effective at pulling moisture in when the humidity is high than they are at releasing moisture when the humidity is low. Hotter, dryer climates and prolonged exposure to air conditioning cause cigar beads to dry out and become ineffective. There are meaningful advantages to using Boveda versus Heartfelt beads depending on where you live.

Electronic Cigar Humidifiers

Electronic humidifiers, like those made by Cigar Oasis, are considered ideal for larger humidors or display cases. They often run on batteries or can connect to a power supply that plugs into an outlet. Most models are equipped with humidity sensors that monitor conditions in the humidor. When the humidity dips to a certain level, the sensors will activate an electronic fan that rests above a water reservoir. When the fan kicks on, humidity is dispersed into the humidor’s environment to maintain your desired humidity level.

Many models also feature a built-in hygrometer that can measure and record humidity and temperature levels over time. The reservoir, or water cartridge, is simply refilled with distilled water when its supply has been exhausted. Although an electronic cigar humidifier requires a bigger investment upfront (typically $100 and up), they can last for many years with no recurrent expense outside of distilled water.

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