Without proper humidification, cigar humidors are just boxes. They trap moisture and keep it from escaping, but it’s the cigar humidifier that creates the conditions that keep your cigars from drying out. There are five types of cigar humidifiers: floral foam, crystal gel, silica beads, humidipaks, and electronic humidifiers. Some are low-tech. Some are hi-tech. Some are cheap. Some are expensive. If you’re serious about cigars, you need to know how they work and what they do.
Floral Foam Cigar Humidifiers
Floral foam is one of the oldest and most common cigar humidifiers, a standard accessory in most store-bought cigar humidors. Floral foam is a super absorbent phenolic foam manufactured by the Smithers-Oasis Company, sometimes referred to as Oasis foam. Once it’s been soaked in water, it uses capillary action to bring water up to the surface and release it over time. Floral foam humidifiers normally come encased in plastic containers with holes or slots on top to let moisture escape.
To fill them, place the foam on a paper towel and dribble distilled water or an activator solution over it until it starts pooling on the surface. Wait a few minutes for it to trickle down and get absorbed by the foam, then turn the container upside down and drain out any extra liquid. This will keep it from over saturating your cigars. Tapping it on a table or over a sink a few times will help shake lose any extra drops as well. Then place the container inside your cigar humidor and close it up.
Foam humidifiers need to be refilled once every 1-2 weeks. Keep a close eye on your humidity levels and the condition of your cigars. If it drops below 70 or your cigars begin to feel a little dry, refill your cigar humidifier. Floral foam is very porous, which means it will absorb some of the molecular byproducts created by your cigars as they age (e.g. ammonia) and gradually lose its ability to absorb moisture and need to be replaced every 6-12 months.
Water vs. Propylene Glycol Solution
Instead of water, many cigar collectors recharge their cigar humidifiers with an activator solution made of propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a chemical that’s hygroscopic to 70 percent relative humidity, a complicated way of saying once the relative humidity in your cigar humidor reaches 70 percent, the propylene glycol solution stops releasing moisture, so there’s no risk of over saturation. (Read How Moisture and Humidity Affect How You Smoke to learn about the dangers of excessive moisture.) When you fill your cigar humidifier with water instead, your cigar humidor experiences a rapid rise in humidity, followed by a quick decline. Propylene glycol ensures a gradual release of moisture and more even humidity levels over time.
If you are using water, always use distilled water, never tap water or bottled water. They contain minerals that can clog your cigar humidifier and prevent it from releasing moisture.
With floral foam cigar humidifiers, there’s a risk you may develop mold. The bursts of high humidity they create make them an excellent breeding ground for mold spores. Using a 50/50 propylene glycol solution will reduce the risk, but won’t eliminate it. If you’re using floral foam, check it regularly for mold growths. If you find any, dispose of it immediately.
Crystal Gel Cigar Humidifiers
Crystal gels are superabsorbent polymers that absorb up to 500 times their weight in water. They start as small, irregularly shaped crystals, but expand and become rubbery when you soak them in water. You charge similar to the same way as floral foam. Pour distilled water into the crystal container until it’s completely full and wait for the crystals to expand. It should only take a few minutes. Then shake out the excess water and place them in your cigar humidor.
Gel crystals are highly effective when humidity levels in your cigar humidor are low. They release moisture very quickly in order to prevent your cigars from drying out.
Gel crystals cigar humidifiers are pre-treated with propylene glycol, so only soak them in distilled water, not activator solution. Adding more propylene glycol will slow the evaporation process until your crystals are no longer capable of releasing moisture. Crystal gel cigar humidifiers need to be recharged 2-4 weeks, when the crystals start to shrink down to their original size.
Propylene glycol evaporates over time, so the crystals will eventually lose their ability to humidify your cigar humidor and need to be replaced 1-2 years after purchase.
Crystal gel isn’t good at re-absorbing water once it’s been released, so there’s still a risk over saturation and mold, though not a large one. They work best in naturally aird environments or in cigar cooler and wineadors where temperatures can be mechanically adjusted to manipulate humidity.
Silica Bead Cigar Humidifiers
Silica beads are made from silica gel, a granular, vitreous, porous form of silicon dioxide made synthetically from sodium silicate. They were invented in 1919, and used to control humidity as early as the 1950’s. Silica beads are a 2-way humidifier. They not only release moisture, they adsorb (not absorb) it as well. Water adheres to the pores in its surface, rather than soaking into its body. Silica beads can adsorb up to 40 times their weight in water, which is why you often find them packaged along with leather goods, electronics, or other moisture sensitive products. Like crystal gel, silica beads cigar humidifiers are pre-treated with propylene glycol that enables them to maintain a specific humidity level, normally 60, 65, or 70 percent. Charge them the same way you would crystal gel. Soak them with water, wait a few minutes for the beads to expand, then drain out the excess liquid, and place them in your cigar humidor. Like crystals, silica beads should only be charged with distilled water, never activator solution.
Silica beads are incredibly durable. They need to be refilled every 2-4 weeks, but don’t have to be replaced for 3-6 years. The oil and chemicals given off by cigars eventually adhere to the pores in the silica gel and prevent them from adsorbing water. A sufficiently large bag would be enough to last a lifetime.
Silica bead cigar humidifiers are very good at absorbing moisture when humidity levels are high, but not good at releasing moisture when humidity levels are low. They’re also susceptible to dry air and high temperatures. Direct sunlight or air conditioned rooms will dry them out and make them useless.
Humidipak Cigar Humidifiers
When salt and water are mixed together, they release water vapor. Humidipaks exploit this principle to create and maintain very precise levels of water vapor in your cigar humidor. They’re sold by Boveda and each packet contains enough salt and water to generate exactly 65, 69, 72, or 75 percent humidity. The ingredients are contained in a semi-permeable membrane that allows humidipaks to release and reabsorb water, so the humidity always remains at exactly the right level.
One packet is enough to humidify 25 cigars. Add as many as needed. They can be taped up to the top of your humidor or laid directly on your cigars and don’t worry about adding too many. Extra humidipaks won’t over saturate your cigars, it will just extend their lifespan.
Humidipaks need to be replaced fairly often, every 2-3 months, depending on the conditions inside your cigar humidor. The water runs out and the packets become hard and stiff. Humidipacks sell for approximately $4 per packet. That’s low compared to foam, beads, or crystal gel, which sell for $10-$20, but if you have a large collection, those costs can add up quickly over the long run.
Electronic Cigar Humidifiers
Unlike the other cigar humidifiers on this list, electronic humidifiers are active humidifiers. They monitor relative humidity using electiconic sensors and release moisture whenever it dips too low. The water is stored in a refillable cartridge in the bottom of the humidifier that needs to be refilled with distilled water every month. The cartridges have to be replaced about once a year.
Electronic cigar humidifiers are powered either by batteries or ribbon cables that run out of your cigar humidor and are plugged into an external power source. Ribbon cables are thin enough that they won’t break the seal on your humidor and endanger your cigars, but some collectors find them messy and cumbersome. Electronic cigar humidifiers come with built-in thermometers and hygrometers that track and displays temperature and humidity. Some include alarms that alert you whenever the water cartridge needs to be refilled or when the battery needs to be replaced. Some of the most popular brands are Hydra Humidifiers and Cigar Oasis Humidifiers.
The one major drawback of electronic cigar humidifiers is the price. The top brands cost over $100.
Cigar humidifiers require maintenance and need to be actively monitored in order to function properly. Remember when it has to be filled and replaced and make sure you know whether there’s a danger of it releasing too much moisture and over saturating your cigars.
|Refill||Replace||Distilled Water||Propylene Glycol||1-Way||2-way|
|Floral Foam||1-2 Wks.||6-12 Mon.||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Crystal Gel||2-4 Wks.||1-2 Yrs.||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Silica Beads||2-4 Wks.||3-6 Yrs.||Yes||No||No||Yes|
|Electronic Humidifiers||1 Mon.||Never||Yes||No||Yes||No|
Also be sure your cigar humidifier is properly sized. Make sure you know how large a space it can humidify and how many cigars it’s designed to handle. Using a cigar humidifier that’s too large or too small runs the risk of damaging your cigars by exposing them to excessive or inadequate moisture.