Calibrating Your Hygrometer
After buying a cigar humidor, the first thing you should to do is take it home and season it. Never store your cigars in an unseasoned humidors. Wood is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture. If you put cigars into a humidor before the wood has had a chance to absorb any moisture, it will absorb the moisture from your cigars and dry them out, ruining them. (Learn more about the effects of moisture and humidity on cigars.) Seasoning a cigar humidor enables it to maintain the perfect balance of humidity needed to preserve the taste and flavor of your cigars.
Before seasoning you humidor, you’ll need to calibrate your hygrometer. Hygrometers are a humidor accessory that measures humidity in the air. There are two types of hygrometers: analog and digital. Analog hygrometers are more common, but digital hygrometers are more accurate. Even though hygrometers are calibrated before they leave the factory, it’s always a good idea to test them yourself, just be certain it’s providing accurate readings. To calibrate your hygrometer, you’ll need table salt, distilled water, a bottle cap, and a resealable plastic bag. If you have an analog hygrometer, you’ll need a screwdriver as well.
The Salt Test
When a teaspoon of salt is mixed with a small amount of water, it emits exactly 75 percent humidity. Fill the battle cap with salt. It should hold approximately one tablespoon, but you can measure it with a teaspoon if you want to be precise. Once it’s full, add a few drops of water until the salt has a cake-like consistency. If the salt begins to dissolve, you’ve added too much. Wash out the bottle cap and start again.
Once you’ve mixed the salt and water, put the bottle cap and your hygrometer in the plastic bag, seal it shut, and wait 8-12 hours for the humidity to build up inside the plastic bag. After 8-12 hours have passed, check the hygrometer. It should read 75 percent. If it doesn’t, adjust the settings. Most analog hygrometers have a slot in the back that lets you adjust the dial. Slip you screwdriver into the slot and turn it until the dial reads exactly 75 percent. If the error is small, you can also make a note of the number of degrees, plus or minus, it’s off by and keep it in your humidor for reference, or adjust the settings.
Calibration kits are resealable plastic bags with precisely measured salt packets that generate exactly 75 percent humidity over 24 hours in order to reduce the margin of error in hygrometers calibration. The most popular is made by Boveda. To use, open the bag, insert your hygrometer, and then wait for 24 hours to check your hygrometer. If it doesn’t read exactly 75 percent, note the degree of error or adjust the dial as necessary.
Seasoning a Humidor: What You’ll Need
Seasoning a humidor is a simple and straightforward process. Besides your hygrometer and cigar humidifier, which comes with your humidor, all the other accessories you’ll need should be available at your local grocery store or cigar shop.
|Distilled water||Always season your humidor with distilled water, never tap water or bottled water. They contain minerals deposits that can clog the wood and prevent it from absorbing water, or cause mold|
|Kitchen Sponge||Make sure it’s a new sponge. Soap, dirt, or grime can damage your humidor the same way mineral deposits can|
|Plastic Bag||Make sure it’s clean and is big enough to hold the sponge|
|Paper Towels||To absorbed water from the humidifier and to clean up any spills.|
|One large bowl||To soak your sponge and cigar humidifier|
Instead of distilled water, you can also fill the sponge with a propylene glycol solution. Propylene glycol is an organic compound commonly used in humidors as a stabilizing agent. When it’s used in a cigar humidifier, it coats the wood with a layer of natural enzymes that absorbs moisture when the humidity exceeds 70 percent and emits moisture when it drops below 70 percent. It also prevents the formation of mold and bacterial growths. If you decide to use propylene glycol, make sure it’s mixed with distilled water at a 50:50 ratio. Bottles of pre-mixed solution is available at most cigar shops.
Once your hygrometer has been calibrated, it’s time to season your cigar humidor. To start, take the sponge, place it in a bowl, and soak it with distilled water or propylene glycol solution. Make sure the sponge is completely saturated. Then wring it out and place it in the cigar humidor on top of the plastic bag. The bag will make sure the water in the sponge doesn’t over saturate the wood. Only wring out enough water so the sponge isn’t dripping when you put it into the humidor. The sponge will be your primary seasoning agent, so you want it to be very wet.
Next, take the cigar humidifier, place it in the bowl, and soak it with distilled water or propylene glycol. When it’s completely saturated, take it out and place it face down on some paper towels for 20-30 minutes to drain the excess water and prevent it from leaking inside the humidor. Place the cigar humidifier and hygrometer in the humidor. Once they’re secure, close it up and wait for 48 hours. If your humidor comes with any wooden trays or dividers, make sure to place them inside so they become seasoned as well.
To start, take the sponge, place it in a bowl, and soak it with distilled water or propylene glycol solution. Drain the excess liquid like you did before, place it back in the humidor, and close it for another 24 hours. Don’t be alarmed if your hygrometer reads 80-85 percent humidity. Humidity should normally be only 70 percent, but during the seasoning process it’s normal for it to be higher.
After another 24 hours, check the humidity level again. It should be close to 70 percent. If it’s at 72-73 percent, that’s fine. Your cigars will absorb a little moisture when you put them in. If it’s higher than 74 percent, wait for another 24 hours and it should fall to the right level.
The Wipe Down Method
There is a second method for seasoning a cigar humidor: the wipe down method. It’s not as popular, but it is faster. Using it will save you at least 24 hours of waiting, but it comes with some risks that will be discussed below.
To start, take your sponge and soak it in distilled water. Always use a new sponge, never an old one. Once it’s thoroughly wet, wring it out and shake off the excess water. It should be damp, but not dripping. Using too much water can warp the wood, so it’s better for it to be too dry rather than too wet. If you’re worried about using too much water, consider buying some seasoning wipes. They’re pre-moistened towelettes that come with enough water to wipe down a small to medium-sized cigar humidor, and they’re specially made to avoid leaving any stray fibers or paper residue behind as you’re wiping. If you can’t find them at your local cigar shop, you can buy them online.
Once the sponge is ready, remove the hygrometer and cigar humidifier and wipe down all of the exposed surfaces inside your humidor. Go slow and make sure no puddles or pools form. You want to leave a thin layer of water over the wood, enough water to dampen it and darken it slightly. Once you’re finished, wipe down any wooden dividers and trays that came with your humidor using the same method, place them in your humidor, and close it for 24 hours. While you’re waiting, calibrate your hygrometer.
Once 24 hours have passed, soak your cigar humidifier and drain away the excess liquid as described above. Then open up your humidor, place your hygrometer and cigar humidifier inside, and close it for another 24 hours. After 24-hours, the inside of your humidor should be dry and your hygrometer should read 72-73 percent humidity. If it doesn’t, close it up and give it more time. If does, go ahead and place your cigars inside.
Dangers of the Wipe Down Method
The wipe down method is unpopular with many cigar lovers because using it is an easy way to over saturate and warp the wood in your cigar humidor. Widing wood down with water is known as shock seasoning, and it can cause a lot of damage if it’s not done right. Cigar humidors made from Spanish cedar are particularly susceptible because Spanish cedar absorbs water more readily than other woods. If it gets warped, it’ll compromise your humidor’s integrity. The lid won’t be able to provide a strong seal, which means your humidor will gradually lose moisture and dry out your cigars.
Once you’ve seasoned a humidor, it should safely protect your cigars as long as you regularly refill the humidifier and keep the lid sealed. The humidity inside will keep the wood from drying out and preserve your cigars for many years.