If you have even a passing interest in owning cigars, it won’t be long before you need to think about cigar storage. Cigars require very specific temperature and moisture levels in order to keep them fresh for long-term storage, and you won’t be able to keep them at the right humidity without a humidification device. When it comes to your cigar collection, this handy machine is called a humidor, and it’s a must-have to store cigars for longer than two weeks or so.
When you first enter the world of cigar smoking, a new humidor can seem mysterious. Keeping your cigars at the right humidity level doesn’t have to be confusing, though. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing and using a humidor to make sure your Cubans are at the peak of flavor for an extended period.
What Is a Humidor?
A humidor is a storage container that is designed to help maintain a particular relative humidity level. This is critical for cigars because the tobacco leaves in them will naturally expand and contract based on the relative humidity of the air around them. When cigars are too dry, they shrivel up and lose their appealing flavor and aroma. They’ll also burn too hot, making them hard to smoke properly. On the other hand, extremely high humidity will lead to mold, rot and even an infestation of tobacco beetles.
A humidor can be as small as a box to use as a travel humidor or as large as a walk-in humidor favored by cigar shops. Whether it’s a box, a cabinet or a cigar humidifier the size of a mini fridge, each one will have a good seal to maintain the internal temperature and provide a thermostat and hygrometer to help you maintain conditions. In general, both small and large humidors work in similar ways to maintain the ideal relative humidity and temperature to keep your cigars moist.
How Do Humidors Work?
A good humidor has everything you need to keep your cigars under proper conditions. More than just a box, a high-quality cigar humidor has several important parts to provide perfect climate control inside.
The most important part of a humidor is its humidification system. This can be simple or complex, depending on the size and quality of the humidor. The humidifier adds moisture to the humidor so that your cigars stay plump and burn slowly. Proper humidity also helps preserve essential oils, which provide the flavor and aroma you expect from your favorite cigars.In general, your goal is to keep your humidor at 70 percent relative humidity for optimal storage conditions. To do this, your humidor needs a source of water. There are several ways to introduce moisture to the interior, including the following:
- Sponges: The simplest humidifier of all is a sponge soaked in distilled water. This will release moisture in your humidor, though it can be hard to keep the humidity level even with a low-tech humidifying element. Distilled water is crucial to avoid introducing minerals and mold to your humidor.
- Floral Foam: These green foam blocks are often used to hold flower stems in fancy floral arrangements while providing content moisture to a bouquet. They hold plenty of water and release it gradually, but they also absorb cigar odors and will need to replaced once a year or so. A foam humidifier works best with propylene glycol instead of water because it will automatically maintain 70 percent relative humidity so you don’t have to worry about excess moisture being released.
- Crystal Gel: These small beads are designed to hold up to 500 times their weight in water, which they then release into the atmosphere of your humidor to keep cigars moist. They are pretreated with propylene glycol to help release water slowly, but this compound will eventually dissipate and become ineffective after a year or two. You can soak crystal gel in distilled water to activate it.
- Silica Beads: These small beads are the same thing you find in packets when you buy shoes. Silica gel is excellent at absorbing excess moisture, so they’re a good choice for humidors in hot, humid climates. If you live in the Colorado Rockies or another arid environment, they’ll dry out too quickly to be useful.
- Humidipaks: These special humidifiers are wrapped in a membrane that allows water to be absorbed or expelled to keep your humidor at a specific relative humidity level. You can even choose the packet designed to maintain your ideal humidity at 70 percent — or a value higher or lower if desired. Though convenient, they need to be replaced every few months.
- Electronic Humidifiers: Like their full-room counterparts, an electronic humidifier is a small machine that will add moisture to a high-quality humidor. You’ll need to keep it filled with distilled water, but the machine will do the rest, sensing the humidity levels and adding moisture to the airflow as needed.
A hygrometer is another crucial component of your humidor. It measures the humidity levels inside to let you know whether you need to add moisture or absorb some excess water to dry things out. A hygrometer can be digital or analog (which will look like a needle that spins in a marked circle or semicircle), and in a humidor with electronic humidity controls, it will be connected to the humidifier. It’s critical to check your hygrometer regularly — once every week or two — to make sure all is well in your humidor.
Cigars also need to be kept at a steady temperature to keep them in top condition. This should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit in most situations, though you could keep your fresh cigars as cool as 60 or as warm as 72 degrees. For humidors without temperature controls, a simple thermometer will still provide valuable feedback about conditions inside. For example, monitoring temperature will let you know when to move your humidor to a cooler location to avoid too-warm conditions. Sustain high temperatures can allow cigar beetle eggs to hatch and leave you with a squirming mess of larvae in your humidor.If your humidor has a heater or cooler that allows you to control the temperature inside, your thermostat will directly control these for your convenience. This also helps keep humidity levels even, as warm air holds more moisture while cool air tends to be drier. Keeping your temperatures steady also helps keep humidity steady — and that means more effortless cigar storage.
Spanish cedar is a traditional choice for humidor interior fittings. Some humidors have a cedar lining on the walls, while others use Spanish cedar wood for the shelves and/or drawers inside. Just like a cedar closet, Spanish cedar humidors repel insects and protect the contents from decay. This wood helps reduce the possibility of tobacco beetle infestations and also cuts down on the growth of mold and mildew. Spanish cedar also has some absorbent qualities, which allow it to absorb and release water to help keep conditions evenly moist inside the humidor.With these qualities, it’s no wonder that Spanish cedar has been the wood of choice for humidors for hundreds of years. Because of its place of honor in the hearts of cigar aficionados, many people prefer the flavor that cedar imparts to cigars as well. If you plan to age your cigars without their wrappers, they will absorb a bit of the scent and flavor of the cedar — an additional layer of aroma that many people find highly desirable.
Putting It All Together
Before placing cigars in your humidor for the first time, you’ll need to season the wood. The seasoning process involves wiping down all the Spanish cedar elements with a damp sponge and leaving a wet sponge inside overnight, along with an activated humidifier. This will help the wood absorb all the water it needs so that the humidor is fully moistened and stable before you add your cigars. If you find a dry sponge when you check the next day, repeat the process for another night or two until the humidity is stable.The more bells and whistles on the humidor, the less work it will be to maintain your cigars at the perfect temperature and humidity level. A basic humidor will require you to check the hygrometer regularly so you know when to add or subtract moisture. You’ll also need to keep an eye on your humidification units to know when they are becoming less effective and need to be replaced. You can increase the odds of success by keeping your humidor out of direct sunlight to help keep temperatures steady.If you choose a fully automatic humidor, there’s much less work to be done. Still, your cigar obsession will likely lead you to peek inside to enjoy your collection fairly often — and this is a good thing! After all, cigars are meant to be smelled, smoked and shared, not just hidden away forever.