What's the Right Cigar Humidifier for Your Cigar Humidor?
After purchasing your cigar humidor, the next most important decision you'll make is how to humidify it. Generally speaking, there are five ways to humidify humidors: floral foam, crystal gel, silica beads, humidipaks, and electronic humidifiers. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of price, precision, effectiveness, and durability. Finding the right cigar humidifier for your cigar humidor is important. Humidors are just boxes. They preserve humidity. Humidifiers provide it. They're what makes it a humidor.
Floral Foam Cigar Humidifiers
Floral foam cigar humidifiers (sometimes known as Oasis foam or green foam) are the most common cigar humidifiers on the market. They're made of a superabsorbent phenolic foam manufactured by the Smithers-Oasis Company in Kent, Ohio, the same foam used in gardening and flower shops. They're one of the simplest humidifiers you'll find. They come in circular or rectangular cases that can be affixed to the roof or sides of your cigar humidor. To use, soak them in water, wait a few minutes for the water to trickle down completely into the foam, then turn the humidifier over and drain out the excess water, to keep it from over saturating your cigars, and place it in your humidor. (It's a good idea to keep some paper towels handy to wipe up any loose water.)
Never fill your humidifier with tap water, only distilled water. Most tap water contains minerals such as calcium and magnesium that can clog your humidifier and keep it from absorbing moisture.
Foam cigar humidifiers need to be refilled every 1-2 weeks, or whenever your humidity level falls below 70 percent. That's when you know your humidifier has dried out. Floral foam is also very porous. It gradually absorbs the oil and byproducts (e.g. ammonia) cigars give off as they age. Over time, these compounds settle into the foam and prevent it from absorb water, like a worn out sponge, so you need to replace them about every 6-12 months. The good news is floral foam is inexpensive. Replacements approximately $10-$20, sometimes less if you find a good deal.
Many cigar collectors use a propylene glycol activator solution on their floral foam cigar humidifiers instead of water. Propylene glycol is a chemical that's hygroscopic to 70 percent relative humidity, which means that once relative humidity in your cigar has reached 70 percent, the water in the propylene glycol solution stops evaporating.
The major downside of floral foam cigar humidifiers is how quickly they release moisture when they're placed inside your cigar humidor. They create bursts of high humidity that are excellent breeding conditions for mold. It's one of the reasons so many collectors prefer using propylene glycol. It guarantees more even humidity levels and discourages mold, though it doesn't eliminate the risk entirely. If you're using floral foam, check it regularly for mold. If you see any, dispose of it immediately.
Crystal Gel Cigar Humidifiers
Crystal gel is a superabsorbent polymer that can absorb up to 500 times its weight in water. It begins as an irregularly shaped crystal, but expands and becomes rubbery when soaked in water. Crystal gel cigar humidifiers come in moisture jars or plastic cases that can be affixed to your humidor, similar to floral foam. Crystal gel comes pre-treated with propylene glycol, so it releases moisture gradually instead of in bursts. Crystal gel cigar humidifiers can only be used with distilled water, not activator solution. Adding more propylene glycol to the gel only slows the release of moisture, it doesn't improve it, until eventually the gel stops being able to release moisture altogether.
Crystal gel cigar humidifiers have to be refilled every 2-4 weeks, when the crystals begin shrinking back down to their original size, and replaced every 1-2 years, when their propylene glycol treatments start to fade and they lose their ability to regulate moisture levels.
Crystal gel is most effective at raising humidity levels in low moisture environments, but isn't good at reabsorbing moisture when humidity gets too high, so there's still a risk of oversaturation and mold. It works best in naturally arid climates or in coolers and wineadors where temperatures can be mechanically adjusted in order to manipulate the relative 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. Since the late 1950s, it's been used to control relative humidity and protect moisture sensitive products such as leather, electronics, and even food. Silica gel not only releases moisture, it adsorbs it as well. We say "adsorb" instead of "absorb" because silica gel doesn't actually soak up water. Water adheres to the pores in its surface. It can actually adsorb up to 40 times its weight in water, which makes it useful not only as a humidifier, but as a dehumidifier as well. There's no risk of oversaturation with silica beads.
Silica bead cigar humidifiers are also come pre-treated with propylene glycol and are often designed to maintain a precise relative humidity level: 60, 65, or 70 percent. Like crystal gel, silica beads come in humidity jars or plastic containers that can be affixed to your cigar humidor.
Silica bead humidifiers last for an incredibly long time. They generally have to be refilled every 2-4 weeks, when the beads begin shrinking, but only have to be replaced every 3-6 years. The oil and chemicals from the cigars eventually adhere to the surface and prevent it from adsorbing more moisture.
Silica beads are better at adsorbing moisture than they are at releasing it, so they struggle in low moisture environments. They're also susceptible to temperature and air conditioning. Dry rooms and prolonged exposure to high temperatures dry them out very quickly.
Humidipaks work by exploiting a well-known scientific principle. When water and salt are mixed together, they create and maintain a stable humidity levels in an enclosed space. Humidipaks are made by only one company, Boveda, which holds the patent on the portable packets the salt and water come in. Each humidipak is calibrated for a specific humidity level (65, 69, 72, or 75 percent) and can humidity up to 25 cigars each. Add as many as need to your cigar humidor. Don't be afraid of adding more than you need. It won't over saturate your cigars, it'll just extend the life of your humidipaks.
Humidipaks hold the salt and water in a semi-permeable membrane inside, which allows moisture to seep in and out of the packet as needed in order to maintain your desired humidity level.
Humidipaks have a short lifespan, only 2-3 months at most. When the packets become hard and stiff, the water inside has run out and it's time to replace them. Humidipaks cost about $4 each, each compared to foam, crystal, and silica gel, but depending on the size of your collection, these costs can add up quickly over the long run.
Electronic Cigar Humidifiers
Electronic cigar humidifiers are active humidifiers. They use electronic sensors to monitor the humidity levels in your cigar humidor, then release moisture whenever it falls too low. There's no risk of oversaturation, under saturation, or mold. The water is stored in a refillable cartridge at the bottom of the device that normally has to be refilled once a month, only with distilled water.
Electronic cigar humidifiers are powered by batteries or ribbon cables that run out through the lid of your cigar humidor and are plugged into an external power outlet. Ribbon cables are thin enough not to disturb the seal around your cigars, though they can clutter up your desk.
Electronic humidifiers normally come with additional features to help you track and maintain the right conditions in your cigar humidor: humidity displays, temperature displays, and alarms that alert you when the battery or water level is low. Some of the most popular brands are Hydra Humidifiers and Cigar Oasis Humidifiers.
The only real downside to electronic cigar humidifiers is the price. They're expensive. Any brand that can do the job well sells for $100-$200.
Sadly, there is no perfect cigar humidifier. Though every kind is capable to regulating the humidity in your cigar humidor, every kind has its downsides as well.
|Refill||Replace||Distilled Water||Propylene Glycol||Reabsorbs Water||Mold Resistant||Cost|
|Floral Foam||1-2 Weeks||6-12 Months||Yes||Yes||No||No||$10-$20|
|Crystal Gel||2-4 Weeks||1-2 Years||Yes||No||Yes||No||$5-$20|
|Silica Beads||2-4 Weeks||3-6 Years||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||$10-$20|
|Humidipaks||Never||2-3 Months||N/A||N/A||Yes||Yes||$4 per packet|
|Electronic Humidifiers||Once per Month||Never||Yes||No||No||Yes||$100-$200|
Deciding which type is best for you depends on the conditions in your home, the type of humidor you own, and the amount of time and money you're willing to spend on it.