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Humidification Education

Humidification Education
2 years ago 13 comments

Humidification Education

Everything you ever wanted to know about keeping your beloved cigars in tip-top condition.

It is somewhat of a significant milestone when a new cigar smoker gets their first humidor. Many times, it almost seems as if they had just purchased a new car or a new home. The humidor and everything about it become the top priority. It is “seasoned” the second it comes into the house and from that point on, day in and day out, the humidity is checked continuously. In fact, many times newbies get so obsessive about a new humidor that they forget about the several hundred dollars’ worth of premium cigars sitting in a zip-lock bag waiting to be housed in it. The number one goal in life becomes maintaining a perfect 70% humidity level within the precious four walls of the wooden box soon to fill up with rolled-up tobacco leaves. Because, after all, if it is not precisely at 70%, those cigars are practically going to disintegrate, right?

In all honesty, we have all been there. It is exciting when you take up a new hobby, so the obsessiveness at the beginning is understandable. However, like all hobbies, those of us that stick with it end up finding easier and more efficient ways of doing things. Not only that, we learn that the hype created about certain aspects of our hobby is just that—hype.

The reality of the situation is that aside from the most extreme cases of dehumidification, your cigars not going to magically decompose and turn to piles of dust inside your humidor. The whole 70% thing is nothing more than a rule of thumb, and I happen to hate rules of thumb. See, there are so many factors that go into maintaining proper humidity within a humidor that to obsess over achieving a perfect 70% is grasping for the wind. As a very experienced cigar fanatic, I can tell you that I have owned many humidors over the years, I have used many different humidification devices, and I have smoked many different cigars stored at many different humidity levels. What do I take from it? As long as the cigar tastes good, burns well, and satisfies me in the end, I really couldn't care less what the humidity in the humidor was. In fact, I have found over the years that I much prefer my cigars to be a bit under-humidified because they tend to smoke better. While it is true that severe under-humidification can result in coning, along with a quick, sometimes hot and harsh burn, overly saturating your sticks will inevitably tighten the draw and cause abominations such as tunneling, funneling, and uneven burning, all the things with which we true connoisseurs would rather not deal.

So where am I going with all this? Well, my goal here is to school you folks on how to keep your cigars in tip-top shape, so the first point I am going to make is this: Don't overthink humidification! The point of keeping your cigars in a humidor is to keep the tobacco supple and soft to prevent cracking during cutting and smoking. Also, adequately humidified sticks smoke longer and produce the flavors the blenders work so hard to achieve. Will the cigar smoke if dried out? Yes, but the taste may or may not be far different from one well-maintained.

Okay, so now that my short, to-the-point intro is over with, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. How do I keep my cigars in good condition? Well, if you have a humidor, and you have some humidification device, you are probably good to go. Happy smoking!

Wait, that's it? Well yes. See, there just really isn't that much to it. If your cigars are properly stored to keep them safe and clean, they are going to be okay. On top of that, if there is some humidification device within the humidor, and that equipment is somewhat regularly maintained, chances are they are not going to dry out. I suppose the real question here is: What type of humidification device is right for me? In that case, let me take you on the grand tour!

There are a handful of basic humidification devices, all geared toward different needs and different styles of humidors. First matter of business is to take out the cheap humidifier that came with your humidor and throw it in the trash. They are usually nothing more than a cheap sponge inside a plastic case with vents. Now, we are ready to pick a way to keep things moist.

Gel Bead Humidification Devices

Gel Bead devices are the most common, and therefore the most popular choice for keeping things wet. These devices are cheap, they are relatively easy to maintain, and after all, is said and done, they do the job. So how do they work? Well, they are small containers full of tiny beads that absorb hundreds of times their weight in water. These vessels can come in the form of jars, tubes, blocks, or just about any shape you can think up. I have even had humidifiers in the shape of triangular prisms. In any case, there are vents of some sort on the outside of the container that lets humidity out in a somewhat controlled matter. Those moisture beads we talked about are “charged” by soaking in distilled water or PG solution and stay wet for up to a month at a time. As they de-saturate, the moisture that escapes through the vents in the container is what humidifies the cigars inside the humidor. Pretty simple, huh? Gel Bead Devices come in various sizes to accommodate varying sizes of cigar collections, but the usual recommendation is one device per 50-75 cigars.

Electronic Humidification Devices

If you are someone that has a large furniture sized humidor, and I mean a humidor that holds 500+ cigars, you probably want to look at electronic humidifiers. The two most popular brands on today's market are Cigar Oasis and Hydra which can humidify anywhere from 100 to over 1000 cigars, depending on the model. These are miniature versions of humidifiers you would buy to keep in a dry house when you catch a cold. There is a reservoir that's filled with water, and a humidity level is set on an LCD display. Electronically and automatically, the device will disperse humidity as needed throughout the day to maintain the set humidity level. While the initial cost of one of these devices is what many would consider a bit high, one usually sells for less than a box of cigars, making it a worthwhile investment for the protection of your vast collection of premium sticks. For most of us owners of standard humidors, however, they are not necessary. As I said, don't overthink things. Stick to the basics!

Water Pillows

Whether you are the type of person that likes to keep things ultra-simple, someone that wants the bare minimum, or just someone that would instead invest more of your hard-earned money in cigars rather than humidification devices, water pillows are probably your best bet. They can usually be picked up at around a buck a piece and work very well. I used water pillows for years with great success, and many of my cigar smoking buddies use them, too. They work on the same premise as gel bead devices, but instead of the moisture beads being encapsulated within a plastic container, they are in a pillow-shaped bag with vents on one side. Soak the pillow in water or PG solution and drop it in the “pillowcase.” Although cheap and straightforward, the drawback to these is that they frequently grow mold inside the bag as they do not have an anti-mold inhibitor in them, so that is something to consider. Use one pillow for every 50 or so cigars, and you will probably be good to go.








Boveda Packs

After years of recharging gel bead devices and water pillows, something came along that changed the entire way I look at humidifying my cigars. No more soaking pillows or beads in water, no more wondering if I was overly-humidifying my cigars, no more overthinking things! Finally, something came along that made the humidification debacle simple! Enter the 8th Wonder of the World: The Boveda Humidification Pack.

The concept is simple, but the technology is incredible. One disposable device that can last up to 2 months at a time and self-regulates the humidity within the humidor. Here's how it works, at least as best as I can describe it: Boveda packs (formerly known as Humidipaks) come in a wide range of calibrated humidity levels, from 65% all the way up to 75%. Each Boveda pack contains a gel of sorts. Let's call it moisture gel. The outer panels of the pack are membranes that allow humidity to come out and go back into it. When the pack is in the humidor, the moisture gel produces “water vapor” that leaves the pack through the membrane into your cigars. Once the calibrated humidity is reached, the excess “water vapor” is absorbed back into the Boveda pack. It really is like magic! 2-way humidity control from a disposable, affordable product. Who would have ever thought?

Boveda Packs are available in singles, bricks of 12, and bags of 20. One pack per 25 cigars is recommended, and the more packets in the humidor, the longer they last. Best of all, you never have to worry about over-humidification! In theory, one could put an unlimited number of packs in a humidor, and the 2-way system will prevent your cigars from getting too moist. Not only do I always recommend these to my friends, but I have also personally been using them for years. I strongly urge anyone with a humidor to give Boveda Packs a try.








Water vs. PG Solution

If you choose to humidify with gel bead devices or water pillows, you are going to want to “recharge” your device at least once a month by saturating it in liquid. I find that a bowl or Tupperware container works fine for this task. Fill the container and place your device face down in the liquid to sit for about 5 or 10 minutes. As far as what substance to use, you have two options. The first choice is distilled water. The water you use should be distilled because you do not want to risk contaminating your device with any minerals or dissolved solids within tap water. Also, tap water tends to cause the gel beads to mold more quickly than distilled water. Does tap water in your gel beads impart a strange flavor to your beloved stogies? Probably not, but since distilled water is cheap and readily available, it is better to be on the safe side. I speak from experience when I say that distilled water extends the life of the moisture beads.

For those who want a more precise approach, you may want to consider PG solution. PG stands for propylene glycol, a substance that continually maintains a particular humidity level. It is “wetter” than water, so to speak. PG solutions are marketed under a variety of names, but they all do the same thing. When saturated with PG solution instead of water, gel beads supposedly maintain a constant ~70% humidity level. If you are in a dry environment, this can be great. However, in more humid climates this can cause the relative humidity of the humidor to get a bit high. Your mileage may vary. PG solution is relatively cheap, so I suggest at least trying it if you want to go that “extra mile.”









What About a Hygrometer?

Personally, I recommend not bothering with a hygrometer. In my opinion, it causes worry, and worry leads to overthinking. What is my golden rule of humidification? Don't overthink it! What I notice are guys that use hygrometers often become obsessed with humidifying and keeping it at the magical 70% mark. Additionally, the clear majority of hygrometers are grossly inaccurate, which could lead to drastic over-humidification, given the obsessed humidor owner continues to humidify in attempts to maintain 70%. If you must have a hygrometer and are confident that you can refrain from overthinking things, trash the hygrometer that comes with your humidor and pick up a digital one. Xikar makes an awesome one that comes calibrated from the factory and has been found in our testing to be within the expected +- 1%-2% variance allowance. By the way, if you choose a digital hygrometer that requires calibration, pay the extra few bucks and buy a Boveda calibration kit if you are going to get a good digital hygrometer. It will make life much more comfortable. Just be sure not to make the magical 70% sweet spot your goal in life. Aim for it, but as long as you are at 65-70%, you will be okay.

Climate

The part of the world you live in has a direct effect on your humidification needs. The higher the usual relative humidity in your area, the less your need for extreme attention to humidification. Remember what I said earlier, for most of us, overly-humidified cigars are worse than those that are a bit under the mark. In my case, I live along the gulf coast, so the relative humidity in the air is usually much higher than 70%. In most cases, I do not even remove my cigars from their original box to transplant them into my humidor. The cigars stay just fine throughout the time they sit on my shelf. Then again, it is not uncommon for me to smoke through a box within a week or two, so they do not have time to dry out. Your mileage may vary. I will say, though, I have left cigars sitting out on the shelf, naked and without any box or even a zip-lock bag, for weeks and even months at a time, only to get around to smoking them with the expectation that they have dried out. Guess what? They hardly ever dry out. Now, if you happen to live up north, or perhaps in the desert or any area where the relative humidity is low throughout the year, you are definitely going to want to keep your cigars in the safety of a well-seasoned humidor. In my case, I usually only use my humidors to stash unique cigars or sticks that I know I will not get around to smoking anytime soon.

What If The Cigars Dry Out?

Maybe you live in a dry climate and don't maintain your humidor. Perhaps you purchased cigars from a retailer that didn't maintain their humidor. Maybe you bought some cigars and left them out by accident. Dried out cigars come with the territory, especially if you purchase many cigars from various retailers. If, for whatever reason, your sticks happen to get too dry, relax. It is not the end of the world. For starters, you may want to smoke them! Believe it or not, drier cigars tend to “behave” much better than those that are overly moist. The draw is usually loose and easy, and the burn is usually pretty sharp. The only thing is, they tend to smoke much faster. For some, this may be a good thing, but many of us will probably want to take a stab at re-humidifying our dried out stogies. The key to doing this is to do it slowly. You do not want to take dry cigars and place them in a very humid environment in hopes of re-humidifying them in record time. My advice is to place the dry cigars at the bottom of the humidor, underneath the other sticks already inside, so that the humidity “filters” its way down. Another option would be to place a cedar sheet on top of the cigars in attempts to achieve the same result. Usually, when you purchase a box of cigars, there are at least one or two cedar sheets inside, so hold on to these to use in this instance. Wait at least a couple of weeks to move your once dried out cigars out from the safety of the bottom of the humidor. They should be good to go in this case.

Recap

If you do not have the patience to read through my entire rambling article, you have probably landed here. Good job! I will go ahead and give you the Cliff's Notes here. If you have a humidor that holds 500+ cigars, spend the money for an electronic humidifier. If you are anyone else, you can go for gel bead jars/cubes/tubes, water pillows, or Boveda packs. If you are using gel bead devices or water pillows, soak it in either distilled water or PG solution at least once a month to maintain humidity. If you are using Boveda packs, check on them once a month. Once they get hard, throw them out and replace them. If you do not have OCD tendencies, grab a digital hygrometer and a calibration kit to help monitor your humidor. Once calibrated, stick it in your humidor and check on it once a week or so. If it gets below 65%, you will likely want to add another humidification device. If you live in an area where the relative humidity hovers around 70% or higher, don't stress out so much about keeping your humidors at perfect humidity. The relative humidity of the air will likely keep them in good smoking condition. If you live in a dry climate, keep your cigars in a well-humidified, well-sealed humidor and only take them out if you intend to smoke them immediately. If your cigars happen to dry out for whatever reason, re-humidify them slowly and steadily by keeping them at the bottom of a well-seasoned humidor and underneath other cigars or a cedar sheet if nothing else. Got it? Good!

Conclusion

I will repeat it, my golden rule when it comes to maintaining the humidity of your cigar stash is not to overthink things. If you are spending more time worrying about how wet your humidor is than you are spending on enjoying your cigars, you need to chill out seriously. Your cigars are not going to mysteriously disintegrate if they go a day or two at less than ideal humidity levels. Be diligent to maintain your humidor and whichever humidification device you may choose, but don't make it the center of your life. Check your hygrometer once a week and recharge your device once a month. If you keep it simple, you will have excellent results and hopefully, maintain a treasure chest of well-aged cigars for years to come. Thanks for reading and happy smoking!

CanCigar 2 years ago at 1:10 PM
Great article.
Chris S. 2 years ago at 8:00 PM
Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reading!
Lou Gerak 2 years ago at 4:15 PM
Loved the read. Also learned a little. Thanks
Chris S. 2 years ago at 8:01 PM
Fantastic! Keep checking up as we should have some more awesome articles coming up soon.
Rick Johnson 2 years ago at 5:02 PM
This has to be the most comprehensive article ever written about humidification! Amazing read and I learned a ton! Please more of these!
Chris S. 2 years ago at 8:02 PM
Glad I didn't miss anything. :)
Chris Youngkrantz 2 years ago at 5:29 PM
Outstanding article! It put my mind at ease, and I can now focus on enjoying my smokes. Thanks
Chris S. 2 years ago at 8:00 PM
Good to know you got something out of it! Happy smoking!
Chris PALH 2 years ago at 11:46 AM
Great article, puts my mind at rest and learnt some on the way
Carmine 2 years ago at 12:03 PM
Thanks for the article,It was interesting and informative.
qingfeng shi 2 years ago at 9:39 PM
This article is very good, so I have more knowledge about the preservation of cigars. Thank you for the author.
Rodion 2 years ago at 11:27 AM
beautiful article. simple and businesslike. I think this is a salvation from many obsessions in relation to the storage of cigars.
E. Tapia 2 years ago at 11:13 PM
Very educational articule, a lot of information, I had so many worries and questions now its all clear, thank you!!
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