by Jon Shakill
So you just purchased a new humidor, and come to realize that it’s really not much more than just a cedar-lined wood box. Okay, so it’s a finely crafted beautiful wood box, and in a few cases an artisan made masterpiece, but how do you get this box to actually be an environment of stable humidity between 68-72%? And do so in such a way as to not ruin the cigars that you bought with your hard earned money? Well, start by doing an Internet search, right? Wrong, as there is a great deal of conflicting advice on the Internet as to how you should handle this process. Ask your cigar smoking buddies how to do it then? I can guarantee you they will all have a different opinion on how to do it; I know from personal experience. So I will tell you what you need to know here.
So what does seasoning a humidor mean, and why is it necessary? Seasoning a humidor simply means turning it from a dry wood box, into an environment of stable relative humidity between 68-72% (or an RH between 68-72%). This is necessary because a humidor is not ready to use when first purchased. The wood inside the humidor is thirsty, and needs to absorb a lot of moisture in order to satisfy that thirst. If the wood is still too dry when you put your cigars inside the humidor, you will be doing exactly the opposite of your intended purpose, because the wood will want to suck moisture from your cigars, rather than provide humidity. The short of it is, don’t put any cigars in your humidor until after it’s been seasoned.
Every humidor comes with a hygrometer, which is the gauge that measures the humidity inside a humidor. You want to make sure this is properly calibrated, so you get an accurate reading of the actual humidity your cigars are experiencing. There are a few ways to do this. By far the newest and easiest way to do this, with a great deal of accuracy, is to purchase a hygrometer calibration kit offered through the company Boveda (www.bovedapacks.com). The kit runs about $5 plus shipping, and I haven’t been able to find another company that offers this. All you have to do is put your hygrometer inside the kit, take it out the next day, and you’re done. It has become an industry standard for calibration and humidification, but more on Boveda later. Alternatively, if you prefer the old-fashioned way, you can leave the hygrometer in a safe place outside for at least 4 hours or more, and at the end of the period, compare the reading on your hygrometer to a credible outdoor humidity reading.
Now that your hygrometer is calibrating, let’s start with the basics of seasoning your humidor. I’ll start with the old-fashioned, though still acceptable way, then I’ll present a very easy and modern way as an option. Every humidor comes with some type of humidification device, usually a black rectangular or circular plastic piece, which covers a sponge-like material. To get this device working, you must first buy distilled water. Not tap water, not filtered water, not bottled spring water—distilled water. You can easily find this at the grocery store, and it costs about $1.50 for a jug. You want distilled water because any minerals or other elements found in regular water will lead to impurities in your humidor.
Next, simply soak the humidification device in the distilled water so that it’s fully saturated. Then completely dry it off, and shake it out to make sure there is no water leaking from the device—it’s important that water doesn’t drip onto the wood inside the humidor. Now place the device into the designated holder, or if there isn’t one, just lay it in the humidor. Another option is to fill the humidification device with a 50/50 solution of propylene glycol/distilled water, which you can find through most cigar retailers.
Now, some people say to wipe down the lining inside of your humidor with a damp sponge, slightly wetting the cedar inside. There are varying explanations as to why this is suggested, one is that it cleans the humidor, and another is that it helps speed up the seasoning process. Simply put, DO NOT WIPE DOWN YOUR HUMIDOR WITH ANYTHING DAMP; it’s terrible advice and you shouldn’t do it. If you’ve been telling people to do this, stop now. Just remember, when dealing with cigars, nothing happens fast—whether it’s aging them, smoking them, or preparing your humidor for them. By wiping down the wood with a damp sponge, and trying to speed up the seasoning process, what you’re actually doing is shocking the wood. This can lead to the lining of your humidor becoming cracked or warped, which will potentially ruin your humidor.
The next step is to fill 3/4 of a shot glass with distilled water, making sure the outside of the glass remains dry. Put your humidor in a safe place, out of direct sunlight, where it will sit for the next several days or weeks. Take a small piece of plastic, a plastic baggy for instance, and place it on the bottom of your humidor. Carefully place the shot glass of distilled water into your humidor, onto the plastic bag. For clarity: you’re not pouring the water in! You’re just setting the glass containing water inside the humidor. Close the humidor and let it be.
You may need to refill the shot glass once or twice throughout the day, but make sure to close the humidor when doing so. Another viable, and perhaps safer, option is to use a sponge instead of a shot glass. Soak a NEW sponge in distilled water so it becomes fully saturated. Then wring out the sponge so no water drips from it. Now place the damp sponge onto the plastic inside of your humidor and leave the lid closed for 24 hours. Repeat this process for no less than 3-4 days, and possibly up to a week. You want the wood inside the humidor to be slowly saturated, and remain moist. You’re now ready to take out the plastic and glass, or sponge, and safely stock your new humidor with your precious cigars.
An Easy Way to Season Your Humidor
A modern and extremely easy way to effectively season your humidor is with Boveda packs. Formerly known as Humidipak, Boveda is a Minnesota-based humidification company, which sells specialized packets designed for humidors. After 15 years of research, Boveda has come up with the world’s first two-way humidification device, meaning it can add humidity, as well as take it way. These packets are great for accurately regulating your humidor. They are available at several different levels of humidity: 65%, 69%, 72%, 75%, and 84%. If you choose to take this route in seasoning your humidor, all you would need to do is place the 84% packs inside your humidor, using one pack for every 25 cigars the humidor is designed to hold (i.e., two packs for a 50 count humidor). Leave the packs in your humidor for two weeks, and your humidor is ready to use.
Once you’ve seasoned your humidor, take out the 84% packs, and now you have the option of using one of the lower percentage packs, to maintain the humidor’s level within +/- 2% of the designated percentage. This will largely depend on personal preference, as well as the general humidity and climate of where you live. People in Florida may want to consider using the 65% or 69% packs, whereas people in Nevada would want to use 72% or 75%. In places with less drastic humidity levels, the 69% or 72% packs work great. Even if you season your humidor in the older traditional fashion, the packs are great for ongoing regulation of the relative humidity in your fully working humidor. I personally use the 72% packs, which I’ve found keep my humidor working at exactly 70% RH with no maintenance needed. Each pack lasts approximately 2-3 months, and goes for $3.95. Another great advantage of this new technology is when you’re traveling with cigars. Whether you’re taking them across the country in a travel humidor, or just carrying a few to the lounge in a plastic bag, you’ll be able to maintain a consistent humidity level using the Boveda packs.
As you can see, there are some options when it comes to seasoning your humidor, and yet more options for how to keep it accurately maintained. The methods put forth here though, are guaranteed to get your humidor working properly if followed and applied with the necessary patience required. Following these steps will also get your humidor working without the risk of damaging the humidor itself, or your hard earned cigars.
The next time you overhear a friend telling someone to wipe down the inside of their humidor with a damp cloth, you have two options: either whack them over the head, or just quietly go about your business realizing that you know better (disclaimer: the author is not responsible for injury claims arising out of this advice).