Why should I use a humidor?
The purpose of a humidor is to keep your cigars at their peak "smokability". The most crucial characteristic of a fine humidor is that it can provide a constant environment of about 68' to 70' F and 70-72% humidity. It doesn't really need to be fancy, but it does need to be functional.
What is a humidor?
A humidor is, quite simply, a storage container designed to allow controlled air flow and equipped with a device that maintains the internal humidity in the range of 70 to 75 percent; its internal temperature should be maintained in a narrow range of about 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (Without something to maintain the internal humidity, it's not a humidor; it's just a box.) Humidors come in all sizes. Travel-sized humidors hold just a few cigars; room-sized humidors hold thousands of boxes of cigars.
Note that a humidor is not a sealed environment. Inside an airtight moisturized container, cigars are likely to become moldy. For that reason, it's better to have air circulating between the cigars in your humidor than it is to squish them in too tightly.
While a humidor needs a device that maintains moisture levels, it does not necessarily need a gauge. Some humidors, however, come with hygrometers, which indicate the interior humidity. While the analog models (the round gauges with a needle inside) often have the appealing style of a dial on a sports car's dashboard, they are frequently inaccurate. Digital hygrometers, on the other hand, are usually reliable to a level of plus or minus 2 percent.
No matter what a thermometer or hygrometer says, the true measure of your humidor's performance will be the condition of the cigars inside. If the cigars are exuding a little oil, the conditions are perfect. If they seem too dry, you add more water. If they turn moldy, you have to throw out the cigars (probably with a tear or two in your eye), no matter what the hygrometer says. There's even a species of beetle, called a tobacco beetle, which can quickly bore holes through the contents of humidors. This will sometimes occur when the humidor maintains a temperature above 75 degrees for more than 24 hours. If your humidor becomes afflicted with these insects, freeze the contaminated cigars for 48 hours, then transfer them to the refrigerator for an additional 24 hours before returning them to your humidor. The beetles and their larvae will not survive. Be sure to wipe down your humidor with a damp cloth (using only distilled water) before returning the cigars.
Selecting your humidor
Investing in a humidor is a big decision. Good humidors aren't cheap, but there's no point in having a bad humidor. A humidor that does not maintain a constant desired level of humidity, no matter how pretty it is, is a waste of money and cigars. Consider how wine lovers store their wine. They're protecting an investment. Your cigars are equally valuable, and deserve a similar level of care.
The first step is to decide what size humidor you want. A good guide is to buy a humidor that's a little bigger than what you think you need. At the same time, you might want to investigate whether your local cigar retailer or cigar club has rental facilities that will let you store the bulk of your stock, so that you'll only need room for a few days' reserve at home or at work.
Just as if you were buying a new car, you'll want to look carefully at the construction and performance features of a humidor, as well as at its finish. If the seams aren't perfect, or if the corners aren't square, skip that humidor.
Pay particular attention to the rim and the lid, and how they fit together. The lid should shut tightly. For the record, a humidor lid should not "seal" completely; it should allow a minute amount of air to circulate in and out of the box. But any visible warping will mean that too much air gets in and too much moisture gets out, even if there's a "lip" that fits inside the lid.
A heavy lid is generally an advantage. Many humidors, even those with locks, rely on the weight of the lid to keep them tightly shut. This, however, creates a challenge. A humidor should be designed to be in balance, whether open or shut. If the lid opens too far, its weight can cause the humidor to flip up or fall over. If the lid doesn't open far enough to stay balanced in a upright position, it might come crashing back down on your fingers.
Locks aren't a bad idea. Consider the value -- both emotional and financial -- of the collection that you are going to keep in the humidor. Then consider the damage that could be done by curious prying fingers, by pilfering or even by vandalism (we could tell you stories...). You are likely to want a lock. Just be sure to have a duplicate key tucked away in a safe place. Nothing is more heartbreaking than to have to tamper with the perfectly fitted and carefully finished edges of a finely crafted box.
The first thing to notice on the inside of a humidor is the humidification device. Most humidification devices are simple -- little more than a sponge material or a bottle that slowly emits moisture. (Simple as they are, these devices are still light-years ahead of one old-fashioned humidification device: apple cores.) The biggest variable in proper humidification, after good construction, is not the type of humidification system you have, but whether or not you remember to add the needed water or chemicals at regular intervals.
Look for a humidor lined with a fairly non-aromatic cedar, such as Spanish cedar. Cedar absorbs and re-emits moisture in a way that helps the tobaccos that are blended into a fine cigar to age and mature. (If you are ambitious and handy enough and decide to build your own humidor, be aware that you can't use just any cedar. The highly aromatic cedar used to line closets and wool chests would do disastrous things to the flavor of your cigars.)
Humidor trays make it easy for you to organize, and occasionally rotate, your collection. The inside of a humidor has variations in humidity, despite the various slots that promote internal air circulation and reduce the likelihood that the base woods and the veneer will warp or separate. Within this microclimate, you should introduce your driest cigars as far away as possible from the humidification device so that they re-attain proper hydration as slowly and evenly as possible.
Handles can he helpful on larger humidors, particularly if you will be moving the humidor around a room while offering cigars. If you are planning to put the humidor on a table or sideboard, a felt bottom will help protect the humidor and the furniture.
Some humidors have magnets set into the underside of the lid, so you can store a cigar cutter there. This is good if it keeps you from misplacing an expensive cutter, and bad if it leads you to opening the humidor more often or leaving it open for longer periods of time. Before you get excited about a lid magnet, be sure to find out what the cutter that it's supposed to hold will cost you. If you have scissors or a more expensive guillotine cutter, consider anchoring it to your humidor with an elegant chain, which will guarantee that the cutter will be available whenever you want it.
How to set up the humidor? Step by step
A humidor’s proper moisture and temperature must be created before storing cigars. Follow these simple instructions:
Step 1 - Submerge the black plastic humidifiers in distilled water until well saturated. Dry off the surface of the humidifier and place on a towel for approximately one hour to make sure that no dripping occurs.
Step 2 - Fill a plastic cup or dish with distilled water and place it inside the humidor.
Step 3 - Some manufacturer instructions will advise you to dampen the humidor with a sponge, but we've been advised against this by people who work with wood. If you subject raw wood to water it may swell, crack or otherwise become compromised. The sponge may contain particles that can contaminate the humidor. If you do wipe humidor's interior, use a clean, lint-free cloth and take care not to leave the surfaces wet.
Step 4 - Attach the humidifiers and the hygrometer to the inside of the lid. Also, place the humidifiers in the bottom holders of the humidor if applicable.
Step 5 - Close the empty humidor for 3 to 7 days depending on the size of the humidor.
Step 6 - Open the humidor and remove the plastic cup or dish with water.
Your humidor is now ready to store cigars. When placing cigars in the humidor, make sure the cigars do not block the humidifier’s vents.
What temperature is best for storage?
70 degrees. - Although cooler storage temperatures are definitely not a problem for cigars (as long as you maintain a reasonable relative humidity).
Why do we attempt to keep them at 70 deg. then? The key is in the subtle difference between stable storage and true aging. Your cigars will not age, mature, mellow, or develop the complex character of well cured smokes at lower temperatures. The blended tobaccos will not "marry", and if you're keeping them for a long time you won't get the subtle changes in flavor.
There have been several long threads in a.s.c. on the need to age La Gloria Cubanas, for example. These will stay "green" much longer if aged at cooler temperatures.
At higher temperatures, there are several insects to worry about. The microscopic eggs of the dreaded tobacco beetle, for instance, hatch at temperatures above 80 degrees.
Must cigars be stored horizontally?
Cigars are stored horizontally because in a completely still environment moist air is very slow to mix with drier air. It obviously does stabilize eventually, but with a humidor's frequent openings and closings, this "layering effect" may make your stogies burn irregularly. You can minimize the effect by storing cigars horizontally (and not opening your box too often). I'd recommend a tupperdor over a jar for this reason.
Sliding cigars in and out of a cigar jar can often damage the ends of their delicate wrappers - it's best to subject your cigars to as little handling as possible. A shoebox size tupperdor hardly costs more than a single good cigar, and you'll be able to store more cigars (and longer ones). Picture an 8" tall jar (big enough for larger 7 1/2" sizes) with a few 4 1/2" robustos mixed in. You'll have to dump them all out to get at the shorter ones!
Maintaining your Humidor:
Add distilled water to your humidifier when the relative humidity begins to dip. After the humidor has been stabilized this dip should occur slow and steady... 69%, 68%, 67% and so on. Typically I add distilled water when I hit 64% or so. Remember to NOT saturate the Credo, but to only moisten it! This is the biggest error most new humidor owners make, keep in mind that a Credo not only raises the humidity to 70% RH, but it also lowers the humidity when it exceeds this level. Therefore it is essential that there be room left within the Credo's volume to absorb the excess moisture if necessary.
Only use distilled water. Tap water has chemicals and minerals that you do not want in contact with your cigars as they age. Also tap water contains organics and is prone to developing mold. Distilled water is the only readily available water that is free of both mineral and organic impurities.
Do not be anal retentive about the RH humidity. Any number between 64% and 72% is fine, truth is every cigar smokes different. Some will be best at 68%, while other less tightly rolled cigars will burn better at 72%. Some people like their cigars even drier and try to keep them closer to 60%. Ignore what everyone tells you about 70/70 and experiment with slightly drier and wetter humidities until you find what you like best. Personally, I prefer 65%-67% RH as the ideal relative humidity.
Temperature control is not nearly as critical as the humidity. Any temperature between 50-75 degrees is fine. A couple of notes though, at the lower temp the aging process slows down, while at the higher temp the hatching of the dreaded tobacco beetle is a potential risk. More importantly always keep your humidor out of the sunlight - being bathed in the sun's rays drastically escalates the internal temperature within the box. Also never place it on a television set or near a stereo system, as any such electronic device will generate considerable heat.
Totally DISREGARD any table or advice explaining that the ideal humidity for storing your cigars changes depending on the temperature. This is a myth that sadly has been published in some otherwise respectable publications. It is based on the principles of absolute moisture content and not relative humidity. 70% relative humidity is 70% relative humidity regardless of the temperature hence the term "relative."
Seasoning a cigar humidor
OK, you found your perfect cigar humidor... now what? Now it is time to "season" it. Basically "seasoning" your humidor is the process of getting your humidor ready for your cigars. It involves cleaning the humidor as well as getting the humidity level to the right point BEFORE adding your cigars. This takes 2 days to complete, but is well worth the time. Putting cigars into a dry humidor can ruin them. The exception to this would be humidors with varnished or finished wood interiors, as those do not require seasoning.
To season your new cigar humidor, you need distilled water (NEVER USE TAP WATER IN YOUR HUMIDOR), a new sponge (no soap, no scents of any kind) and a plastic bag. Take the sponge and wet it with a liberal dose of distilled water. Wipe down all the exposed wood, including any trays and dividers, and the interior lid. After you've wiped down the wood, squirt the sponge with more distilled water, then place it inside the humidor on a plastic bag, this avoids direct contact with the wood, and close the lid. If you are concerned the water will harm the unfinished wood, you can place a shot glass of distilled water or 50/50 solution in the bottom of the humidor instead.
Next, prepare your humidification device according to the manufacturer's directions. With the exception that the manufacturer specifically states that you can use tap water, use only distilled water. (We never recommend using tap water) Tap water contains minerals that will destroy most humidification systems by leaving deposits that will clog the humidor element. Once the humidification element is filled, be sure to wipe it down to remove all the excess water. Let it sit on a hand towel for approximately 30 minutes.
Place the element in the humidor, leave the sponge in there as well, and close the humidor. Leave it overnight. The next day, refresh the humidification device if needed, and check the sponge. If it is fairly dry, add more distilled water. If it is very damp, leave it alone.
Let the humidor sit another night, and then remove the sponge and plastic bag. The walls of the humidor have now absorbed all the water they need, and now you can safely store your cigars. Ideally what you want is for the humidor to reach 68 – 72% humidity. Once you attain that, the wood has been properly stabilized
What is a hygrometer?
A hygrometer is a device used to measure the humidity levels within an enclosed space. Most tabletop humidor boxes include the analog variety, which provide a reading on a small round dial. These are usually accurate within 5 or 10 degrees but they require semi-annual re-calibration in order to keep them working properly.
How do I calibrate my new hygrometer?
If you are using a digital hygrometer, it is runs on a battery and will not require calibration.
Analog hygrometers (the round dials included in most humidor boxes) are often as much as 20% off in their reading when brand new. This does not indicate that they are defective, just that they haven’t been exposed to any humidity in a while and thus need to be calibrated.
To accurately calibrate new hygrometer humidor you will the following: a teaspoon of salt, a shot glass, a plastic sandwich bag and a few drops of water.
Place the salt in the shot glass and add just a few drops of water to it. Do not put so much water in it that it becomes a salt-water solution, you just want the salt to be slightly damp. Place the shot glass and your analog hygrometer in a plastic sandwich bag and tightly seal the bag. Make sure you leave plenty of air in there though; you want to create an atmosphere. Leave both items in the bag for at least six hours.
After this length of time, the relative humidity in the bag will be near 75% RH and your hygrometer should read about 75% RH. If not, you can adjust the reading by using a small screwdriver to adjust the dial on the back of the hygrometer.
Remember most small inexpensive hygrometers are only accurate to within 3% so do not be surprised if it reads 72% or 78% RH. It is exactly 75% RH within the confines of the bag due to the salt paste reacting with the air, and what your hygrometer reads differently is the amount of error.
The does and don't of keeping cigars
Temperature and relative humidity are the two most important factors when it comes to conserving cigars at their best. If cigars are kept in less than optimum conditions they can easily spoil beyond repair. (The types of damage and their consequences are explained below.)
It is generally agreed that ideal conditions are constituted by a temperature of between 64° and 68°F and by a level of relative humidity in the area of 70%.
This agreement is not quite unanimous however; for certain aficionados prefer their cigars a little more humid, even if this implies that they must be relit more often. Such smokers maintain humidity at a level of between 75 and 80%. Of course, for other cigar lovers, the opposite is true. There is no absolute universal rule.
Some smokers trust entirely to their own judgment when it comes gauging the humidification of their cigars and do not rely on measuring apparatus. Such smokers will inspect their humidor regularly, squeezing their cigars to judge their moisture. A correctly humidified cigar should be elastic and not brittle. You should be able to squeeze a cigar quite strongly and have it spring back to its original shape.
Alternative Cigar Storage Methods
A humidor is NOT essential to cigar storage. In fact there are many inexpensive and effective means for maintaining and aging your cigars. Two of the most popular ones are "Tupperdors" and "Igloodors."
Tupperdor - A Tupperdor is nothing more than a plastic food container. You can use Tupperware or any other similar product. These are inexpensive and very effective. Simply add a humidifier and you are all set. Many people place those cedar separator sheets that come from boxes of cigars on the bottom of their tupperdors to introduce the element of Spanish cedar. Remember to store your tupperdors in a dark cool place.
An Igloodor is simply a large ice cooler like those made by the Igloo or Coleman companies. They come in a wide variety of sizes with the most common being a 48 qt. model, but I know many people that utilize the giant 128 qt. models. This is an ideal way to store full boxes of cigar very inexpensively. Some people line the interior by attaching Spanish cedar with a non-toxic scentfree adhesive and others even create dividers. You can make a large humidifier, but one of the easiest solutions it to just place a trimmed brick of oasis foam in the small plastic tray that many of them come with.
Igloodors - Igloodors are also commonly referred to as "Coolerdors."
There are only two minor drawbacks to using these for long term cigar storage:
1) They are more susceptible to becoming over humidified since their plastic walls do not help to buffer the relative humidity so it is extra important to not overcharge your humidifier. Because of the risk of higher moisture levels you need to be on the alert for the possibility of mold forming.
2) They can not breathe as a traditional humidor will. Therefore, they will trap the ammonia and off gases generated by your cigars aging within them. To alleviate this problem you should open them at least once a month to allow for an exchange of fresh air.
I have used both of these alternatives for many years to no detriment. However, most aficionados will eventually purchase a humidor as there is a sense of great satisfaction when selecting a fine cigar to smoke from a well-crafted humidor rather than a plastic container. It only seems fitting that a premium cigar should be kept in a beautiful humidor.
You can make a homemade humidifier with the following materials
WET Oasis Foam - this is the type used for live floral arrangements, do not use DRY Oasis foam, it will not work. WET Oasis foam is available at all florist and most craft stores.
Propylene Glycol (PG) - Chemical available from your pharmacist's counter for roughly $7 a pint. This is the "secret ingredient" in all regulating agents such as Credo's Special Care solution.
Distilled Water - available at most grocery stores
Any Container - travel soap dish, film tube, etc.
For example, take a travel soap dish and drill numerous holes to allow substantial airflow throw the walls of the container. Cut the foam small enough to fit loosely into the container - it must be small enough to allow for adequate air circulation around its surface. Mix a 50/50 solution of PG and distilled water, and moisten your oasis foam with the mixture. Remember MOISTEN... do not saturate!!! And voila' a homemade "Credo" and for much less than those commercially sold... amazing huh? Also keep in mind it takes a couple of days for the humidifier itself to stabilize before it can begin to regulate your humidor properly.
A couple final items regarding humidifiers that you should keep in mind:
The size/number of humidifiers necessary depends on a number of things: ambient climate, your humidor's construction, number of times a day it is opened, how many cigars are in it, etc. But a good rule of thumb is:
A humidifier can never be too large, bigger is better with an emphasis towards more surface area rather than thickness.
Always remember to never overcharge them with distilled water.
Always utilize distilled water. It will prevent clogging and is far less likely to cause molding in your humidor. I am always amazed by people who try to say their tap water is "this and that" filtered &SHY; don't be so cheap. You are storing cigars worth typically hundreds of dollars and distilled water costs $0.99 a gallon at the grocery store.
All passive humidifiers will require a couple of days to settle in after being initially charged. Do not expect your humidor to be at 70% RH in just a few hours.
And most importantly, all humidifiers are going to regulate within a range of the desired RH &SHY; do not wig out over being a few percentage points off.