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Cigar Tip: Don’t Lose Your Cool This Summer

14 Jun 2017

With Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer in the U.S., now past, most of the country is looking at increasingly hotter temperatures and higher humidity levels.

For cigar enthusiasts, that can also mean rising anxiety levels as they fret over the conditions in their humidors. Here are some tips that I hope can help reduce your stress.

Whether you prefer the “standard” recommendation of 70° F. and 70% relative humidity or something else is, to some degree, a matter of taste. Many smokers these days favor humidity levels in the low- to mid-60s range with temperatures around 65° F.

Significantly higher or lower humidity levels can result in cigars that are too wet or too dry and won’t taste good or perform well. Temperatures much higher than 72° or so risk tobacco beetles hatching if larvae are present.

Only you can decide what settings you prefer.

But once you’ve decided, perhaps the most important step is to maintain relative constancy.

Here are some of the conclusions I’ve reached over the years.

First, I don’t believe cigars are like delicate flowers that will quickly wither and die outside a narrow comfort range of temperature and relative humidity. Sure, leave one resting on the dashboard in July and you can soon kiss it goodbye. But shifts of a few degrees or percentage points aren’t remotely fatal.

So don’t get obsessed. I’ve monitored temperature and relative humidity with two sensors in my cooled cabinet humidor for more than two years. And I can attest what you think is going on inside isn’t always the case.

For example, temperature and relative humidity levels can vary by several points from one shelf to another. (And, yes, my humidor has fans—three of them, in fact—to circulate the air.)

There are also usually differences of a few points in readings at different spots inside the humidor itself, as well as within a cigar box at the same spot. Some boxes hold both incredibly well; others, not so much.

It’s also important to bear in mind a few facts about humidity:

1) It is extremely difficult to measure precisely without very high quality scientific equipment.

2) We’re talking about relative humidity, which means the percentage changes when the temperature changes. That’s why it’s relative.

3) The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. So when the same amount of moisture is present at different temperatures, the relative humidity percentage will be lower in the warmer air.

4) Humid air tends to rise.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep your cool this summer, at least where your cigars are concerned.

George E

photo credit: Flickr

16 Responses to “Cigar Tip: Don’t Lose Your Cool This Summer”

  1. Cigar Seeker Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 7:35 am #

    Curious why you say humid air tends to rise. I would think it would tend to fall due to its greater weight compared with dry air. And my shoebox-style humidor seems to be designed with that idea in mind: Humidity source attached to the underside of the lid, with humid air dropping through slots in the shelf to the cigars stored underneath, in the region where the hygrometer is also located.

    • Patrick A Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 8:20 am #

      I had the same thought while reading this article. However, humid air is less dense than dry air, so humid air tends to rise.

      I did a little poking around, and I think this Washington Post article sums it up pretty well:

      Thanks for the question!

      • Cigar Seeker Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 8:47 am #

        Interesting. That article treats the water in the air as a gas, which one might think would require it to be at the boiling point (212 deg F). I wonder if the water inside a humidor is really more like water droplets which, of course, would be much heavier than dry air. If not, shoebox humidors should work better with the humidity source on the bottom rather than under the lid. I wonder if anyone has tried that?

  2. George E Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    Water vapor is a result of evaporation at ambient temperatures. If water became vapor only at its boiling point, none would ever evaporate from rivers, lakes, streams, etc., into the air. Here’s a simple comparison:
    As for the placement of humidification devices, I think putting the unit at the top is primarily a matter of convenience. I have seen humidors with “pockets” on the sides for things like Boveda packs. Putting humidification devices on the bottom of most desktop humidors would mean either they’d be covered by cigars, certainly inhibiting their function, or I think significant storage space would have to be sacrificed for circulation.

    • Cigar Seeker Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 9:52 am #

      Thanks for the link. Yes, evaporation occurs at all temperatures. What isn’t clear to me though is whether within the confined volume of a humidor the water molecules might combine together to form tiny droplets, much like the droplets that make your breath visible in cold weather. Droplets would tend to fall. So the question would be whether the conditions inside a humidor are closer to the conditions of the open atmosphere, or closer to the conditions that make your breath visible in the cold.

      • George E Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 10:26 am #

        I don’t think your breath condenses until the temperature drops to about 45° F or so. Unlikely anyone’s humidor is going to be that chilly, at least on purpose.

      • Cigar Seeker Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 10:33 am #

        George E:
        “I don’t think your breath condenses until the temperature drops to about 45° F or so. Unlikely anyone’s humidor is going to be that chilly, at least on purpose.”

        Perhaps your breath becomes visible at 45 degrees, but my guess would be it is in the form of droplets when you exhale at all temperatures. Just a guess though. It is unclear what the conditions inside a humidor actually cause the water-laden air to do.

  3. George E Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 11:12 am #

    We might need a thermodynamics physicist — which I’m certainly not — to weigh in. But I think when you exhale at temps above 45° F or so, the moisture in the breath has adequate energy to remain vapor. It’s only when the temperature drops sufficiently, as I understand it, that the water molecules lose enough energy to condense. Again, I don’t think that’s likely to happen inside a humidor.

    • Cigar Seeker Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 11:25 am #

      As it turns out I am a physicist, though certainly I am no expert in thermodynamics. Still, consider the formation of fog on a summer day. I am pretty sure that fog consists of water droplets. But the temperature is not very low. Also think of the “steam” coming out of a steam locomotive. Not steam at all, it is actually water droplets that form when the steam hits the much colder outside air, which might even be the air of a very hot summer afternoon.

      I think in the air inside a humidor, the water is a mixture of water molecules and water droplets (since water tends to form a fluid at temps below its boiling point). I can see that in the open atmosphere water molecules would tend to dominate that mixture. But inside a humidor? Not so sure.

  4. George E Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    I’m the last one to argue with a physicist, but isn’t fog formed when the air is cooled to the dewpoint so it can’t hold any more moisture? Again, seems a highly unlikely condition to exist in a humidor.

    • Cigar Seeker Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 11:40 am #

      Feel free to argue. It’s interesting. I am not saying that fog forms inside a humidor. Only that water droplets can form at temps above 45 degrees. And I am not sure what the technical definition of a droplet is. I am saying when two or more water molecules stick together, that is a droplet. And unlike the other molecules in air, water tends to become a fluid below its boiling point, so colliding water molecules would tend to stick together. So there ought to be lots of droplets in a humidor, and these would tend to fall. Now whether there might be more individual molecules than droplets, I do not know.

  5. George E Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 10:29 am #

    I’m not sure I understand. But water forming inside a humidor (top or bottom) under relatively “normal” conditions is not something I’ve ever experienced.

    • Cigar Seeker Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 11:21 am #

      Well George, all I am saying is that water when in gaseous form and below its boiling point (and as should go without saying, above its freezing point), it will “want” to turn into liquid water. What happens is the molecules of water collide and tend to stick together, thus forming liquid.

      If you think about a sealed container which has steam inside of it, then drop the temperature of the container down to, say, 65 degrees or so, in fairly short order all of the steam will be gone and you will have a puddle of water on the bottom.

      It seems to me a humidor with gaseous water inside it is not all that different from the container example here, so the gaseous water held around 65 degrees or so should tend to turn into liquid water. And liquid water, even in droplet form, will tend to fall.

      Now I realize a real humidor has cigars in it, and probably something like humidity beads, and all kinds of complicating factors. So if you feel a humidor differs a lot from a sealed container of the kind in the example, that is reasonable. But I think it is also reasonable to say a humidor differs enough from the open atmosphere that ideas that apply to the atmosphere may not apply inside a humidor.

      I’d say the issue of whether humid air rises or falls inside a humidor is an unsettled issue,and can really only be decided by testing.

  6. George E Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    I wouldn’t pretend my observations are anything more than anecdotal, but in over two years of testing the humidity and temperature levels throughout my humidor (roughly 22″ wide x 25″ deep x 28.75” tall), the relative humidity readings are consistently higher at the top of the unit.
    While I’m not, as I’ve said before, a scientist of any sort, I’m not so sure your sealed container example is analogous because I think that in the atmosphere the levels of oxygen, nitrogen and argon would begin to increase as the level of H2O in the atmosphere decreased with its transformation to liquid and dropping out of the atmosphere.

  7. Cigar Seeker Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    Ah, well, if you have actually observed higher humidity at the top, that pretty much settles the issue right there. You can certainly do science without being a scientist!

    As for what you suggest happens in the atmosphere, as I said, I am not sure how applicable atmospheric results are to an enclosed environment like a humidor.

    But now that I know what you have observed, I can speculate why the closed-container example may not explain the humidor results. A container full of steam probably has a lot more water in it than a humidor. So collisions between molecules, and the formation of liquid water, is more likely. In fact, in the container example with the resulting puddle on the bottom, there is probably still residual humidity in the air above the puddle. Even if the puddle is removed, perhaps that residual humidity would remain, despite the low temperature. And perhaps no further liquid water forms once the amount of water in the air gets low enough.

    At least that is what I would expect, based on your observations.

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    […] 4) From the Archives: Interested in the science behind humidor humidity? A conversation about it broke out in the comments of Wednesday’s article on prepping your humidor for the Summer. Read it here. […]