You've filled your humidor with the finest cigars and your fingers itch to enjoy one each time you walk by. But, without controlling the humidity, you might not get to enjoy that next cigar as much as you had hoped.
Moisture levels below 62% or above 75% will spell disaster for your collection. If they become damp, you'll find your favorite cigars will start to mold and they'll be difficult to light. Too dry, and they lose their flavor, the smoke sharpens, the wrappers crack, and you'll lose the enjoyment. To prevent this, you need to keep a close eye on the humidity levels. And that's where a cigar hygrometer comes in.
Using Cigar Hygrometers
Cigar smokers often use a mechanical or digital cigar hygrometer to monitor moisture levels. If accuracy is your priority, go for the digital. If you're more interested in something that looks great, you might go with the mechanical style.
Both types work fine, but, unfortunately, neither is 100% accurate 'off-the-shelf'. If you really want to accurately monitor your humidor's moisture levels, you'll need to calibrate your hygrometer. How? By using a little chemistry known as the Salt Calibration Test. This simple procedure will make certain your humidor is set at exactly 75% relative humidity.
The Salt Calibration Test
- 1 Tablespoon of table salt
- 2 resealable plastic bags (ex. Ziplock)
- A small container such as a wide bottle cap
- Something to stir with (Swizzle sticks work great)
- Distilled water
- Cigar hygrometer
1. Add the salt to the bottle cap and slowly pour in the distilled water while stirring. You want to add just enough of the water to make a paste without dissolving the salt.
2. Once that's done, set it in a re-sealable plastic bag with the cigar hygrometer, making sure the sensor sits away from the plastic. If you allow it to 'smother' the sensor, it won't be able to get an accurate reading.
3. Seal the bag shut with some air trapped inside and set it into the second bag closing that up tightly as well. When you're done, double check to make sure you have closed everything tightly and set it in an area that has a steady temperature. It should also be kept out of direct sunlight.
4. After at least eight hours, look at the gauge through the plastic and you will see that it reads somewhere close to 75% relative humidity.
Dealing With Inaccuracies
When you do this test, the paste in the cap reacts with the air to create a miniature environment that is exactly 75% relative humidity. If the cigar hygrometer reads anything other than that, you know how far it is out and in which direction it is off by subtracting the reading from 75%.
It is common to see one that is off by one or two percent. Lower quality cigar hygrometers are another matter; many of them will read up to three percent higher or lower.
You can adjust some cigar hygrometers by moving the potentiometer and going back through the Salt Calibration Test to recheck it. If yours doesn't have some way of adjusting it, don't panic. Just remember how far it is off or mark the correct spot off on the gauge and your problem is solved. When the reading is out significantly, it is a sign that you need a new one.
Do You Really Need a Cigar Hygrometer?
Many cigar devotees recommend that you use hygrometers, but they aren't a must-have piece of equipment. Over time, you'll develop the ability to judge the humidity level just by touching and smoking your cigars. And that's a much more pleasurable way of testing the humidity!