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Cigar humidor 101: What they are, how they work, and our top picks

A guide to all things cigar humidors

Cigar humidor
Youst / Getty Images

Some things get better as they age, including red wines, good high-quality cigars, and George Clooney. Ah, but that red wine will swill if stored upright in a warm, sunny room. And if you leave George Clooney out in the rain, he’s probably not going to look his best. And if your cigars suffer overexposure to heat or cold, a glut of humidity, or even overly dry conditions, your prized Montecristo or Highclere stogie will soon taste like ash.

Let’s talk about good cigars for a hot minute, specifically proper cigar storage, which depends on having a great humidor. Cigars need precisely controlled temperature and moisture levels to keep them fresh for long-term storage, and without a humidor, you won’t be able to keep them at the proper humidity. A cigar will lose quality in less than two weeks without proper storage. With proper storage, however, cigars can improve with age. A smaller, paler cigar may be at its peak flavor profile after six months of careful storage, while a larger, darker, and more robust cigar may be at its best after two or three years.

Once you have your cigars safely stashed in a good humidor, you only need to occasionally check the moisture levels within and keep said humidor at room temperature, which should be easy enough unless you’re a #vanlife kind of fellow. Fortunately for you, we’ve got cigar humidor recommendations right here.

We also have a guide on how to smoke a cigar correctly and eliminate cigar smoke and smell.

A wooden case full of cigars.
Case Elegance

Five humidors to consider

Case Elegance cherry finish Spanish cedar humidor

When you picture a humidor, barring the walk-in room at a fine tobacconist, this is probably what you’re thinking of, and for most casual cigar enthusiasts, this is what you need. Unless you’re a strictly Double Corona cigar kind of guy, this humidor will accommodate about two dozen cigars and keep them fresh thanks to the lining of cedarwood, a built-in humidifier, and included humidification gel. The lid seals snugly thanks to built-in magnets, and the case is compact enough for easy storage yet handsome enough to be left in plain sight.

Kendal Glass Top Desktop Cigar Humidor on a white background.
Kendal

Kendal glass-top desktop cigar humidor

When you’re ready to take your cigar storage game up a notch, this 60-cigar humidor (again, depending on the size of your smokes) is a fine choice. Divided and internal storage areas and a removable tray help you keep things sorted and mean lots of exposure to cedar wood that helps infuse the aroma and draw out excess moisture. The hygrometer on the front of the case means you don’t need to open it to check humidity status, and the glass top also lets you make your selection (or show off your collection) without cracking open the lid. Until it’s smoke time, that is.

Circular Scotte Leather Portable Humidor filled with cigars
Scotte

Scotte leather portable humidor

While presented primarily as a travel humidor and indeed a good choice, this cylindrical leather exterior humidor is handsome enough to be a desktop accessory or command a prominent place on a shelf. As it seals well, is lined with leather, comes with a humidifier, and has a hygrometer on the lid, it’s a fine choice as your everyday humidor, provided storing only around a dozen cigars is sufficient. (And did someone say “groomsman gift idea?” Yes, yes, someone just did.)

Octodor Black Piano Finish Glass Top Humidor on a white background
Octodor

Octodor large black piano finish glass-top cedar humidor

Consider this advanced stogie storage system if you’re starting to get serious about cigars. It has a recessed humidification system set into the base of the interior that ensures steady, even humidity; its digital hygrometer removes all guesswork; and a drawer at the bottom that’s perfect for holding your cutter, lighter, and other preferred cigar tools. Also, it can hold up to a hundred cigars and does so in multiple separate spaces.

Audew Cigar Cooler Humidor on a white background
Audew

Audew cigar cooler humidor

If your cigar collection numbers in the hundreds and consists of many fine smokes deserving years of aging — or if you own a cigar bar or a shop from which you’ll peddle fine tobacco — then this is your humidor. It can accommodate up to 150 cigars across its movable cedar wood shelves, has a fan system that keeps air circulating and ensures proper temperatures and humidity, and can be set to maintain temperatures between 54 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cigar Masters, Cigars, Stogies, Boston
Cigar Masters

What is a humidor?

A humidor is a storage container designed to help maintain a relative humidity level, which is critical for cigars because the tobacco leaves in them will naturally expand and contract based on the air’s relative humidity. When a cigar gets too dry, it withers and loses its aroma and flavor, two critical parts of smoking cigars. By contrast, when a cigar is exposed to extremely high humidity, it can lead to mold, rot, and even an infestation of tobacco beetles (that’s right, beetles).

Humidors come in all shapes and sizes and can be as small as a box for a travel humidor or as large as a walk-in closet, primarily used in cigar shops. Regardless of the size, each humidor will have an excellent seal to maintain the internal temperature and provide a thermostat and hygrometer to help its owner maintain optimal conditions.

Cigar humidor gauge that shows percentage and temperature
Somatuscani / Getty Images

How humidors work

Humidors work by creating ideal conditions for cigars. Too much moisture, and they’ll get moldy. Too dry, and they crack apart — get the conditions just right, and you’ve got good times.

Here’s what you need to know.

Humidifier

The most important part of a humidor is its humidification system, which can be simple or complex, depending on the humidifier’s size. The purpose of the humidifier is to add moisture to the humidor so that the cigars can stay plump and burn slowly, with essential oils that provide the flavor and aroma you expect from your favorite cigars preserved.

For optimal storage conditions, a humidor should always be at 70% relative humidity. To achieve this, the humidor needs a source of water. There are several ways to introduce moisture to the interior, including sponges, the most straightforward humidifier. A sponge soaked in distilled water will release moisture inside. Distilled water must be used to avoid introducing minerals and mold to the humidor.

Floral foam (the green blocks used for flower arrangements) holds plenty of water and releases it gradually, but it also absorbs cigar odors and will need to be replaced yearly. A foam humidifier works best with propylene glycol instead of water because it automatically maintains 70%  relative humidity. Crystal gel tiny beads also work, as they are designed to hold up to 500 times their weight in water, which they then release into the atmosphere of the humidor. There are also electronic humidifiers and small machines used in larger humidors.

Hygrometer

A hygrometer is another crucial component of your humidor. It measures the humidity levels inside to tell you whether you need to add moisture or absorb some excess water to dry things out. A hygrometer can be digital or analog (which will look like a needle that spins in a marked circle or semicircle). A humidor with electronic humidity controls will be connected to the humidifier. It’s critical to check your hygrometer regularly — once every week or two — to ensure all is well in your humidor.

Thermostat

Cigars must also be kept at a steady temperature to keep them in top condition. In most situations, this should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, though you could keep your fresh cigars as cool as 60 or as warm as 72 degrees, a standard room temperature range. A simple thermometer will still provide valuable feedback about the conditions inside humidors without temperature controls. If the humidor has a heater or cooler that allows you to control the temperature inside, your thermostat will directly control these for your convenience. This also helps keep humidity levels even, as warm air holds more moisture, while cool air tends to be drier. Keeping your temperatures steady also helps control humidity, which means more effortless cigar storage.

Spanish cedar

The traditional choice for a humidor interior is Spanish cedar. Some come with cedar lining on the walls, while others use Spanish cedar wood for the shelves and drawers. Spanish cedar humidors, like a cedar closet, repel insects and protect the contents from decay. Spanish cedar also has some absorbent qualities, which allow it to absorb and release water to help keep conditions evenly moist inside the humidor.

With all those elements in place, your smokes should stay moist and fresh and will only mellow and improve with age.

Humidor
Wellesley Knightsbridge

Humidor FAQs

How long does a humidor last?

If you buy a well-built humidor, like the ones listed above, there’s no reason it can’t last you a lifetime — with the proper care and maintenance. A travel humidor may be a different story. Simply due to their intended purposes, the wear-and-tear that comes along with travel will decrease its life span. If you’re an avid cigar smoker, think of a travel humidor lasting about as long as a smartphone case. Depending on how often you drop it, it can last a few years.

How much does a humidor cost?

A humidor’s cost varies on its features and capabilities. You should be able to find a good, cigar-box-sized humidor for less than $100. If you’re looking for a large, reach-in humidor with bells and whistles, you can easily spend $200 to $500.

What do you need for a humidor?

All you need is a desk, mantel, or shelf for a standard-sized humidor to live in. For a humidor with a moisture-controlled cooling system, you’ll need a standard 120-volt power source.

How do you season a cigar humidor?

To season a cigar humidor, you will need the following:

  • New humidor
  • Distilled water
  • Sponge
  • Hygrometer
  • Humidifier

Instructions:

  1. Remove all of the contents from the humidor.
  2. Wipe down the inside of the humidor with a damp sponge.
  3. Place the hygrometer in the humidor.
  4. Place the humidifier in the humidor.
  5. Fill the humidifier with distilled water.
  6. Close the humidor and let it sit for two weeks.
  7. After two weeks, check the hygrometer. The humidity should be between 65% and 75%.
    1. If the humidity is too low, add more distilled water to the humidifier.
    2. If the humidity is too high, open the humidor and let it air for a few hours.

You can add your cigars to the humidor once the humidity is in the correct range.

Here are some additional tips for seasoning a cigar humidor:

  • Use distilled water to avoid leaving mineral deposits on the wood.
  • Do not use soap or other cleaning products, as these can damage the wood.
  • If you are in a humid climate, you may need to season your humidor for longer than two weeks.
  • Once your humidor is seasoned, you should check the humidity level every few weeks and adjust the humidifier as needed.

Following our instructions will ensure your cigar humidor is correctly seasoned and ready to store your cigars for a long while.

Cigars
Cigars

Making a DIY humidor

To keep your cigars in peak condition, it really is best to store them in a humidor, especially one lined with cedar, but for those MacGyvers out there who want fresh cigars but would rather spend money on stogies than storage, it’s possible to make your own humidor, and it all starts with something you probably already have lying around — a cooler.

As long as your cooler seals tightly, you can modify it to become a “coolidor” for cigar storage. A DIY humidor won’t keep cigars fresh as long as a humidor that was expressly made for cigars, but it will do in a pinch. While you can use an older cooler as long as it is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, it’s best to start with a new cooler.

Instructions:

  1. Make sure the lid of the cooler has a good seal.
  2. Get Spanish cedar to line the cooler — you can use those thin sheets of cedar that come inside cigar boxes for this.
  3. Wash and sanitize the cooler (even if it’s new).
  4. Create a humidifier. And as we said earlier, floral foam works well for this. Put the foam in a plastic container, saturate it with propylene glycol and water, and then place it in the cooler and close the lid.
  5. Season the cooler and monitor the humidity as in the directions in the previous section of this article.
  6. When the “coolidor” is ready, fill it with cigars. Do not store loose cigars — use cigar boxes for storage.

Editors' Recommendations

Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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