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Cigar Humidors 101: What They Are, How They Work, and the Best Picks

cigar humidor
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Some things just get better with age. Examples of this are fine red wines, good cigars, and George Clooney. Ah, but stored upright in a warm, sunny room, that fine red wine will soon be swill. Exposed to too much heat, too much cold, or to a glut of humidity or to overly-dry conditions, your prized Montecristo or Highclere stogie will soon taste like ash. And you’d better believe Mr. Clooney worried over diet and exercise, protected his skin, and made good script decisions.

We’ll leave the wine and Clooney of it all to other articles and other times. Today, we’re talking cigars, and specifically proper cigar storage, which depends on having a great humidor. Cigars require precisely-controlled temperature and moisture levels in order to keep them fresh for long-term storage, and without a humidor, you just won’t be able to keep them at the right humidity. Without proper storage, a cigar will lose its quality in less than two weeks. With proper storage, cigars can, in fact, 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, all you need to do is occasionally check the moisture levels within and keep said humidor at room temperature, which should be easy enough unless you’re #vanlife kind of fellow. Lucky for you, we’ve got humidor recommendations right here.

We also have a guide on how to smoke a cigar the right way and how to get rid of cigar smoke and smell.

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 will 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

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 also 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 smoke time, that is.

Scotte Leather Portable Humidor

While presented primarily as a travel humidor, and while certainly a good choice for such, this cylindrical leather exterior humidor is handsome enough to be a desktop accessory or to command a prominent place on a shelf, too. And 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

If you’re starting to get serious about cigars, seriously consider this advanced stogie storage solution system. 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 there is even a drawer at the base 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 separated spaces.

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, it has a fan system that keeps air circulating and ensures proper temperatures and humidity, and it can be set to maintain temperatures between 54 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit.

What is a Humidor?

A humidor is a storage container that is 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 relative humidity of the air around them. When a cigar gets too dry, it shrivels up and loses its aroma and flavor, which are two critical parts of smoking cigars. And 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 to use as a travel humidor or as large as a walk-in closet, mostly used in cigar shops. Regardless of the size, each humidor will have a good seal to maintain the internal temperature and provide a thermostat and hygrometer to help its owner maintain optimal conditions.

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. Just right, and 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 size of the humidifier. 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.

A humidor should always aim to be at 70% relative humidity for optimal storage conditions. In order to achieve this, the humidor needs a source of water. There are several ways to introduce moisture to the interior, including sponges, which are the simplest humidifier of all. A sponge soaked in distilled water will release moisture inside. It’s vital that distilled water is 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 will automatically maintain 70%  relative humidity. Crystal gel small 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, which are small machines used in larger humidors.

Hygrometer

A hygrometer is another crucial component of your humidor. It measures the humidity levels inside to let you know 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). In a humidor with electronic humidity controls, it will be connected to the humidifier. It’s critical to check your hygrometer regularly — once every week or two — to make sure all is well in your humidor.

cigar humidor gauge
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Thermostat

Cigars also need to be kept at a steady temperature to keep them in top condition. This should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit in most situations, though you could keep your fresh cigars as cool as 60 or as warm as 72 degrees, aka standard room temperature range. For humidors without temperature controls, a simple thermometer will still provide valuable feedback about the conditions inside. 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 keep humidity steady — and that 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 or drawers inside. Just like a cedar closet, Spanish cedar humidors 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.

How long does a humidor last?

If you buy a well-built humidor, like the ones listed above, there’s no reason that 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 obviously decrease its life span. If you’re an avid cigar smoker, think of a travel humidor lasting about as long as a smartphone case. It has the potential of lasting a few years, depending on how often you drop it.

How much does a humidor cost?

A humidor’s cost varies on its features and capacity. 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 a bunch of bells and whistles, you can easily spend $200 to $500.

What do you need for a humidor?

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

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