Recharging Boveda Packs
I was talking to my good friend Raph’ the other day and the subject of Boveda packs came up. Only recently have I finally come to use them exclusively in my humidors. I’ve retrofitted all my humidors with the nifty side-side wood holders mounted in the lids (yes, I feel a multi-drawer 6 foot cabinet in my future). I use the 60 gram 72% RH packs in my humidors and 69% RH packs in my travel and herf-a-dors. Raph’ and I discussed how freakin’ expensive they are and that their humidor life expectancy is only 2-3 months on average. He then mentioned he had heard of methods to “recharge” the packs and reuse them. He gave me some pointers, I did a little research and lo and behold, just like Dr. Frankenstein you too can breathe new life into the dead.
Boveda packs are the coolest thing to hit the cigar industry since lighters. User friendly, clean, non-toxic (for the most part), portable and a nice step up from water-based humidifiers and toxic propylene glycol (yep, the same shit in antifreeze) beads/gels. Invented back in 1996 by two former General Mills executives, the company was called Humidipak and was the first to patent 2-way humidity control. In 2012, after selling under both the Humidipak and Boveda brands, the company unified the brands and announced the sole moniker and logo of Boveda, at the IPCPR convention the same year.
Don’t let the 7th grade science scare you – its pretty simple. First, its important to know that in general when salt (eg sodium chloride or table salt) and water are in a saturated solution in equilibrium at room temperature, the relative humidity is approximately 75%. This can be adjusted with different salts. We’ve all calibrated a hygrometer a time or two, so this concept shouldn’t be new. The technology behind these little marvelous miracles is basic osmosis. Separate 2 solutions (basically made of purified water and salts) by a semi permeable membrane (a porous, ultra-thin synthetic membrane) and the water molecules will move from the solution with the higher water concentration to the lower concentration in order to attain a natural equilibrium (both sides equal). So, when you throw these guys in your humidor, the water concentration, or humidity, in your humidor is lower than that of the Boveda pack, thus the water vapor will naturally move from the higher concentration (Boveda Pack) to the lower concentration (your humidor). But this is only one-way humidification. How does it achieve two-way humidification control? The constant effects of equilibrium of water vapor between the Boveda pack and your humidor is what defines the two-way humidification control. So, when the concentration of water vapor in your humidor increases to a level above what is in the Boveda pack, the water is attracted back to the Boveda pack. This cycle is constantly repeated. Ingenious. Remember this concept when I talk about recharging.
By the way, if we pull the curtain aside and see whats in these packs you’ll find the following in various amounts depending on the relative humidity (RH): water, sodium chloride (table salt), potassium chloride (another salt) and xanthum gum (thickening agent and stabilizer). No Prestone here my friends! Cool! So, because all those lovely Fuentes and Cohibas as well as that Spanish cedar absorb water, its only a matter of time before there isn’t enough water left in the Boveda packs.
Okay, its been a few months and your 69% or 72% RH packs are starting to feel like 10-year old Hershey bars. Time to replace. At $5 a piece, for the 60 gram, this could get pricey particularly if you’re using 7 or 8 at a time like I do. So, $35-$40 for the initial set and 3-4 replacements a year can run up a bill pushing 160 bucks. Yeah, it’s still better than messing with distilled water, humidifiers and the shit you use to fill your radiator. So, before we talk about recharging here’s some quick tips to help you prolong the use of your Boveda packs.
Tip #1 – Use the right RH and number of packs
The right RH can depend on several variables, including where you live, where the humidor is stored, how many stogies you have, etc. Seasoning a new humidor? You’ll want a couple of 84% packs for a couple of weeks. Once seasoned, Boveda’s general rule is to add 1 pack for every 25 sticks. Got a humidor with 50 robustos? Get 2 packs. From experience, I’ve learned that just because you have a 40-50 cigar humidor but max it out with only 30-35 6X60 Gordos or 7X48 Churchills, you’ll still need 2 packs. Don’t mix 69% and 72% RH packs in the same humi – they’ll end up in a cat fight and the loser is your beloved sticks – and your wallet.
Tip #2 – Use more packs than you need
I for one don’t like to spend more than I have to, but in order to maintain the right RH, I’d rather over shoot than do just enough. Like tip #1 above, you’ll want to use 2 60 gram packs for your 50-stick humi. I use 3 packs in my 75-100 humi. Yeah, in some cases it may be overkill, but the advantage here is it will make them last longer. It’s like anything you use around the house – overwork it and it will live a short life. Show it some love and it will keep on ticking.
Tip #3 – Don’t mix water/gel based humidifiers with Boveda packs
Like the principle of not mixing different RH packs, you don’t want to add a humidifier to the mix. These things just blast uncontrolled vapor into your humidors and by adding a Boveda pack, you might as well just shove a $5 dollar bill in the humidor as it will be about as useful. Mr. Lincoln is not happy. Either use the humidifier OR the pack, but not both.
Tip #4 – Minimize exposure to air
I sense the eye rolling and a chorus of no shit Captain Obvious. Remember, by nature, the natural tendency of water is to move to an area of lower concentration. Keep your packs in their plastic sleeves until ready to use. If you need to empty your humidor for any reason, store the pack in a sealable container, like a Ziploc baggie. It’ll be ready to pick up where it left off when you removed it. If you use a travel humidor and if it has a good seal, leave the pack in there. If there’s some question, Ziploc it until you’re ready to Herf it.
At some point your Boveda pack is going to crystallize. It’s literally out of gas (water vapor). Do you shell out umpteen clams and get some new ones or do you throw caution to the wind and dive into the dark art of resurrection? Cue spooky music and mwa-ha-ha-ha….
Okay, some disclaimers here. There is no official recommendation for nor warning against recharging your packs from the fine folks at Boveda. You will not find anything about this on their website. What you will find is no shortage of devil-may-care cigar-smoking do-it-yourselfers who will show you how to properly (???) recharge your now defunct Boveda packs. On blogs, forums, social media, YouTube, you name it. I will pass on what I’ve found and of the methods, that which I think (yes, only MY professional scientific opinion folks) is the most effective and least cumbersome. At the end of the day, proceed at your own risk!
There are three basic methods:
- The Soak method
- The Paper Towel method
- The Osmosis method
All methods are fairly easy, require minimal prep time, are all osmosis-based and will require minimal equipment. Regardless of method, you will need distilled water. I sense that eye-rolling again. DO NOT USE TAP WATER. Because the original high-quality water used in the packs is obtained through reverse osmosis, which removes impurities like unwanted ions, molecules, bacteria, etc you’ll want to get as close to it as possible. For many of us stiffs, distilled is the most accessible. Do not use bottled “purified” water or filtered water from some purification system you use at home. So, here we go…
The Soak Method
Of the three, this is the simplest, but probably the least effective and could end up ruining the outside packaging of the pack. All you need is a sealable container. The size of the container will depend on how many packs you want to recharge. It will be most beneficial to resurrect packs of the same RH and size (8 gram versus 60 gram). The container can be glass, plastic, silicone or metal as long as it has a sealable lid.
- Use a clean container, not something you recently used to make Everclear Jello shots.
- Add distilled water to the container to a depth that will sufficiently submerge your pack(s)
- submerge your packs
- Seal with a lid
- Set aside for 2-5 days at room temp (no, not in the trunk of your car).
- Check daily as the packs will begin to swell and feel squishy like they did when new.
- Remove and dab the outer packaging to help dry
- Put that baby back in service and use the $5 to get yourself some Axe.
The Paper Towel Method
This method will require the most prep work, but unlike the Soak Method it is done with individual packs and requires less recharge time. As the name suggests, you will need paper towels. You will also need a small container to soak the paper towels in and Ziploc baggies big enough for your respective packs.
- Pour some distilled water into a bowl or plastic container, enough to dampen the paper towel.
- Fold a couple of sheets of undetached paper towels into the size of a pocket lighter.
- Slowly submerge the folded paper towel and watch as the towel absorbs the water in the container. DON’T soak the towel, just get it wet.
- Gently squeeze any excess water from the paper towel.
- Unfold the paper towel and set the pack in the center. Fold the sides of the paper towel over the pack so that it is covered in every direction.
- Place the wrapped pack into a Ziploc baggie, but before sealing the baggie, push as much air out as you can. Seal it.
- Let sit at room temp for 2-3 days, again check it daily.
- Once the paper towel is completely dry, the pack is ready to go back into service!
The Strict Osmosis Method
Of the three methods, in my opinion this offers the most effective recharge with the least amount of injury to the outer wrapper of the pack. All you need is either 1 sealable container with a raised center or 2 containers (1 small and 1 large), again, the size of which depends on the number of packs you need to recharge. Remember, osmosis is the natural 2-way function of the Boveda pack, so, it makes sense to rehydrate one the same way – the water will naturally flow from an area of high concentration to lower concentration. There are two different methods to accomplish this.
- Fill a bowl or container with a raised center i.e. the center of the container is slightly higher than the sides, with distilled water.
- Arrange the pack(s) on the elevated portion of the container – they should not be in contact with any water.
- Seal the container and let sit for 3-5 days.
- Remove recharged pack(s).
- Fill a small container (nothing too tall) with distilled water and place it in the center of a larger container, eg a mixing bowl.
- Inside the larger container, arrange pack(s) around the small container of water inside the larger one.
- Seal the larger container (not the smaller) and set aside for 3-5 days.
- Remove recharged pack(s).
So, there you have it. I personally like the Strict Osmosis method as it takes advantage of the design of the pack without subjecting the outer packaging to direct contact with a lot of water, which presumably over time would begin to degrade the packaging. I have not tried any of these methods myself, but I plan to try the Osmosis method when I do. In the meantime, I plan to work my packs as long as I can.
The methods are all pretty simple and they will all take about the same amount of time to achieve full recharge. Some may argue that we should never try to circumvent the design of something particularly if there’s a risk of undesired effects (eg ruined cigars/humidor, mold, etc) but others will always look for strategies that will save time and money. Both arguments have a sound rationale, but in the end, this cigar smoker believes there’s no harm in trying something and if it works, why not. I probably won’t push it, i.e. recharge the packs multiple times. Distilled water is NOT the same quality as reverse osmosis water, so keep that in mind. I read some comments from a guy who has recharged the same packs for 3 years, or so he says. Wow. If that’s true and if he uses the same number of packs I use, he’s saved almost $500 over a 3-year period. That’s impressive if it is indeed true. If anyone reading this has other methods, please make sure and sound off in the comments section. Regardless, Boveda can’t be too happy about this. But if I can use some of that hard-earned cash I would have used for Boveda packs on more stogies, then I’m all in – In Fumo Pax!
Special Thanks to Canadian Cigar Enthusiasts, Nathan Garcia and Jeffrey Oden for putting these YouTube vids together!