In the past, cigar enthusiasts basically had one choice when it came to humidification elements: green floral foam. Sure, there have been some attempts to use other common items, from clay to sponges, but the ever-present foam was the best and most cost-effective method that we could come up with.
Not that foam is without weaknesses. Foam can harbor bacteria and mold and must be treated with anti-mold compounds. Further, after about a year, the foam needs to be replaced because it has become clogged and saturated with the by-products of fermentation and various other contaminants.
In recent years we have been given a couple more valuable options for humidification: Super-absorbent polymers and Silica gel.
The Water Pillow falls into the category of new wave products. The Water Pillow uses a super absorbent polymer (polysodium acrylate) as the humidification element. Super absorbent polymers (SAP) can absorb more than 500 times their weight in water. They come in the form of small beads or, in the case of the Water Pillows, in powder form.
The polymers are very absorbent: when soaked in water they swell up and then release this moisture into the internal environment of the humidor through a process of diffusion. The rate at which a polymer will deliver moisture within your humidor is based on the relative humidity inside: at lower RH, more water is diffused from the polymers into the humidor air, at higher RH’s, the delivery rate of moisture is lower.
Setup and Using Water Pillows
The Water Pillow construction sequesters SAP in small plastic/fabric bags. The instructions say to dip in distilled water for 15 seconds. This is actually very important because you can easily over-saturate the polymers.
After wetting the inner bag, you then place it into a secondary outer plastic bag with a Ziplock-type closure. This protects your cigars from having moisture come into direct contact with your cigars. I recommend allowing the inner bag to sit for 30 seconds or so after wetting, to allow any excess moisture to be soaked up by the SAP and be sure to wipe off excess moisture from the outside of the bag.
Function of Water Pillows
The Water Pillows come in a sheet of cells, which are connected by perforated plastic so you can easily tear off a cell for use. They are also sold singly.
Super absorbent polymers, as the name suggests, absorb water. Lots of it. When using the Water Pillow, I have found that the longer you allow the pillow to sit in water, the more it will absorb. For example, the un-moistened pillow weighs next to nothing (see table below), but with varying lengths of soaking time, the pillow will greatly expand.
Time Soaked Weight of Pillow
0 sec < .1 oz
15 sec .4 oz
30 sec .6 oz
1 min .8 oz
5 min 1.0 oz
That means that you can consider different soak times for different applications. A Water Pillow with a 10-15 second soak time would work perfectly for mailing 5-10 cigars in a plastic cigar bag. For use in a 15-count travel humidor or smaller, I would recommend a 15-20 second soak, while a soak time of 1 minute would be good for use in a small humidor.
I would suggest experimenting a bit with soak times: I wouldn’t recommend anything over a minute. Overfilling the polymers in an enclosed space can pack them too densely and they will have trouble regulating humidity. Further, you may have to experiment with both the soak time and the number of Water Pillows to use for each humidor application.
The outer plastic bag is used to protect your cigars from direct moisture from the contents of the Water Pillow. However, if you have a humidor where the Water Pillow can be placed out of contact with your cigars, there is no need to use the outer plastic bag. Just make sure that you wipe off excess water from the outside of the inner bag before placing in your humidor.
Water Pillows are very easy to use and convenient. I like to keep them around for mailing packages with cigars and to toss in my travel humidors. As a long-term humidifier for larger humidors (above 50-count), I would recommend a different product. Using multiple Water Pillows in a larger humidor would get cumbersome, in my opinion. Of course, the Water Pillows are advertised primarily as a “portable” solution and are therefore aimed at my recommended applications. According to a company source: “The ‘ideal’ application for Water Pillows is to be used in conjunction with a ziplock or slider reclosable bag containing anywhere from 5-10 cigars.”
Regardless, I have successfully used SAP in both active and passive humidification systems by using larger containers filled with varying amounts of polymers. There are plenty of applications for polymers, given the right container.
Value Of Water Pillows
There are other packet-type products that can be used for humidifying smokes. One that I have reviewed is the Bóveda Humidification Packet. However, I estimate that it would take at least 3 Water Pillows to regulate humidity in the same area as 1 Bóveda packet. Even so, the Water Pillows would still be the least expensive way to go.
I recommend this product highly for the application for which it is intended: mailing 5-10 cigars and also recommend it for use in small travel humidors. This is an inexpensive product that is easy to use and works as advertised.