Best Silica Gel Desiccant Packs To Use As A Moisture Absorber

By Just In Case Jack | Last Updated: March 20, 2018

Desiccant Moisture AbsorberSome people call them desiccant packs, others silica gel packets, and still others moisture absorbers.

And they all do the SAME THING – they keep stuff dry.

And that’s why they’re a secret survivalist weapon!

They help to keep all your food, gear, and supplies free from the corrosive nature of excess moisture.

So if you’re looking for information on the best desiccants – you’ve come to the right place.

Today I’m going to share everything I know about desiccants and keeping stuff dry, specifically:

**Note: If you want our top recommendations, feel free to SKIP AHEAD HERE.

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silica gel beads

What Is A Desiccant Anyway?

The word desiccant is derived from the word “Desiccate,” – which technically is:

  1. To dry thoroughly, dry up.
  2. To preserve (food) by removing moisture, dehydrate.

So a desiccant is pretty much any material that absorbs moisture and holds it.

It’s something you place with them inside an enclosed space or container. If it’s 100% sealed, a good desiccant will attract and trap excess moisture from the container.

Desiccants are often found in packaged foods but are also ideal for keeping sensitive electronics, tools, and weapons rust-free, especially in humid climates.

Humidity (moisture in the air) is one of the primary drivers of corrosion and spoilage. Desiccants are made to combat this harmful humidity.

A prime example of this in action is most commercial desiccants help maintain the freshness of their food items. Especially foods easily damaged by moisture.

So if you’ve spent money, time, and energy dehydrating or freeze-drying food, desiccants will help protect it. They prevent the dried foods from accidentally rehydrating (due to humidity in the air) and spoiling your supplies. 

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Why You Should Invest In Desiccants & Silica Gel

To properly prepare for a future emergency, you must invest in quality survival tools and supplies.

Investment primarily means dollars. But it also means investing time in researching the right life-saving supplies.

We do this to protect ourselves and our families from an unknowable future.

But many of these critical emergency tools and supplies will sit around for months (or even years) before they are used.

And honestly, we all should hope and pray we never need to use these survival supplies, right? No one in their right mind hopes for a real disaster to strike!

But if one does, you want to ensure your supplies are in the best condition possible. You don’t want your emergency supplies investment to spoil, rust, or decay.

The best way I know of to protect your critical supplies is to keep them away from water, moisture, and humidity.

That’s why the main reason you need to take desiccant packs and silica gel seriously.

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Protecting Your Survival Gear & Supplies

One of the first questions people ask me about desiccants is, “Exactly which survival supplies should they protect?”

Upon review of my survival gear, I quickly realized EVERYTHING in it is susceptible to moisture damage!

The obvious supplies (food storage, gun safes, ammo storage, buried survival caches) are often the first use for desiccants. But these are not the only items that benefit from a low-humidity environment.

I also keep desiccant containers in my tool chest to keep my power and survival tools rust-free and sharp (like all my expensive survival knives).

I keep my garden seeds in a sealed container with several small desiccant packs. These packs prevent the seeds from sprouting prematurely or eliminate mold growth.

During the winter, I keep a survival blanket and spare clothes for car emergencies in a giant ziplock bag in the back of my vehicle. I add a large capacity desiccant to prevent them from feeling damp if I ever need them in a roadside emergency.

I also add desiccants to my bug-out bag, get-home bag, and ammo cans as well.

Just about any survival tool or supply in your emergency plan needs to be kept as clean and dry as possible.

And that’s why desiccants are a critical survival tool in and of themselves. They help protect your important survival supplies for the long haul.

Here are 10 surprising uses for silica gel desiccants:

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Different Types Of Desiccants

There’s a broad range of desiccant options on the market. Remember, a desiccant is any material that acts as a moisture absorber; many materials can do this.

Some are good at removing moisture from large spaces, while others are best for small enclosures. The fundamental materials in each type of desiccant are different.

So let’s cover the most common types of desiccants used for survival and then cover a few makeshift desiccants.

Silica Gel

One of the most common desiccants you’ll run across is silica gel. It’s a stable polymer made from silicon dioxide (usually in the form of small beads), which can adsorb roughly 10-20% of its weight in water vapor.

Silica gel is chemically inert and is considered to be non-toxic.

You can find small silica gel packets in medication bottles, food pouches, and even shoe boxes. This past weekend, I opened a bag of beef jerky to discover the familiar white silica gel packets keeping my favorite snack dry.

One interesting fact about silica gel beads is even after they’re fully saturated, they don’t feel damp or lose their shape.

Most small disposable silica gel packets are for single use only. But, some large silica gel containers are reusable.

These reusable ones often include a moisture absorber indicator of some sort. One that changes color once the silica gel beads are completely saturated.

Since they can be reused, they can be “recharged.” This is done by drying them in a low-temperature oven, which drives off the moisture. Once cool, you can reuse your dry silica gel desiccant!

Here’s a good video on how silica gel desiccants actually work:

Calcium Chloride Desiccant

Calcium Chloride

Reusable silica gel packets are not your best option when removing A LOT of moisture from a larger area. Large humid spaces are where calcium chloride desiccants are most useful!

Calcium chloride is a fancy name for salt and is generally found in bags of small white pellets. Unlike silica gel, calcium chloride is not a reusable desiccant, but it makes up for this with ease of use.

Most calcium chloride desiccant setups are simple. They’re basically a small basket of pellets held in a mesh basket over a bucket.

As the calcium chloride adsorbs water, it slowly dissolves and drips down into the bucket. Eventually, leaving a bucket full of water and an empty basket.

These require more hands-on attention meaning you’ll need to periodically empty the bucket and refill the basket with fresh calcium chloride.

But the results are impressive. I’ve seen calcium chloride used in electronic cabinets the size of a small bedroom on ships.

Making calcium chloride a good option as a larger-capacity moisture absorber.

Dry Uncooked Rice

In the modern world, we’ve all heard horror stories of dropping a smartphone in the kitchen sink or toilet.

Common knowledge is to leave it turned off and stick it in a bag of rice for a couple of days. Once it’s dry, you should be able to turn it back on without shorting out anything.

The reason this works is that dry rice is a natural desiccant.

A small, enclosed area like a plastic bag can absorb the trace amount of water inside your electronics. It will slowly dry without having to open up the phone case.

Of course, it’s still nowhere near the efficiency of other desiccants, but rice is easy to find and cheap.

Plus, it’s an excellent long-term food for survival caches. I love any survival tool or supply that can pull double duty!

Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer

It turns out that non-dairy coffee creamer packets contain a surprisingly good desiccant.

One of the creamer ingredients adsorbs moisture from the air. So you can build yourself a makeshift desiccant from a bunch of creamer powder!

No, not my first choice for a desiccant (especially with valuables), but it’s good to know it works in a pinch.

Cement Mix

Another desiccant to file under “it works, but now what?” Cement mix is a powerful moisture-absorbing desiccant.

The nature of cement attracts moisture and converts it into a solid mineral.

Don’t believe me? Try leaving a couple of bags of ready-mix concrete out in the rain. You’ll soon notice they suck in moisture and turn the bag into a hard concrete pillow.

This can even happen in a humid climate without direct contact with water.

Of course, turning the powdery concrete mix into rocks isn’t the best way to control moisture. But it may be worth trying if you have a bag of concrete on hand and need a desiccant in a pinch.

Newspaper

Yes, you can use your stash of old newspapers for more than just starting fires.

Whenever I have wet boots or gloves that can’t go into a clothes dryer, I crumple up some newspaper and stuff it inside. Then I leave the paper-stuffed boots overnight in a warm place.

Dry newsprint paper is particularly good at absorbing water. So it draws moisture out of the fabric and holds onto it.

Try swapping out the newspaper a couple of times a day to help dry your boots even faster.

Drywall

This idea was contributed by a Skilled Survival reader (Illini Warrior)

Drywall can also be used as a makeshift desiccant.

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caution

Desiccant & Silica Gel Packet Safety Tips

While most of the time, desiccants are not extremely dangerous to handle, they can be harmful in certain situations.

Not For Consumption

We’ve all seen the silica gel bead packs in a box of shoes and chuckled because of that silly “Do Not Eat” warning plastered all over it.

Seriously? They don’t look or smell at all appetizing, so I’ve always wondered, “why the stern warning”? But it turns out there’s a reason to avoid consuming desiccants.

Desiccants are, by design, very good at absorbing water and holding it. They can even pull water directly through your skin.

In particular, you should keep them away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. Powerful desiccants can damage sensitive skin and tissue in these areas.

Have you ever mixed concrete and noticed a sharp stinging sensation in your nose? That’s concrete dust you inhaled. The lime in the cement pulls water out of your nasal passages.

You’ll also notice your hands are dry and chapped if you come in contact with the fresh cement without gloves. Again, the desiccant has pulled the water from within your skin.

The effects could be even worse if you happened to consume a hefty dose of desiccant. It can form a large solid mass INSIDE your stomach that needs to be removed by surgery!

But that would take a TON of it – in most cases; it’s more of a choking hazardSO KEEP THEM OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.

So when working with a powerful desiccant (like concrete mix), always protect your eyes, nose, and mouth. It’s also smart to wear gloves and protective clothing on any exposed skin.

And for those small silica gel packs (I can’t believe I even need to say this, but..) – “Do Not Eat Them.”

Note: While those “do not eat” warnings might seem silly, the bigger fear is that a baby or pet would accidentally consume them.

Babies put everything in their mouths, and dogs love anything that smells like beef jerky. So those warnings are to let YOU know to keep them away from those who might accidentally consume them.

Keep Away From Pets

Keep all desiccants away from your pets.

Most pets avoid the stinging sensation of an airborne desiccant, like concrete dust but don’t take chances. Keep your pets away.

Some improvised desiccants (dry rice, flour, etc.) are food items that might entice your pets. Keep them stored out of their reach, and you’ll both be happier.

Trust me; pet surgery isn’t much cheaper than human surgery these days.

Cobalt Chloride

Another safety concern comes from one of the color-change indicators in silica gel desiccants – Cobalt (ii) Chloride.

This material is a light blue color when dry but slowly changes to a bright pink when it has absorbed a significant amount of water.

These blue/pink indicator silica gels are common in the US. They are also available in sporting goods and craft stores. But, there is some concern that cobalt (ii) chloride is hazardous.

The European Chemicals Agency suspects it may be carcinogenic. But test results aren’t conclusive yet, so it carries a label of “substance of high concern.”

Since there are several other moisture indicators on the market, you may as well play it safe. I recommend avoiding the blue/pink indicator silica gels altogether.

At the very least, it adds one more argument NOT to snack the silica packets in your new shoes!

Here’s an article from the National Park Service. It includes more information on cobalt (ii) chloride in silica gel.

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Best Desiccants For Survival And Preparedness

When it comes to survival and preparedness, the best type of desiccant depends on the intended use.

The desiccant you use to keep your basement, attached garage, portable garage, shed, or gear cache dry will not be the same you toss in your gun safe, ammo storage containers, or toolbox.

And when it comes to keeping food safe, the requirements change again.

1. Dri-Z-Air System

Calcium chloride is the most effective option for a large space like a basement, garage, or cabin.

But they’re consumable products, so reuse is not an option. The good news is active ingredients are available relatively cheaply in bulk.

I would start with all purpose-built systems like Dri-Z-Air.

Dri-Z-Air is an all-in-one solution, and you can refill it with fresh calcium chloride pellets.

If you go through a lot of calcium chloride (say, winter in the pacific northwest), you’ll need to buy in bulk.

Fortunately, calcium chloride is also a good de-icing material. So it’s usually easy to find in bulk bags.

Morton Safe-T-Power is one available brand consisting of nearly pure calcium chloride.

It can be used in the same “basket and bucket” systems as Dri-Z-Air, which makes it an excellent refill material.

Calcium chloride systems are often too large and messy for smaller, more enclosed spaces (such as a gun safe). The area is too small for all the white dust and buckets of water.

In these situations, I turn to silica gel with a moisture indicator.

2. Hydrosorbent Silica Gel

You can buy silica gel in bulk or in small packs. If you choose to buy in bulk, make sure you have a method to contain them.

I have several sleeves of bulk silica gel tied off in cotton socks to form a desiccant beanbag. These are great to toss in the back of the gun safe to provide a lot of protection.

But you can’t see the moisture indication color change through the cotton material. So I also have one prepackaged silica gel visible on an eye-level shelf in the safe.

Most of these prepackaged desiccant packs are made of perforated metal. They include a window to see the moisture indicator, like the ones sold by Hydrosorbent.

I buy packages containing the orange moisture indicator rather than the blue/pink. It’s slightly more expensive but doesn’t have the same hazardous cobalt (ii) chloride.

Once the silica gel changes color, it’s time to toss the bulk sock and the smaller pack in a low-temperature oven. Just leave the desiccants for several hours to drive off the moisture and recharge them.

If you don’t want to go the pre-packaged route, you can always put bulk silica gel beads in a clear glass container. Then punch a few small holes in the lid to allow moisture in while still keeping the beads contained.

When it comes time to recharge the beads, take the lid off and put the whole jar in the oven.

Here’s a review of one of these silica gel color-changing desiccant packs:

3. Individual Silica Gel Packets

On a smaller scale, jars of dried fruits or jerky packages need desiccant protection. For these small containers, I turn to individual silica gel packets.

You can buy these in bulk and create small packets with fabric or coffee filters. The commercial 1g and 5g sizes are widely available and inexpensive.

They don’t have a moisture indicator added to the silica gel. But this means fewer chemicals stored with your food, so it’s not a significant inconvenience.

Whenever I open a bulk container of dried food, I toss in a packet or two. Doing this prevents outside moisture from creeping in and spoiling the remaining supply.

Similarly, when we jar a batch of dried fruit, I store it in glass jars with a silica gel packet. The desiccant keeps our dehydrated fruit from adsorbing extra humidity during our wet winters.

DIY Desiccant Packs

For those who like to Do It Yourself and save a few dollars, you can create desiccant containers from a few cheap materials.

This idea came from a skilled survival reader (Illini Warrior)

Fresh Step brand Crystals cat litter is 100% silica gel. For packaging, I wrap a handful in a commercial size coffee filter … for the money you get hundreds of desiccant packs …

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Desiccant In Mylar Bag

Difference Between Oxygen Absorbers And Desiccants

Ok, so if you’ve read this far into this article, you already know how desiccants work. So let’s briefly talk about oxygen absorbers.

Oxygen absorbers are tiny packs that contain three ingredients:

  1. Iron filings
  2. Salt
  3. Clay

The clay material acts as a moisture absorber and helps the salt activate the iron filings.

This activation process begins once the oxygen absorber is exposed to oxygen.  The iron filings start oxidizing.

This is essentially the same process of creating rust on the iron filings. But rust is a byproduct; the important fact is this process releases nitrogen.

Adding nitrogen to sealed food packs helps keep them fresh for longer periods.

This chemical reaction also removes oxygen from the package. Nasty bugs and insects (such as weevils) cannot survive without oxygen.

Most oxygen absorbers have a small pinkish pill. This pill changes to blue once the oxygen absorber is no longer effective.

Some more interesting oxygen absorber facts:

  • Do not use oxygen absorbers with salt or sugar. If you do, you’ll end with a rock-hard block.
  • Only store unused oxygen absorbers in airtight glass jars or mylar bags. This prevents them from being prematurely activated by turning the surrounding oxygen into the air.
  • You should try calculating the number of oxygen absorbers you need for the specific application. Use too many, and you’re unnecessarily wasting money. Use too few, and the food you’re trying to protect won’t be fully protected.
  • You cannot reuse oxygen absorbers; they are a one-and-done device. Because the chemical reaction only works in one direction.

Can you use oxygen absorbers and silica gel desiccants together?

The answer is yes, but… 

According to the packing experts at Sorbent Systems –

“The desiccant bags must not be close to the oxygen absorbers. Desiccants will negatively affect the performance of the oxygen absorber when stored close by”.

Oxygen absorbers need moisture to function.

So if a silica gel desiccant is located close to the oxygen absorber, it will act as a moisture absorber and stop its activation process. Thus, turning the oxygen absorber into a useless device.

Final Thoughts

You’ve put a lot of time, money, and thought into which items are critical—survival resources and supplies to keep yourself (and your family) safe and secure.

Keeping those items clean, organized, and free from damage is a crucial part of your survival plan.

No matter your survival plan, take time to ensure your food, weapons, and tools are at their best when you need them.

Desiccants are cheap insurance against moisture damage. Using them to protect your supplies is a necessary investment.

We’ve shown you a few good options for different scenarios. There are plenty of ways to adapt desiccants to your preparations!

Jason K.

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