Can I really humidify my cellar with just a pan of water?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I’ve read your responses on wine-cellar humidity, and have checked out various desktop humidifiers, as you suggested. However, they all seem to have small tanks, and I’m often away from home during the week, so need a not-expensive way to keep my relatively small (500-bottle, maybe 6' x 8') cellar properly humidified. Will a pan of water really do it?

—John, via the Internet

Dear John,

I’ve received several letters like yours, following up on my recent humidity advice. My guess is that most cellars and wine coolers out there provide adequate humidity. But it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on humidity, and if you live in a dry area, or if your corks are noticeably crumbly, it might be time to take some action. The ideal storage situation is a consistent temperature of about 55 degrees F with about 70 percent relative humidity.

Your first step should be to invest in a humidity gauge. The one I have cost about $10, and it shows a digital reading of both temperature and humidity. Since my passive wine storage is located underground, it’s naturally cool and damp in there, and typically I just keep an eye on the gauge. When it starts to dip into the low 60s, I’ll mist my wooden wine racks with water in places where I’m not worried about the wine labels getting stained. I might do this once or twice a day for a couple days until the humidity starts to creep back up to where I want it to be. I’ve never actually tried the pan on the floor trick (I’m worried I’ll kick it), but I’ve heard it works, and it stands to reason that it’s one way to make a room more humid, especially if the room is insulated.

In addition to humidifiers, there are also “decorative humidifiers”—which is another way to say “indoor fountain”—that add both humidity and atmosphere to a cellar.

By the way, I’ve also broken bottles of wine in my cellar by accident, and that is a much messier, less effective, heartbreaking way to add more humidity to your cellar, and I do not recommend it.

—Dr. Vinny

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