Is it safe to put silica gel in boxes containing wine or whisky to prevent mold?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Is it safe to put silica gel in boxes containing wine or whisky to prevent mold?

—Daniel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Dear Daniel,

Silica gel is a pretty harmless substance, which is why you see packets of it in vitamin bottles or bags of beef jerky, and why it’s used in water filters and even for cat litter. But please follow the “do not eat” warning, since it can be irritating to your digestive tract. It can also irritate your skin or eyes, so keep it in those packets.

Silica is a desiccant, which means it is a drying agent. The geek in me will point out that it doesn’t absorb moisture, but rather its structure removes moisture by adsorption. That means water molecules adhere to its porous surface rather than being absorbed into its structure. Science stuff!

I like the idea of using silica gel for a small area like inside a wine box, but I don’t think it’s effective for, say, a whole room. Silica gel can adsorb about 40 percent of its weight in moisture, so it would take a whole lot of it to be effective in a cellar. But for a box, I think it’s a terrific idea.

—Dr. Vinny

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