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What Happens if Pipe Tobacco Gets Too Moist?

tobacco pipe and loose tobacco in a pile

All pipe tobaccos need to retain a certain level of moisture in order to smoke properly.  And, one of the biggest disappointments a pipe tobacco enthusiast can encounter is reaching into their stash, only to find that their tobacco has dried out into practically dust.

But, simultaneously, too much moisture can cause just as many problems.  This is why proper tobacco storage is paramount, and why you should make a point to pay attention to the moisture levels of the tobacco that you have stored away on a regular basis.

The Relationship Between Moisture and Pipe Tobacco

Generally speaking, pipe tobacco is moister than other forms of loose tobacco.  Many people don’t realize that most tobaccos that are sold are moister in their packaging than what’s considered ideal for smoking, which is why many seasoned pipe users prefer to air out their pouch or container for a couple of hours before loading it into their pipes.

Because pipe tobacco is smoked, moisture level is critical.  Tobacco being both too dry and too moist can interfere with its ability to be smoked at all.  It’s such an important factor, as it turns out, that there are methods specifically created for measuring how moist tobacco is – something that we’ll get more into just a little bit later.

When Pipe Tobacco Gets Too Much Moisture

Basically, pipe tobacco that’s too moist is going to give you issues.  Here are just some of the ways in which excessive moisture can interfere with your ability to smoke, depending on how moist the tobacco is.

  • Difficulty Lighting: If your tobacco is wet, you might not even be able to light it. After all, we know that fire and water don’t mix. 
  • Difficulty Staying Lit: Even if you do manage to light your tobacco, it may not stay lit, as the moisture continues to try to counteract the ember.
  • Difficulty Drawing Properly: Wet tobacco is going to give you disappointing draws. You’ll likely find that you have to pull way too hard in order to get in some smoke, and even then, the smoke will be thin and inconsistent, rather than thick and full.
  • Temptation to Overpack the Bowl: Wet tobacco is wilted, and so it’s easy to end up filling the bowl too much.
  • Uneven Smoke: Too much moisture means an uneven smoke, since the heat isn’t able to travel evenly throughout the tobacco that’s loaded into the bowl.
  • Poor Flavor: You’re not going to get good flavor with wet tobacco. Instead, it will taste damp and subdued.
  • A Messy Pipe: Cleaning wet tobacco out of a pipe just isn’t fun. Tobacco that’s too wet is going to create a mess.
  • Potential for Mildew: Of course, if tobacco gets too moist, it can attract mildew that totally ruins the tobacco beyond repair.

How is Tobacco Moisture Measured?

Tobacco is measured according to MBW (moisture by weight).  This determines how much water is in the leaf.  8-10% MBW is likely too dry, although Latakia tobacco enthusiasts often find that this moisture level is ideal for that particular tobacco.  12-14% is still on the dry side, but preferably to certain smokers.  15-18% MBW is typically the moisture level of tobacco sold fresh, although it may need to be dried out a little by the smoker prior to smoking, like we said earlier.  Anything above 18% is considered too moist, and unlikely to deliver a quality smoke.  At this stage, the tobacco will likely feel sticky.

How Should You Store Pipe Tobacco to Avoid Excess Moisture?

Naturally, your tobacco should be a little moist, but too much moisture is never a good thing.  Thankfully, it’s easier to prevent excessive moisture than to prevent excessive dryness.

The key, really, is making sure that your tobacco is not kept in a humid environment.  Tobacco is generally more prone to drying out than getting moister as it ages in your care.  This means avoiding areas of the home that are prone to humidity, and even keeping your tobacco indoors as much as possible.  If you happen to live in a naturally humid climate, you may want to store your tobacco in a dry area of the home like a closet or drawer, or even consider getting a dehumidifier to keep in the room where the tobacco is being stored.

What to Do if Your Pipe Tobacco is Too Moist

In the event that your pipe tobacco is too moist, the tried-and-true method is placing a sheet of paper towel into the pouch or can.  The paper towel will absorb the excess moisture, without drying the tobacco out completely.

With Pipe Tobacco, Moisture Levels Matter

At the end of the day, even the highest-quality pipe tobacco will disappoint you if the moisture level is too high.  Luckily, it’s pretty easy to avoid excess moisture levels, and it’s also fairly easy to correct them, assuming that mildew hasn’t already made its way through your stash.

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