Silica gel desiccant, one of the easiest ways to add protection to your goods whilst they’re in transit or storage, is essentially a form of sand (silicon dioxide) which is able to absorb up to 40% of its mass in water. It is used in two forms; indicating and non-indicating. Indicating silica gel contains cobalt that causes the crystals to change colour when moisture is absorbed and as cobalt is toxic, care should be taken to avoid contact with food.
It isn’t classified as hazardous waste under EEC Directive 91/689/EEC. To you and me, that means it can be added to a compost heap without fear of contamination. Soil naturally contains silicas so although the crystals won’t decompose, neither will they fundamentally change the nature of soil.
If you’ve recently bought a pair of shoes or an electronic product you will have probably seen the small paper sachets that accompany them. These can be added to recyclable household waste, but why not save them and put them to further use? You can reactivate them by placing them in a hot oven for a couple of hours (less for the smaller sachets) and use them time and again.
Here’s a few ideas for making them useful around the home and workshop:
Dry cell phone
It’s probably the best-known use of silica gel sachets because so many of us have dropped a phone into water of some sort (I’d like to say that this is mostly puddles in the street, but I think the toilet pan takes first place – yeuch!).
Take out the battery and SIM card and place the phone – still open – into an airtight container and silicon sachets overnight or for a couple of days if that’s not long enough. And next time, don’t try multitasking.
Keep your powder dry
Powdered and granular products will stay free-flowing if you add silica gel sachets to the mix. Just make sure the sachet is fully sealed and if you’re putting them in foodstuffs don’t use the indicating sort – they contain cobalt which is toxic.
Take the biscuit
I remember my grandmother had an ancient biscuit tin that had a compartment in the lid that rattled when you shook it. Looking back, I realise this must have been a sort of desiccant. You probably can’t get those tins now but a silica gel sachet in your Tupperware container will keep them fresh when it comes to the crunch.
Preserve your memories
It’s not just our memories that fade with time – so do the photographs and letters we associate with them. Photographic dyes and ink fade if exposed to moisture, but storing them in boxes containing a few small sachets will help to preserve them.
Keep your books
Anyone who has stored books in an attic or bought them from a second-hand shop will confirm that they often acquire an unpleasantly musty smell; bacteria-attracting moisture is the cause. To stop your treasured volumes from going the same way or to restore a limited edition to good health, place them in a box with silica gel and remember to keep recharging the sachets for long-term storage. Bear in mind that if you have important documents kept in a drawer or even a safe, you may also need to protect them from humidity in this way.
Tools stored in an outside or basement workshop will soon corrode, even if they’re kept in a tool cabinet. Place a sachet in each drawer and they will keep their pristine condition.
Have you noticed how expensive wet-shaving blades are these days? Extend their life by rinsing the razor thoroughly after use, removing excess water and storing it in an airtight container with a silica gel sachet for company. Apologies to the blade manufacturers for the slump in sales!
Pop your pills
Those razors may be rubbing shoulders in your bathroom cabinet with a selection of health supplement tablets. Pop a small silica gel sachet in each pot and it’ll keep your tablets – and you – in tip-top condition.
Missed the perfect photo opportunity because the lens is all misted over? What you may not know is that the same moisture is also doing nasty things to your camera. When you store it in your camera case, remove the battery and add a silica sachet to the case (not in the battery compartment!). This is particularly important for underwater cameras as they tend to collect more water.
Dry your flies
Waterlogged fishing flies don’t need to spoil a day on the riverbank. Half-fill a jar with silica crystals and keep it handy in your tackle box and when a fly needs a quick spritz, pop it into the jar and give it a gentle shake. Voila! They can also be used to stop hooks from corroding, particularly if you’re into sea fishing.
Here’s one for the soccer mums – slip one of those large sachets into a sports holdall and when they bring home their sweaty kit you won’t need to reach for the respirator before you open it. This is also a good addition to your luggage if you’re holidaying somewhere exotically humid. Or anywhere in Britain during an average summer.
A plan for all seasons
Do you ritually pack away clothes and shoes at the end of a season? Keep them spring-fresh for next year by placing silicon sachets inside boxed shoes and interleave them between clothes.
If you have a problem with ants in the house, fill the holes they emerge from (or ideally in their nest) and within a few days you won’t have these uninvited guests. In the garden, scattering crystals over your soil will deter rodents, so if you’re a murophobe (you freak out in the presence of mice and rats), never be more than six feet away from the nearest packet of silica gel.
Wet behind the ears
If you forget to remove your hearing aids before you jump into the shower (if you have hearing aids), place them in an airtight container overnight with some silica gel.
Life up your spice
Steam caused by cooking won’t do your spice drawer any favours. To retain their freshness and flavour, protect them with silica gel sachets.
Packets of seeds will keep for longer if they stay dry, so place a sachet or two into your seed box. If you’re into drying flowers, try scattering a few crystal on the petals and they’ll dry quicker while preserving their vibrant colours. Still on the home styling front, did you know that if you add a few drops of essential oils to silicon crystals you can make your own potpourri that will last for ages? Mix it with those dried petals and you have a cheap Christmas gift for Auntie Flo.
Silica gel sachets in the bottom of your jewellery box or with your silverware will save it from tarnishing and discolouration.
Don’t make a classic mistake
Do you have a cherished four-wheeler overwintering in your garage? Strategically place silica gel bags around the interior to stave off any mustiness and preserve the condition of the upholstery. Place a sachet in the carburettor to keep it from moisture damage and it will start fine in the spring – providing you remember to remove the sachet first.
The chances are that your classic doesn’t have air conditioning, so condensation may be a problem. Get a couple of the larger, heavier sachets and place them on the dashboard. If you think they look silly there, get someone to sew some fabric pouches for them. But even without that, they can’t be worse than fluffy dice.
Home and dry
The same applies to older windows at home. Without sealed units (or if the units need replacing) condensation forms on the panes and trickles down onto the frame. Untreated, this will create unsightly mould and cause decay, but silica gel sachets will mop up the drips in no time. You’ll need the larger ones however as there’ll be lots of water.
Placing silica gel sachets inside musical instruments such as pianos and acoustic guitars will help to prevent warping, cracking and going out of tune. A large silica gel bag placed in the bell of a musical student’s trumpet or trombone can also work miracles with neighbourly relations.