How to Use Silica Gel for Drying Flowers

How do you regenerate desiccant beads?

Once saturated with water, the gel can be regenerated by heating it to 120 °C (250 °F) for 1–2 hours. Some types of silica gel will “pop” when exposed to enough water. This is caused by breakage of the silica spheres when contacting the water.

Video

What is a Desiccant?

Desiccants are hygroscopic materials, absorbing moisture from the environment they occupy. They basically are mini super dehydrators. The most popular form of desiccant is the silica packets we find in the boxes of our freshly bought shoes or handbags. This ensures that nothing funky gets into your fresh new kicks and designer bags. Most of us may have grown up being semi-terrified of those silica packets due to the “do not eat” label. However, they are not poisonous. In reality, they are just highly absorbent rocks. If you were ever to consume a packet you would be one dehydrated being, but you wouldn’t die.

In the drying and storage process of mushrooms, the desiccant is a very useful tool to have. You can purchase silica packets, the most common form of desiccant, online in bulk, or at your local superstore. Another option is to start to save silica packets from dried goods and clothing purchases. However, it may take a few years to get the amount you need to dry your mushrooms. Instead, one fun way to get silica packets in bulk is to create your own.

How to make Desiccant

Below is a perfect way to get bulk silica packets, while saving a few dollars in the process.

What you will need

  1. Single-ingredient kitty litter. Can anyone guess what that ingredient is? Yup, silica gel. Meow, meow!
  2. Coffee filters or spare thin/ breathable cloth
  3. Scissors and a stapler

Step-by-Step 

  1. Cut your coffee filter or thin piece of cloth into 4 equal squares.
  2. Scoop a tablespoon of silica gel onto each square.
  3. Fold the squares in half.
  4. Fold each open edge in and staple tightly shut.

These homemade silica gel packets can be dried out and reused again after each absorption session. This gives you nearly lifelong dehydration options for the drying and storing process.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN OXYGEN ABSORBERS 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 absorbersOxygen 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 the rust is a byproduct, the important fact is this process releases nitrogen.

Adding nitrogen to sealed food packs helps keep it fresh for longer periods of time.

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

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 is to prevent them from being prematurely activated using turning the surrounding oxygen in the air.
  • You should try to calculate the correct 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 in order to function.

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

What is a good natural desiccant?

F. 3.1 SILICA GEL: The most commonly known and used desiccant is silica gel which is a form of silica dioxide (SiO2), a naturally occurring mineral. It will work from below freezing to past the boiling point of water, but performs best at room temperatures (70-90° F) and high humidity (60-90%).

3. Prevent Important Documents From Getting Damaged WithSilica

At this point in the list, we’re just reiterating the obvious. Silica is good for getting rid of moisture — use it to get rid of moisture. Look, this isn’t rocket science, or brain surgery, or rocket surgery. With that said, if you have paperwork that you need to keep (old tax returns, for example), a silica pouch can prevent the paperwork from accruing moisture. Get a file folder and place a silica packet in with the paperwork. This is also a great trick for keeping old books safe in humid environments, though we’re not exactly librarians — if you have an especially old book that you’re trying to protect, we’d invest in an appropriate case and get advice from a curios dealer (we also think it’d be awesome to, y’know, talk to a curios dealer).

Wesley Tingey on Unsplash
Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Get the musty smell out of books

Have an old book that smells like a basement or attic? Silica gel can neutralise that musty odor. Place the offending book in a lidded plastic bin with a few packets”make sure the packets don’t touch the book”and leave it in a cool, dark place for about a month, according to Abundant Genealogy. If the smell remains, switch out the packets for new ones and repeat.

Drying Shrooms FAQ

How Do You Air-Dry Mushrooms?

Only in the pre-drying phase. This is to prep your mushroom for the long haul.

Do You Dehydrate Mushrooms?

The goal to drying your mushrooms is to take out any and all of the moisture, so that your mushrooms won’t decompose or mold. In other words, yes, you want to dehydrate your mushrooms.

How Long Does it Take to Dry Mushrooms in the Oven?

We do NOT recommend drying your mushrooms in an oven or with a hair dryer. This is due to the breakdown of the chemical constituents of the psilocybin. Basically, you’ll bake out all of the potency, and you won’t be able to fully enjoy the wonders your newly harvested mushrooms have to offer. Once again, this is the lazy way—so don’t be lazy!

How Long Do Dried Mushrooms Last?

Properly dried and stored mushrooms can last years before losing any potency.

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, there are lots of materials that 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 we’ll cover a few makeshift desiccants as well.

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

When you need to remove A LOT of moisture from a larger area, reusable silica gel packets are not your best option. 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 to 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.

In a small, enclosed area like a plastic bag, it can absorb the trace amount of water inside your electronics. It will slowly dry it 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.

In a humid climate, this can even happen even without direct contact with water.

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

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 helps 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.

5. Protect Your Pills and Medication with Silica, The Perfect Substance

Some bottles pills come with a pellet of desiccant inside to keep down moisture and prevent the pills from deteriorating. Don’t toss that desiccant. Once the bottle is open, it’s even more important to keep the drying agent in there, as moisture is more likely to get in the bottle. On a related note, storing your pills in a bathroom medicine cabinet is actually not a great idea. Bathrooms tend to have an excessive amount of moisture in the air. It’s a better idea to store them in a cool, dry place.

Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash
Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

Drying Flowers with Silica: Conventional Method

Silica gel works wonders to preserve the natural color and beauty of flowers. It’s the perfect choice for preserving a bridal bouquet or creating dried flowers for jewelry, wreaths, resin crafts, or potpourri.

Supplies

Caution: Do not reuse your container for food preparation after drying flowers, as silica gel may absorb pesticides from flowers.

See my YouTube video on how to dry flowers with silica gel for a visual step-by-step tutorial. SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Step 1: Trim stems, and pat flowers dry

For the best quality, use fresh flowers. I love using flowers picked straight from my garden, but I opted to buy a seasonal bouquet from my local grocery store for this demo.

It included a mix of gerbera daisies, chrysanthemums, aster daisies, button poms (a.k.a. cushion pom mums), purple statice, and roses. I’ll admit, the finer petals on the aster daisies didn’t preserve as well as the roses or mums. We’ll get to that below.

Step 2: Pour gel into airtight container

Note: Though silica gel is non-toxic, I recommend wearing a mask and using gloves when handling the product. As you pour the gel into the container, it can create fine dust that you won’t want to inhale.

To begin, pour a layer of crystals about 1.5 inches thick into your container.

Then place the flowers in the container (face up) and add more crystals in and around the petals until fully covered but not submerged completely.

Purple mum in silica gel before drying
Purple mum in silica gel before drying

Seal the lid closed when done, and set the container in a dry place.

You can also experiment with placing the petals face down in your container, but you risk the petals getting bent or deformed when working with flowers like mums, zinnias or daisies.

Tip: For optimal results, dry flowers of the same type together.

Step 3: Allow to completely dry and remove from gel

After 2-4 days, most flowers will dehydrate enough to remove from the silica gel. Blooms with thicker centers, like rose buds or zinnias, may need closer to 7 days.

Button pom mums and aster after drying 2 days
Button pom mums and aster after drying 2 days

Once dry, remove the flowers from the container and brush off any excess silica with a soft brush. You can leave a little gel deep inside the petals if you want to help protect them from room humidity.

As you can see, flowers like roses and mums turn out really well when drying with silica gel, whereas very dainty blossoms like aster may shrivel more. (Truth be told, I still like the spidery wisps of the asters.)

Prevent silver from tarnishing

Silver tarnishes due to moisture in the air. After cleaning your silver jewellery (which TrueFacet’s blog says you should do after each wear), store it in a jewellery box that has a few silica gel packets inside.

If you find your silica gel packets are no longer effective, you can dry them out to use again. Put them on a cookie sheet in the oven for an hour or two on low heat (200-300 degrees) or place them outside on a warm, sunny day for a few hours. They’ll be good as new.

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