Violin humidifier

January 30, 2018, 10:35 AM · I live in Eastern Massachusetts where the climate is fairly temperate year round (not too dry or humid). Should I still use a violin humidifier, such as a Dampit?

Replies (33)

January 30, 2018, 10:57 AM · Eastern Mass doesn't require central heating, or suffer humidity in the summer? Amazing.

Dampits are notorious for being imprecise and dangerous. Far better would be something like a Musafia case, with its own tube humidifier built into the lid, or a packet or two from Boveda. You can get some of the latter that are supposed to keep the case at 50% rh, or 70% if you're needing to season the case during a real dry spell. You'll know if they need replacement because the internal gel will have turned to crystals.

January 30, 2018, 12:29 PM · Given your outdoor humidity and temperature right now, your indoor relative humidity may be as low as 10%. I recommend keeping stringed instruments at a minimum of 40%, and a maximum of 60%.
January 30, 2018, 12:47 PM · Thanks everyone for those suggestions. I appreciate it. I'm going to take some steps to increase the humidity in my apartment.
January 30, 2018, 12:52 PM · I use a Damp-it (I blot like crazy and let mine dry on paper towels for a bit before inserting into my violin - amazingly my luthier did not tell me to not use it when I asked about it!) I also use a Stretto pack and that newfangled tube humidifier (I cannot remember the name). I don't recommend the tube humidifier to go into the string tube clips, mine broke when I took it out of the clips to rehydrate, and the company offered a 30% discount for a replacement (the plastic is quite flimsy). Now I have it taped together and it still kinda sorta not really works... Sometimes I will use two Stettos. I also run a humidifier depending on the ambient humidity in my home.
February 3, 2018, 6:48 AM · David Burgess's website suggests an inexpensive room humidifier with a humidity control outlet. I keep the heat/ventilation on (since the violin stays in my bedroom!) and have to refill the water in the humidifier twice a day during cold spells. As a bonus I am also a little more humidified while I sleep :)

I once tried the precipitube, which might be the tube humidifer people are talking about. I ignored the instructions to add bleach to the water because I was traveling and after a few days the tube was moldy. Ouch. Hopefully someone else can learn something from this. It did humidify the case well though.

Edited: February 3, 2018, 4:00 PM · "David Burgess's website suggests an inexpensive room humidifier with a humidity control outlet."
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One can do this for well under 100 bucks. An expertly-repaired crack might run more like two hundred to five thousand dollars, and that's not even including depreciation in the value of the instrument due to it having been damaged and repaired.

I've been rather intensively experimenting with this stuff for about 45 years.

Edited: February 3, 2018, 4:31 PM · "One can do this for well under 100 bucks." - but how much does it add to the electricity bill? If I understand correctly, it's essentially an electric water kettle that boils off water. That could add up to quite a bit in energy costs.
February 3, 2018, 5:03 PM ·
Edited: February 3, 2018, 5:26 PM · Han, any form of water vaporization will require energy, so the cost of doing so, whether from a Dampit, a room humidifier, or a whole house humidifier, will be greater than zero.

In most parts of the country, using natural gas to vaporize water will be less expensive than doing it electrically, if the cost of initial setup and equipment is removed from the equation.

During the phase change from liquid to vapor, water absorbs heat, or lowers the temperature of the surrounding air, so during the heating season, that reduction in temperature will need to be compensated through one means or another.

February 3, 2018, 6:08 PM · Just a comment that this ^^^ may be true in the U.S., but I believe Han is in Europe.
February 4, 2018, 1:53 AM · I'm indeed in Europe, fortunately in a place where the air rarely gets very dry in the winter. And even if it did, I'd probably not care about my beginner's rental instrument enough to bother with a humidistat.

Sure both a dampit and an electric room humidifier cost energy, but that doesn't mean it's the same cost per year whether you humidify the inside of a case, a closet, or an entire room. Let me rephrase the question: how many liters of water does a room humidifier typically consume, per year? The electrical energy needed is about 0.6 kWh per liter (2.4 kWh/us-gallon).

Edited: February 4, 2018, 6:38 AM · Han, a great deal will depend on the climate where you live, and how tight the building is. During our coldest periods with outdoor temperatures around zero F, I am vaporizing about 1.5 gallons per day to keep my workshop at 40%, and the rest of my house around 30-35%. Much of the year, I don't require any humidification. During our warm and humid summer months, I use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity below 60%. That's not only for the instruments, but also for health reasons, since high-moisture environments favor the growth of things like mold and dust mites. I have allergies to these, but a guy down the street from me actually died from a lung infection induced by living in a moldy environment. That house subsequently went through months of mold remediation.

Around here, mold testing has become a pretty standard part of the inspection when a home is on the market, so even if it were not for the instruments, I consider dehumidification something that simply needs to be done in my climate.

I don't know what my total energy costs are per year to keep the humidity within that range, because whatever that expense is, I simply need to do it. Once an instrument goes out the door, I have no control over it any more, and I wouldn't want to make an instrument in a very dry environment and have it end up in a very moist environment, or vice versa. That puts huge stresses on an instrument. But what I am able to do is make an instrument in the middle range, which will mitigate the stresses if it ends up in an environment of one extreme or the other.

Humidity control is also something I would need to do for customer instruments. When they are here, I am responsible for them, and a high level of care is justifiably expected. No instrument in my shop has ever suffered even something as minor as a seam coming open.

While in-case humidifiers MIGHT be better than nothing, most have no means of regulating the amount of moisture they emit. With the room setup I use, I could control the humidity within 1% if I wanted to.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 6:05 AM · We have dyson humidifiers in every room which is 3 in total. The tanks have to be filled twice a day when temperature goes down outside and heating up inside. They are expensive but safe as the water gets some kind of ultrasound treatment before coming out of the humidifier, so its clean. Relatively low maintenance and no chemicals. Good for humans as well as violins. Im pretty sure they are much better than smal case humidifiers which I dont really think work if the huimidity is very low.

And havents noticed anything in the electricity bill since we got them, though they use electricity.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 8:18 AM · David, I understand that you, as a luthier, need to control humidity in your shop. But what's best for you is not necessarily the best for an individual with a single instrument. I'd think that a sealed cupboard with a container filled with e.g. saturated potassium carbonate solution (43% RH) would be more practical. If you store a plywood-based violin case in such a cupboard, then the violin case itself will be a humidity buffer during short trips. Only during practice, the instrument would be exposed, but I wouldn't expect the wood to dry out significantly after just an hour or two.

(Thus spoke the guy with a cheap instrument in a foam case...)

Maria, the Dyson uses ultrasound for misting, not sterilization. The energy cost of evaporation will be hidden in the cost of fuel oil or gas for your furnace.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 7:02 AM · Han, the value of the instrument (whether emotional, monetary, or from being a favorite and difficult-to-replace professional performance tool) will certainly have an influence on whether or not one wants to go to the trouble of controlling humidity. My sister-in-law was devastated when her favorite guitar developed a big crack in the top one winter, even though it wasn't worth much by fiddle standards, maybe only three thousand bucks or so.

The museums which tried saturated salt solutions for controlling the humidity in display cases ended up abandoning the method. I don't remember all the details of why... it was about a decade ago that I read up on this. In theory, it seems like it would be effective though.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 7:52 AM · Maria, ultrasonic, 'cool mist', and other such humidifiers should use much less electricity than 'warm mist' ones -- which boil the water, but both methods have significant issues with minerals in the water. With the 'warm mist' ones, you see this as build-up in the device itself where the water is boiled. In 'cool mist' devices you see this as very fine white dust distributed throughout your space over time. Of course this depends on the quality of water in your location, but unless you have distilled water, there will be some impurities, and these will appear over time.

A cool mist humidifier which entirely solved this problem would be amazing, but I don't know of one.

"Hi there, this is Krystal with Dyson Canada. Thank you for taking the time to leave a review on the Dyson Humidifier. Ultraviolet Cleanse technology is designed to kill bacteria, mold, and viruses, but it will not remove minerals from the water. The Dyson humidifier produces a very fine mist and then uses Air Multiplier technology to distribute it evenly across the whole room. While this even distribution of mist means that it is less likely for the mineral dust to accumulate, it can happen if there is a heavy concentration of minerals in the water. In these cases, we recommend using purified or distilled water in the machine."

https://www.dysoncanada.ca/en-CA/fans-and-heaters/humidifiers/dyson-humidifier/dyson-humidifier-iron-blue.aspx

Edited: February 4, 2018, 7:57 AM · Han, checked and dyson actually uses ultraviolet light to cleansing, not ultrasound, or is that a different thing? My mistake, but still no chemicals and no bacteria and mould.

Ray beat me to it. How much one has to clean them depends on the water, you are quite right. Here it leaves very little white residue even when not cleaned for weeks, so Im happy. And none white residue in furniture or around. Have had them for 2 years now, if I remember correctly and no problems, so it seems its a sound technology.

February 4, 2018, 8:17 AM · Yes, ultraviolet light for sterilization and ultrasound for misting. Two ultra technologies in those Dysons. :-)

I wouldn't take their claims about microbial suppression too seriously. I suspect that after disinfection, the water passes through parts where there is no UV light and where germs can still grow and form a biofilm. That can only be prevented if they designed the thing to generate ozone, which would not be very healthy either.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 9:32 AM · I like the cheapest sort of steam type vaporizers, because they boil the water to produce steam, so the steam emitted is both sterilized and distilled.. mineral free. They also don't circulate any room air through the unit, and contaminants from the room air are what supports mold and bacteria growth.

About 20 bucks, and maybe $50 for the separate controller. If the vaporizer eventually gets crusted up enough with minerals to stop working (which takes several years for me, even with my heavy use of a single unit to humidify the whole house), just throw it away a buy a new one. The separate control units seem to last indefinitely, and are much more accurate than the controllers that are built into some of the humidifiers.

February 4, 2018, 11:16 AM · David — currently using an ultrasonic because it has an auto- shutoff feature, should it run out before I get to it. Do the steam vaprorizer units have a safety to keep them from heating if empty?
February 4, 2018, 11:31 AM · I don't think such a device would be legal to sell if it couldn't handle running out of water. No way it would get a CE or UL marking.
February 4, 2018, 12:10 PM · I believe "reading" your bow hair can be a fairly reliable guide to the fluctuations of relative humidity.

In my 33 years of living in California's high Mojave desert the driest air I experienced was at the air-conditioned auditorium of the local college where our orchestra rehearsed. When I loosened my bow after every rehearsal and replaced it in my case the hair was always tensionless but straight. By the next day, when I opened the case at home the hair was hanging in an obvious catenary (curve) not that different from the suspension cables on the Golden Gate Bridge, just a few miles from my current abode.

In fact the contraction of bow hair under dry AC is so great that I can recall at least one bow (not mine) actually breaking under the tension caused by the shrinking hair. I always recheck my bow when playing away from home and often have to loosen the hair about 30 minutes in. My violins never suffered from that exposure. But imagine how dry that AC air must have been, when it was not uncommon for the outside RH to be 5% or less even when the temperature exceeded 100° F.

We used whole house humidification in winter for 22 years, set for 50% - it had a "cycling" pad and at least a 5 gallon reservoir, placed near the upstairs return central-heating vent and close enough to an upstairs bathroom to refill with a hose/tube from the sink. I added a small amount of Clorox to the reservoir every week or so to prevent mold growth. In Spring, Summer and Autumn we cooled incoming air to the house with an evaporative cooler ("swamp cooler") and that kept the RH at a good level for health and string instruments. We also had a refrigerated central AC system but only used it when the temperature got too high or when the house was full ofsleep-in guests. (The cost of one month electricity for the AC was more than I paid for the swamp cooler and installation rig - that lasted the 22 years until we moved.)

For 11 years before that we lived in rental housing that only had swamp cooling and I never had a problem with winter forced air heating with the violin and cello I owned during those years. We never heated our home to higher than 68°F in the day and mid 60s at night.

Edited: February 4, 2018, 2:35 PM · Douglas, the Sunbeam steam type I use has two electrodes suspended from the top of the reservoir, which do not get hot themselves, but heat the water by passing electrical current through it. Once the water level falls below the level of the electrodes, there is no longer a path for the electricity, and the humidifier ceases to function or produce heat. It is as if the electricity had been turned off with a switch, but no mechanical switch is required to do so. It's an incredibly simple device, and that's one of the things I really like about it. No fans, pumps, rotating wheels, switches, circuit boards, evaporating pads, or filters to fail or require periodic maintenance or replacement.

Two of them can be powered by a single control unit, if one doesn't want to fill as frequently, or wants more water vapor than just one will produce. I have not yet tried powering three or more off a single control unit.

$11.88 at the moment, from WalMart.
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Sunbeam-Warm-Steam-Vaporizer-1388-800/21077810

Yes, I've tested much more expensive units and combinations, and this is still my favorite.

February 4, 2018, 4:32 PM · Very good to know -- I'm considering switching my setup for a few reasons...

The ultrasonic does a good job of keeping the humidity a the right level, as checked by my calibrated hygrometer. I have a few problems with this type of humidification though. It's not easy to clean because of the odd shape of the water chamber, and it requires cleaning very frequently. Additionally, it aerosolizes any mineral content in water causing fine white mineral dust to build up in my studio.

It's ok, but not ideal, and it sounds like the steam vaporizer will solve these problems.

February 5, 2018, 6:51 AM · Wouldn't cost much to try it. Let us know how it works out.
Edited: February 23, 2018, 8:04 AM · I've worked with humidity problems for decades. I lived in Minneapolis for a long time. Winters in Minnesota are brutal to say the least. The humidity can be alarmingly low. If that is your problem, I suggest a twofold attack. Use a room humidifier and a second humidifier in your case. Keep your instrument in that case when not in use. Whatever you use to get the proper humidity isn't the issue so much as reading the numbers on a humidistat. During periods of low humidity, don't leave your instrument out of its case. I did this with a classic guitar in Minnesota. The room humidity was fine so I thought the instrument would be as well. Then one evening I heard a loud THWANG! The bridge on my guitar came unglued and flew off the instrument. From then on I kept all instruments in their cases with a humidifier in each case. Now that I live in Oregon the problem is not as difficult, however, I keep a sharp eye on the room humidistat and when it dips below 45 I plug in a room humidifier.
February 23, 2018, 9:58 AM · Raymond, first thing if you don't have one already, get a reliable hygrometer. Don't guess what your humidity levels might be.
February 23, 2018, 11:35 AM · Michael, Roger

Thanks for that feedback. The weather has been fairly crazy lately: 72 degrees F on Wednesday and 39 degrees today. I got a case humidifier and it's working well. I also got a case hygrometer and it's measuring 60 percent humidity.

February 23, 2018, 12:11 PM · I think that Dampits are one of the worst inventions for violins ever. I don’t think that sticking wet rubber objects inside violins is ever a good idea. I hate looking in a violin and seeing water stains and labels with bleeding ink caused by them. If you need to humidify your case then it is better to use an external humidifying device.

We have a whole house humidifier that struggled to stay above 30% RH during the long cold snap this year. So I put all our instruments in cases in one room with a Sunbeam warm-air humidifier attached to the humidity controller that David recommended. I also kept an additional humidity monitor in the room to check for accuracy. This worked really well at keeping the %RH at 40% or higher.

I also placed another warm air humidifier and a humidity monitor in the living room where I play and leave instruments out on stands. I let this run constantly, and the humidity stayed above 35% on the driest days, but was mostly between 40 and 45%.

The warm air humidifiers do need to be cleaned with vinegar every few days to get out the minerals that deposit in the heating element area, but that is very easy to do.

February 23, 2018, 2:05 PM · Very good Raymond. I'd also recommend that you test how accurate your hygrometer is. I have one that has read 60 for the past 10 years! There are plenty of guidance on doing a saturated salt test if you Google it. Here one source

https://www.cigarsinternational.com/mobile/cigar-101/salt-test/1818029/

February 24, 2018, 9:32 AM · For the record, Dalton Potter's book "Kitchen Table Violin Repairs" recommends the use of the Dampit.
Edited: February 24, 2018, 1:20 PM · Recently saw Anne-Sophie Mutter conducting a master class with a Dampit in her Strad, so I guess they work for her.

I use a Herco HE360 guitar(?), clay-type humidifier in my case. Just checked - room is 25%, case range has been 48-51% (with the same type of humidity gauge). I 'regenerate' it about once a week.

Edited: February 24, 2018, 5:39 PM · It doesn't matter what Potter and Mutter do. The people with the most experience in this area do not recommend the snake-style humidifiers.

Yes, I highly respect both Potter and Mutter for what they have achieved, but it appears that neither have placed major focus on humidity control.

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