An odorless substance that naturally absorbs moisture, silica gel is used as a desiccant to keep products from spoiling, molding, or degrading due to humidity. The gel, which looks like tapioca beads or white crystals, is a form of silicon dioxide, which is found in nature as quartz and in sand. Nontoxic on its own, it may be combined with certain solvents or chemicals that make it toxic. (In that case, it must be disposed of as hazardous waste.)
Packets of silica gel seem to be ubiquitous. You’ll find them in products ranging from bottles of vitamins to shoes to new electronics. Before you chuck them straight into the garbage, check out these reuse tips.
Are you a photography junkie? Store some silica gel packets in camera bags to absorb moisture after snapping photos in cold or wet conditions. The silica will help keep your lens from fogging or streaking. If you still use film, store it with silica for moisture protection. And if you have framed photos, tuck silica packets in the backs of frames to protect against humidity.
You can also use silica to dry out electronics like cell phones and iPods after they have gotten wet. Without turning the device back on, pull out the battery and memory card and put the device in an airtight container filled with silica gel packets for at least 48 hours. Note: The longer you let it dry before trying to turn it on, the better the chance it will work when you do.
Natural Air Refresher
Protect important personal documents by storing them with bagged silica beads.
Rust and Tarnish Banisher
Put a few gel packets in your toolbox, tackle box, or a container storing your razor blades to prevent rusting. Also, slow the effects of tarnishing by placing a few silica gel packets in jewelry boxes and with silverware.
Tuck some packets in the pockets of clothes, especially leather goods such as coats, shoes, and handbags. The silica won’t keep away moths, but it will help preserve the fabrics and materials while they’re waiting to be worn in your closet. This also works with luggage while traveling or in storage.
Place packets of silica with seeds in storage to thwart molding.
To avoid those big bags of kibble from getting soggy, store dry food in a bin and tape silica packets to the bottom of the lid. Note: Carefully inspect the packets first and don’t use any that are torn or have holes — you don’t want to feed silica to your pet.
You can also disperse the beads throughout cat litter (if the brand doesn’t already use it) to put its absorption properties to the test. This will result in fewer litter changes and give you a better bang for your buck.
Silica gel to the rescue! Place some silica gel packets on the dashboard of your car to help maintain a clear windshield in times of high humidity. The silica also works well in the corners of your windowsills to reduce condensation. You can also leave a packet in eyeglass cases.
Reactivate and Reuse!
After the silica gel absorbs moisture (up to 40 percent of its own weight), it loses its effectiveness. But there is a silver lining to this rain cloud: The beads can be reactivated and reused repeatedly.
Do you have suggestions for reusing silica gel packets?
Feature image courtesy of sharyn morrow. Originally published on August 6, 2010, this article was updated in January 2020.