DIY Desiccants and Alternatives

Many preppers and survivalist run across the issue of moisture. They need a way to extract moisture from ammunition, dry food, and other containers.  Moisture can cause mold, rust, bacteria, and all kinds of other issues.  Desiccant packs can be purchased for this purpose, but who wants to spend all that money?

To put it in perspective, buying one lb. of desiccant packets normally costs about $15 plus shipping.  These packets are made of silica gel so one might think that buying the gel separately would save some money.  Even if you buy your gel and packets separately online and fill them yourself, you will spend over $10.  It can get costly over a long period of time purchasing several dozen lbs. to cover all your needs.

DIY Silica Gel Packs

There are several ways to save money with this project.  One is to buy silica gel locally and package it in appropriate sizes.  You can typically buy one lb. of gel for under $5 locally. Hobby Lobby or your local Florist are good places to start.  You can get a 5 lb. package under the name Dri-Splendor for around $15 at hobby lobby. Many stores do not even know they carry it, so wander around the dried flower section until you find it.

To repackage the gel, use 2 in. by 2 in. oxygen-stripped paper packs.  These are commonly used for DIY tea packets.  They are normally found at a tea shop or health food store. You can also cut up coffee filters if you have a bunch lying around, but you would have to apply your own adhesive.

Step 1) Remove the paper pack and set your clothing iron on the cotton setting.

Step 2) Seal three sides of the paper pack with your iron.

Step 3) Fill the package with silica gel leaving at least ¼ in at the top.

Step 4) Seal the last side and repeat for other packets.

If you need larger packs for ammo or other non-food items, there is one other method.  You can use old sheets or other thin cotton cloth and cut it to the shape and size you desire.  Then you can buy heat sensitive cloth adhesive at the same stores you buy the silica gel.  This comes in tape or liquid and can be applied to the edges of larger pieces of cloth to seal them together.

Another option for desiccant packs is to use glass or plastic bottles.  This works especially well using silica gel as it stays granulated even when absorbing moisture whereas other products clump up.  Simply fill the bottle with your product and poke holes in the lid to let air flow in and out.

On a side note, if you collect the desiccant packs you get with products you purchase you can reuse them. Just heat in a 250F oven for 45 minutes.  Many silica gel products have indicator crystals that turn pink when saturated and are blue when dry.  This is how you can tell when you need dry them out before reuse.

Other Substances Used As Desiccants

  • Salt can be used as a desiccant, and works especially well with food products. The only downside is that the salt will clump together when is absorbs moisture.  You can add calcium silicate to keep this from happening.  Then just package is as described above.
  • Dry rice can be used as a desiccant. You may have heard that putting a water-logged cell phone in rice can bring it back to life.  I have seen this work first hand.  You can package dry rice to keep your containers dry.  You can also use large packs of rice to retain heat for hot packs.  If you warm a rice pack you can put it on achy muscles or cold hands. It will stay warm for hours.
  • Calcium chloride can be used as a desiccant and is often used to melt ice and absorb road moisture during the winter. It can be packaged and used to keep containers dry.  However, after several months of absorbing moisture it may get a little messy. Be sure to change out your packs periodically. That being said, this product actually absorbs more moisture than any of the others listed. If you chose this product, leave some extra space in the pack as it will expand by up to 50%.
  • Dry cement and plaster of Paris are desiccants. They will turn into a solid block as they absorb moisture, but they can be used if no other options are available.
  • Non-dairy creamer can be used as a desiccant. It needs to be transferred to more breathable packets, but it will turn hard as moisture is absorbed. Believe it or not, this was the number three product for absorbing moisture just behind calcium chloride and silica gel.
  • Old wallboard or plasterboard can be used as a desiccant if you find yourself in an older building. When Cresson Kearny designed a fallout meter for radiation, he specified that a desiccant was needed to keep the humidity in the room to a minimum.  However, modern wallboard and plasterboard is designed to avoid absorbing moisture.  Therefore you would likely need to be using products from at least 50 years ago for it to work properly.

Desiccant Uses

  • Seed storage is an excellent way to use desiccant packs. Many preppers and survivalists have a seed catalog/collection either for annual planting or for SHTF planting.  These seeds often will only last a year or two in humid conditions, but could last dozens of years if kept dry.  Small desiccant packs are great for keeping these seeds in optimal condition.
  • Food storage is another good reason for desiccant packs. You probably have some jerky or canned goods stored somewhere.  Maybe you have some oats, flour, or cornmeal.  You may have some pasta, rice, or beans.  All of these foods have to stay cool and dry to prevent mold and bacteria.  In your dry goods you can put desiccant packs directly in the container.  In addition, it is a good idea to put a few more in the pantry to improve the overall humidity.
  • Ammunition must be kept away from moisture to avoid rusting and avoid the powder going bad. Many people will store ammo in cans or mason jars with desiccant packs and then bury them or hide them on their property. With this ammunition being used to feed your family and keep them safe, you want to know that every round will fire.
  • Fire-starting materials must be kept bone dry for them to be effective when you need them. Matches, lighters, fuses, and tinder materials are of utmost importance. Even a little moisture can keep your fire from igniting.  With a desiccant pack and a water-tight container you can always have a roaring fire.
  • Electronics often have to be kept very dry to stay functional and avoid corrosion. In a survival situation your communication devices are some of these essential items.  Any radios, cell phones, or GPS devices should be stored with desiccant packs to keep them working.
  • Firearms are packed with moving parts that cannot rust. Of course you should use gun oil to clean your firearms after each use. However, you can also safeguard against rust by putting a desiccant package in your gun safe or wherever you store your firearms.
  • Clothing also must stay dry in survival situations especially your shoes, socks, and underwear. These clothing items are prone to moisture and can easily form mold and bacteria.  In a survival situation these contaminants can lead to skin disorders that can make walking difficult. With a few desiccant packages you can help cut down on the moisture where you store these items.
  • Tools are items that survivalists and preppers rely upon heavily. Rust can again deem these items worthless, but eliminating the moisture can ensure they last a lifetime.  Drop a few desiccant packs in your toolbox to keep everything shiny and new.
  • Important documents must be stored in a dry place. In many SHTF situations these documents are both essential and irreplaceable. You may have a safe place for these documents, but you also have to keep out the moisture.  Place a desiccant pack inside and all should be well.

In summary, moisture is the primary agent of decay in any environment.  Anything that you can use to eliminate moisture will keep all your supplies useful for much longer.  If you can keep everything dry with a DIY product, what could be better?

I hope this article has given you some ideas on how you can save money with this type of project.  In addition, I hope that it has expanded your understanding of how important it can be to keep all of these items dry.  When everything else is falling apart around us having stored food, a gun that fires, and a radio that works could make all the difference.

About Ryan Dotson

Ryan Dotson
My name is Ryan Dotson and I am a survivalist, prepper, writer, and photographer. I grew up in the Ozark Mountains and in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. My interest in survival started when I was in Boy Scouts and continued as my father, uncle, and grandfather taught me to hunt and fish. In the last few years I have started taking on survival challenges and have started writing about my experiences. I currently live in Mid-Missouri with my wife Lauren and three year old son Andrew.

One comment

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    I use a seal a meal type for a lot of stuff , but I love all of your ideas

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