What is desiccant and what does it do?
A desiccant is a dehumidifying agent which attracts moisture from the atmosphere. It adsorbs and holds particles of water to itself.
The three most common types of desiccants are clay, silica gel, and molecular sieve.
Is it safe to handle desiccant?
Both bulk (loose) and packaged desiccant are generally safe to handle without the use of gloves or safety equipment. Many types of packaged desiccant are also FDA-approved to come into contact with food and pharmaceuticals, so it's perfectly safe to come into contact with any packaged desiccant. However, desiccant should NEVER be ingested.
Because of the inherent drying properties of desiccant, handling bulk desiccant with bare hands for long periods of time can tend to dry out the skin. Working with, moving, or otherwise handling large quantities of bulk desiccant (not packaged or sealed containers) can represent an inhalation hazard because of the desiccant dust that may be present. If desiccant dust in visible in the air when handling bulk desiccant, we recommend donning the appropriate breathing protection equipment such as a painters mask.
Always consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) included with each shipment of desiccant for specific warnings and handling instructions, which take precedence over general guidelines described here.
What are clay desiccants?
Clay desiccants are non-hazardous, moisture adsorbent substances created by the controlled drying of a calcium (bentonite) aluminosilicate clay. This naturally occurring montmorillonite clay has a special affinity for moisture and is chemically inert and non-corrosive. The layered structure of clay desiccant attracts and adsorbs moisture onto its surface and between its layers.
Desi Pak® is the trade name of the packaged clay (bags and packets) sold by AGM. Desi Pak will protect the contents of a properly sealed container during shipping and storage (i.e., the contents of a sealed container will be in the same condition as when they were packaged for shipment or storage).
Clay is the least expensive of all desiccants and highly effective within normal temperature and relative humidity ranges. It is used in most industrial applications requiring humidity control. Clay desiccant can adsorb up to 28% of its weight in water vapor at 77°F (25°C) and 80% relative humidity. At full moisture vapor capacity, Desi Pak remains dry and free-flowing. There is no apparent change in size, shape, or texture of the desiccant.
Clay desiccant works satisfactorily below 120°F (49°C). Above 120°F (49°C), there is a possibility that the clay will give up moisture rather than pull it in (silica gel or molecular sieve are suitable for such temperatures). Accordingly, anticipated storage and transportation conditions should be considered when deciding whether or not to use clay.
What is silica gel?
Silica gel is silicon dioxide (SiO2), an amorphous form of silica which is manufactured from sodium silicate and sulfuric acid. It is naturally occurring mineral that is purified and processed into beaded or granular form. Like clay desiccant, silica gel is also non-corrosive and chemically inert.
Much like a sponge, silica gel's interconnected pores form a vast surface area that will attract and hold water by adsorption and capillary condensation, enabling silica gel to adsorb about 40% of its weight in water vapor at 100% humidity.
As a desiccant, silica gel has an average pore size of 24 angstroms (24A). Silica gel desiccant will pull in moisture at temperatures up to 220°F (104°C). As temperatures increase above 100°F (38°C) the rage of moisture pick-up will slow down, but the silica gel will still work. Silica gel performs best at room temperatures between 70°F to 90°F (21°C to 32°C) and at high humidity between 60% to 90% relative humidity.
Sorb-It® is the trade name of the packaged silica gel (bags, packets, and canisters) sold by AGM. Sorb-It is designed to control moisture levels within a properly sealed container during shipment and storage. At 77°F (25°C) and 80% relative humidity, Sorb-It can adsorb approximately 35% of its weight in water vapor. However, unlike a sponge, Sorb-It remains dry and free-flowing at maximum adsorption capacity.
AGM also offers several types of bulk silica gel.
What is indicating silica gel?
Indicating silica gel is a bead or granule that has been washed with a concentration of cobalt chloride (a heavy metal salt). The cobalt chloride is a deep blue color when dry and turns from blue to purple to pink as it becomes saturated with moisture.
AGM also carries orange indicating silica gel. This type is a bright orange color when dry and turns green as it becomes saturated with moisture.
The most common form sold by AGM is bulk silica gel, primarily used in air drying applications.
Another use of indicating silica gel is with a moisture-sensitive product that will be inspected regularly, as the indicating silica gel gives a quick visual indication of how well the product is doing. Due to the presence of cobalt chloride, indicating silica gel desiccant should never be used in contact with products for consumption, such as food or pharmaceuticals.
Desi View® is the trade name of a bagged indicating silica gel mixture sold by AGM. The Desi View mixture consists of either 90% clay or 90% silica gel; the remaining 10% is always blue indicating silica gel. Desi View bags are only 10% indicating silica gel for two reasons: 1) a 10% indicating silica gel content is enough of a color change indicator to be easily viewed through the bag's polyethylene side; 2) indicating silica gel is more expensive than non-indicating silica gel.
Indicating silica gel is also available in special packet sizes for use in electronics, pharmaceutical, or food packaging.
What is molecular sieve?
Molecular sieve is a synthetically produced crystalline metal alumosilicate zeolite. Molecular sieve particles have a uniform pore structure (created during the manufacturing process). This enables molecular sieve to separate molecules by size. It is also non-hazardous and derived from naturally occurring materials.
Molecular sieve is the desiccant of choice for the most demanding and unique applications. The pore structure of molecular sieve desiccant provides a higher capacity for water adsorption than either silica gel or clay at very low humidity levels. Molecular sieve also retains a higher percentage of moisture capacity at elevated temperatures. In fact, molecular sieve can hold moisture at temperatures well past 450°F (232°C). Because of its high affinity for moisture, molecular sieve is able to bring the relative humidity in packages down as low as 10% relative humidity.
The most commonly used pore size for drying applications is 4 angstroms (4A). Molecular sieve is also available in 3 angstroms (3A), 5 angstroms (5A) and 10 angstroms (13X) sizes for specific molecule separation, including gases.
Molecular sieve is the most aggressive of the primary desiccants (in terms of adsorption rate), so additional handling procedures may need to be considered.
Tri-Sorb® is the brand name of the packaged molecular sieve (bags and packets) sold by AGM for controlling moisture levels in sealed containers during shipment and storage.
AGM also offers several types of bulk molecular sieve.
What is a desiccant "unit"?
In desiccant terminology, a “unit” is a quantity of desiccant defined in the U.S. Military's specification (MIL-D-3464E) for packaged desiccant products. Under this specification, a unit is the quantity of desiccant which will adsorb 3.00 grams of water vapor at 20% relative humidity or 6.00 grams of water vapor at 40% relative humidity at 77°F (25°C).
It may also be helpful to think of a unit as equating to approximately one ounce of material. More specifically, a one unit bag of Desi Pak® (clay) contains approximately 33 grams per bag, a one unit bag of Sorb-It® (silica gel) contains 26 grams per bag, and one unit bag of Tri-Sorb® (molecular sieve) contains 32 grams per bag.
When do I need to include a humidity indicator card in my package?
You need a humidity indicator card if you are concerned as to whether or not the desiccant in your package is still active. Desiccant becomes inactive when it has adsorbed as much moisture as it can for the conditions it is being exposed to. This can occur under the following conditions:
• if your package is not properly sealed;
• if you don't use enough desiccant in your package to draw down the relative humidity;
• if the barrier material (i.e., plastic bag) you use to package your product has a high moisture vapor transmission rate (which means that a significant amount of humid air is entering your package through the barrier material itself).
How does desiccant most effectively protect my product or package?
In order to achieve optimal protection, desiccants should be used within a closed/sealed moisture barrier or a rigid/sealed container. Humidity Indicator Cards are generally placed inside the container to show the humidity level and to indicate when the desiccant needs to be replaced.
What size bags, packets, and canisters are available?
Standard sizes for unit bags are as follows: 1/6, 1/3, 1/2, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, and 80 units. A unit is roughly one ounce of desiccant material.
Standard sizes for packets are as follows: 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 grams.
Standard sizes for canisters are as follows: 1/2, 1, 2, and 3 grams.
Custom sizes are available to fit your packaging needs, though such sizes typically carry a significant minimum order quantity.
What industries and products use desiccant?
The largest users of desiccants are the industrial, pharmaceutical, and the electronic components packaging industries.
How are desiccants packaged?
Desiccants are generally packaged in bags, packets, or canisters. Packets are sometimes referred to as “sachets” or “pouches.”
Desiccants in bags are commonly referred to as industrial desiccants. They are primarily used by industry because their medium to large size enables them to adsorb moisture in heavy duty applications. However, these bags are commonly used in non-industrial applications as well.
Bagged desiccants are available in:
• Tyvek® (heat sealed)
• Kraft paper (heat sealed)
• Heavy, non-woven rayon/polyester blend (string sewn)
The term “bagged” desiccants commonly refers to any desiccant which is packaged by the unit.
Desiccants in packets or canisters are commonly referred to as pharmaceutical desiccants. They are primarily used by the pharmaceutical industry because of their small size. However, other industries, such as electronics, optics, and food packaging, utilize these packets and canisters as well.
Packet desiccants are available in:
• Tyvek (heat sealed)
• GDTII (heat sealed)
Canister desiccants are available in:
• Polyethylene containers
For more information on the composition and porosity of desiccant packaging materials, please refer to Composition of Clariant Film Stocks.
How much desiccant do I need?
It depends. The amount of desiccant required is usually dependent on the following factors:
• volume of air space to be desiccated
• nature of the material to be protected
• moisture surrounding the package
• type of desiccant to be used
• length of time for protection
• atmospheric conditions (temperature and relative humidity) when/where the product is sealed and during subsequent shipment and storage
When AGM receives a call from someone looking for desiccant, our Desiccant Specialists will ask a number of questions to determine responses to the above information so they can calculate which type and size of desiccant will work best for the particular application.
You may use our Desiccant Calculator to determine the amount of desiccant for your application.
For further information on how to determine the amount of desiccant required for your application, please contact one of our Desiccant Specialists at 520-881-2130. You can also email our sales staff using the Contact Us form.