What’s the Deal with Silica Gel?

Chances are you have opened a product to find a small pack of silica gel inside. Heck, they can be found packaged with just about anything: medicine, electronics, foods, clothing, and the list goes on. Have you ever stopped to consider what the purpose of these little packs is? If you’re like most people they probably end up in the trash without thinking twice. But they do serve a purpose – and science can help us explain why silica gel packs are actually extremely useful to the products we purchase.

For starters, silica gel is a desiccant, which simply means it adsorbs and holds water vapor. Its use can be dated as far back as the 1640s, and was even used in World War I to help adsorb vapors and gases in gas mask canisters. These days, you can find silica gel packed with leather products and foods that lack moisture, like bacon bits and pepperoni.  When packed with these products, it can limit the growth of mold and prolong shelf life. For products such as electronics, silica gel can prevent condensation, thus protecting the product from damage.

Silica gel the same material found in quartz and is practically harmless, which is why you can find packed with some food products. According to HowStuffWorks silica gel “contains millions of tiny pores that can adsorb and hold moisture. It is essentially porous sand.” In addition, it can adsorb around 40 percent of its weight in moisture. Oftentimes, these beads are packaged in fibrous material that allows the gel beads to breathe and withstand normal product handling. Many packets containing this substance have “DO NOT EAT” printed on them. Silica gel is non-flammable and chemically unreactive, and non-toxic – meaning it isn’t poisonous if eaten. However, it does present a choking hazard (and who would want to eat this stuff, anyway?)

You may be wondering if there are alternative uses for silica gel packets – should you really just throw them away? We did a quick Google search and found a couple of interesting uses for this substance. They can help keep important documents or photos safe, save your cell phone from water damage, dry flowers out faster – they can even help freshen up a smelly gym bag!

Just like most everything, there is a useful purpose behind packs of silica gel. It helps ensure our food stays fresh, our electronics stay damage-free, and our medicines aren’t impacted by moisture. Who knew something so small could have such a prominent purpose in our everyday lives? Silica gel is another fantastic example of how something that has been around for decades is still making a positive impact in our world.