Getting Started: Juice Primer

E-juice, e-liquid, nicotine juice, nicotine liquid, e-nicotine. It’s all the same thing in relation to vaping; the liquid that gets vaporized and inhaled. For simplicity, I’ll just call it juice from here out (which is what most vapers call it).

There are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of flavors, all with different nicotine strengths and PG/VG mix ratios. It can be pretty intimidating. There is also quite a bit of misinformation out there about what it is, and what is in it. But it is the one thing that no vaper can be without (well I guess if you want to just sit around admiring your eGo battery or APV you could technically do so without any juice, but what’s the fun in that?).

This can be the biggest hangup for new vapers trying to make the switch from analogs, because they are totally lost in how much different stuff there is out there. Let’s see if we can remedy that.

First, precautions:

I’m going to preface this by saying that if you follow some basic safety precautions, this stuff is about as safe as liquid pharmaceuticals get (at least at 36mg/ml and below). I would say that high proof alcohol is just about the same as far as overall consumption dangers (it’s really not dangerous if you don’t over do it). I’ve spilled 24mg/ml juice on me and just wiped it off on a paper towel after a minute or so (not that this is the proper way to handle it, I’m just sayin’).

I’m really not trying to scare you off, I just want you to realize that there are some dangers associated with handling liquid nicotine. Really you only start getting into seriously dangerous concentrations at 48mg/ml and above, and generally these concentrations are intended for juice makers. There is a pretty large DIY community for this stuff, so just be aware that if you are looking at a liquid nicotine concentration at 48mg/ml and above that you need to do some research on proper safety precautions.

  • Vaping causes (or contributes to) dehydration. The vapor you are exhaling is water that the PG and VG in your juice has pulled from your body mostly. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water (other fluids are fine too, as long as it’s not alcohol it is still +90% water). Dehydration is not good for you in all kinds of ways. Here are the symptoms of dehydration. I live in a desert, so watching for dehydration for me is just second nature. Some may never have experienced it, and you should be aware that vaping is linked to dehydration.
  • Nicotine is a poison. A contact poison. At the strengths that we work at (generally 36mg/ml and lower) there is a pretty good window of safety (a couple of minutes with 36mg/ml juice on your skin probably won’t be enough to even make you queasy). If you spill it on you, wash it off with soap. If you spill it on your clothes, go immediately and change them, washing the area underneath with water (and preferably soap). If you start to feel queasy, or suddenly get a massive headache, move outside, stop vaping, and call poison control (better safe than sorry).
  • If you are working at strengths above 48mg/ml (at this strength and above you are working with stuff that is intended to be cut way down before it is vaped) it can be fatal, so call poison control if you spill it on you. Also if you spill it at these strengths, you must treat it as hazardous waste, clean it up, and dispose of it properly (you don’t want to kill some poor bastard that works at the dump on accident).
  • A 2 year old in Israel recently died after drinking a bottle of e-juice. Don’t leave this stuff where kids can get it. Treat it like medicine (because essentially it is) or household chemicals that smell and taste delicious and sweet.
  • PG is poisonous to cats and dogs. Do not vape them out in a closed up room, or blow that shit in their faces. Don’t let them lick it. If you spill it, clean it up immediately. It damages their kidneys, and any doctor or nurse can tell you that renal failure is a suck ass way to die. In short, don’t be a douche to your animals, and look out for them.
  • Juice smells delicious. Don’t lick it or drink it. It will absorb way better if you do than it does through vaping. Nicotine is poison. Poison is death. Never taste death (two points if you get that reference).
  • If you wear contacts or have allergies and carry eye drops; be god damn sure of what you are about to squirt in your eye. There are several people who have reported accidentally squirting e-juice in their eye. Shit burns like a mad bastard and will poison you. If you get it in your eye, flush with water immediately for like 15 minutes, and call or have someone else call poison control.
  • Both PG and VG (the two main ingredients in juice) are technically alcohols, and are flammable. Exercise caution if working near open flame or heat sources.

Is some of that scary? Sure. But it’s the truth, and you should know this stuff. I rewrote that a few times and just couldn’t come up with a better way to deliver that information. Bear in mind that thousands of people vape every day, and we’ve yet to hear of a vaping related fatality other than the Israeli 2 year old who drank the e-juice.

This is all essentially high school chemistry safety stuff, but many people never took chem, or didn’t pay any attention. Don’t screw around with this stuff at concentrations above 36mg/ml. It’s not dangerous unless you fuck around. Familiarity breeds contempt, a healthy respect for what you are handling will do you worlds of good. At 100mg/ml concentrations and up, the first screw up can be fatal.

What’s in it?

There are many things that can go into juice, but mostly it is composed of 3-4 things:

  • Propylene Glycol (PG)
  • Vegetable Glycerine (VG)
  • Food grade flavorings
  • Nicotine

If you really want to know more about what eLiquid is made from, read this.

Propylene Glycol has been used as a suspension agent in the pharmaceutical industry for years (specifically for inhalers). You’ll often hear that juice has antifreeze in it. While it is true that PG is used in some antifreezes, it is not in itself antifreeze, and no studies exist showing that it is harmful in any way other than as a potential mucous membrane irritant. There are people with PG allergies, if you feel that you may have this condition you should consult an allergist and cease use of any juice that contains PG immediately.

Vegetable Glycerine is used in many food products, and has many other applications. I am unaware of any studies showing that is poses any kind of health risk. Again, there are people with VG allergies (much rarer than PG allergies, which are pretty rare to begin with),  if you feel that you may have this condition you should consult an allergist and cease use of any juice that contains VG immediately.

NOTE: PG and VG attracts water to make condensation (the clouds of vapor you inhale and exhale) but it has the effect of pulling water out of your lungs and mucous membranes as well. This can lead to dehydration occasionally (and to varying degrees). Just drink lots of water while vaping and it shouldn’t be a concern.

Nicotine is a poison. It naturally occurs in tomatoes and other plants in the nightshade family, including tobacco. modern medical science says that nicotine by itself is about equivalent to caffeine in health risks when consumed in mild doses (more on nicotine doses in vaping in a bit).

Food Grade flavorings are exactly what they sound like; flavorings used in food. This is not the stuff you buy at the supermarket in the baking isle. These are confectioner’s and baker’s flavorings mostly.

Generally speaking that should be it.

Some flavoring type things are not exactly flavors, but are lumped into this category. For example, Sucralose (what Splenda is made from) is often used as a sweetener. There are some that claim it is horrible for you to ingest sucralose in any form. I personally haven’t seen anything that suggests that it is any worse for you than half of the other crap that is in our food.

Xylitol is a potential alternative for sweetener, but I am unaware of any juice makers that currently use this.

Anything I should look out for?

Diacetyl is a popular butter flavoring used in food (notably in microwave popcorn). A couple of years ago OSHA issued a warning that diacetyl may cause lung damage when used in food flavorings, heated and inhaled over long periods of time.

Since we’re vaporizing liquid and inhaling it, I think this would qualify.

While several authorities have called the disease “Popcorn Worker’s Lung,” a more accurate term suggested by other doctors may be more appropriate: diacetyl-induced bronchiolitis obliterans.

I’m not a doctor, and I don’t read Latin, but I’m pretty sure that anything that seems to be called Lung Obliterator (or some variant of that) is not anything I want any part of.

I personally will not buy juice that is not 100% made in the USA, from USA sourced components. There are so many stringent quality controls on food stuffs and pharmaceuticals that I am simply more comfortable only vaping stuff that is 100% made in the US (if China will use lead based paint in kids toys 30+ years after we know it causes health issues, I’m not risking it).

Acetoin, Acetyl, Propionyl, 2-3 Hexanedione, 2-3 Heptanedione, or Diacetyl Trimer are often used as Diacetyl equivalents. These may have health concerns as well, and I personally avoid them. Here is a note from the Perfumer’s Apprentice (one of the most populaf flavor suppliers used by juice makers) on his research into Diacetyl replacements.

Any juice maker worth the pixels on their website should be willing to discuss what flavorings and components they use in their juice (just don’t expect them to tell you in what quantities).

If you are concerned, you should ask, and then research the companies that make their flavorings to determine if there are any ingredients that you are not comfortable vaping.

Nicotine content

Probably the second most common question for people considering switching from analogs to vaping is “how much nicotine should I get”?

Unfortunately no one can answer that for you. There just isn’t enough known about how/how much nicotine is absorbed from vaping. We know that smoke particles from an analog are about 1 micron in diameter, and that vapor is about 10 microns in diameter (smoke particles are roughly 10 times smaller than vapor), so analog smoke can get into the smaller capillaries in the lungs. It is believed that nicotine in vapor is absorbed as much (or more) through the mucous membranes in the mouth and nose as by the lungs. It takes longer to get a nicotine high from vaping than smoking (partially because with analogs it’s also oxygen deprivation and carbon monoxide poisoning).

Unfortunately the current lack of scientific study of vaping makes any kind of accurate, science based comparison virtually impossible. So we are left with anecdotal evidence from other vapers.

I can tell you that I smoked an average of a pack of Marlboro Reds a day for 20 years. Smokers will tell you that Reds are generally considered one of the heavier nicotine cigarettes (super short filter, etc.). When I smoked, I would smoke an entire cigarette down to the butt in almost exactly 3 minutes (so I was hitting it pretty hard). I could damn near set a watch by it. If I was smoking, 3 minutes. If I was talking and smoking, 5 minutes.

I switched starting with 24mg/ml nicotine strength. Within three weeks I dropped to 12mg/ml, and it didn’t bother me at all. As a side note, I’ve noticed that when I vape from say a Protank, 24mg is ok (I can definitely feel the difference, and get a nicotine high pretty quick), but when vaping from a dripping atty (like my IGO-L), 24mg nicotine is too much. I get queasy from it almost immediately.

I would say that I should probably have started with 18mg/ml nicotine (maybe even 12mg).

I generally give that whole spiel to someone who asks me about vaping, but then I tell them bottom line; if you smoke lights or 100’s, or like a half a pack a day or less, you probably want to start at 12mg. On the other hand, if you smoked 2 packs of unfiltered camels a day for 30 years (and lived through it), you probably want to start at 24mg if not 36mg.

Basically you can always vape more if you go too low, but because you were a smoker, and getting a nicotine high from vaping takes longer, it’s real easy to get nic sick (sick from too much nicotine) if you go too high.

My recommendation if you are unsure is to get a small bottle of where you think your nicotine level should be, and one lower. Ideally you could get a bottle of the strongest that you think you’d need to go, and a bottle that is twice as large in the same flavor of 0mg juice, so you can cut down two levels if need be. In my case I would have ordered either a 15ml bottle of 24mg nic and a 15ml bottle of 12mg nic, or a 15ml bottle of 36mg nic, and a 30ml bottle of 0mg nic juice. Option A gives me either a choice of 24mg, 12mg, or 18mg (by mixing equal parts of both). Option B gets me anything between 36mg nicotine and 0mg (assuming I can do the math for mixing right).

That is a bit more involved than this discussion should be (maybe), so I’d recommend option A; get what you think you need, and then one lower.

I mentioned earlier that nicotine is a poison. It is a contact poison, so if you spill it on yourself, you’re gonna want to wash it off thoroughly. At the strengths that we are working with, you have a few seconds to wash it off before it really starts to absorb, but anything over 36mg/ml concentration (you can order it in strengths up to 100mg/ml but anything over 36mg/ml is generally intended for mixing to make your own juice) you should be taking laboratory level precautions as it can be fatal (nitrile gloves, overcoat, eye protection, maybe even a face shield).

Do not screw around with this stuff.

PG/VG mix

When buying most juices you have three choices to make:

  • What flavor?
  • What nicotine strength?
  • What ratio of PG/VG?

What’s the difference?

Propylene Glycol (PG) carries flavor better than Vegetable Glycerine (VG), and creates what is known as Throat Hit (this is the tightness in your throat that you get from the first drag of a cigarette – most noticeable in the morning I found). Some people really want good throat hit, some don’t. Generally most smokers trying to quit want this, as it makes the vaping experience a bit closer to smoking. Nicotine also contributes to throat hit (nicotine in itself has a peppery flavor, and at higher concentrations will be noticeable in juice because you are not also inhaling burning paper and tobacco).

Vegetable Glycerine creates far more vapor, and makes the vape smoother than PG, but will mute the flavors added to it (because it doesn’t carry the flavor as well). You can get 100% VG juice, and 100% PG juice (from some vendors, not all vendors offer mixing options). Most vapers are going to fall somewhere between those two extremes.

When first starting out you may want to order a couple different mix samples or start with 50/50 mix juice. I started with 80/20 (PG should always be listed first in ratios like that, and will always be listed like that on my blog). I was trying to quit smoking, and wanted more Throat Hit. I didn’t get much vapor from that juice (no matter what I used to vape it), which was alright. I’ve since switched to 50/50 mixes as I’ve found that I like a bit more vapor, but will order some juices in 60/40 because I want more flavor from the juice.

The PG/VG ratio is entirely personal preference. What I like, some may find terrible. If you have a local brick and mortar vape shop you might want to stop in and see if they offer juice sampling so that you can compare several mixes in the same flavor to find one you like.

Juice Flavors

If nicotine strength is the second most common question for new vapers, it is only beat by “can you recommend a [INSERT CIGARETTE BRAND HERE] flavor juice?”

There is no easy way to put this. There are no juices that taste like Marlboro Reds, or Camel lights, or any other cigarette. It’s just not possible because you are not burning the juice (and it doesn’t have over 9000 chemicals in it). The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be. I’ve tried lots of “tobacco” flavored juices, and while there are some good ones out there (Eastwood and The Duke from Indigo Vapor are my personal tobacco favorites), none of them taste like a cigarette. I think the closest I’ve come is Analog Ice from Indigo Vapor. It is pretty close to a newport (I only smoked menthols when deathly ill or when I ran out of Reds while hanging out with the brothas, so it may be simply that I never smoked enough menthols to know that it doesn’t actually taste like a newport).

This is actually how I got through craving analogs, I vaped menthol juices. It was close enough to something that my brain recognized as a cigarette (to one degree or another) that it took the edge off the cigarette cravings. Your mileage may vary. I found that Extreme Ice from Mt. Baker Vapor and Analog Ice from Indigo Vapor did it for me. I hear that there are others that are very good also.

At the time I wrote this, there are approximately eleventy billion flavors of juice available. Seriously. Just do some quick research, there are lots.

There are many that are really delicious. Since no one has found a tobacco flavor that is anything like a real cigarette, why not experiment with something that you like? Pick three of four that sound like something you’d enjoy, and go to town! I would not hesitate to recommend any of the juice makers in the side bar (over there ->), as I have tried juice from all of them, and enjoyed them. There are dozens, if not hundreds of juice makers out there, I would recommend starting there and branching out until you find something you really like.

NOTE:

There are juice flavors that can crack or melt plastic tanks. There is no comprehensive list of “tank crackers”, but generally citrus, cinnamon, and some root beet flavors are the culprit. Many juice makers maintain lists of what juices have been reported to crack tanks, or will note them in the description of the juice. A quick google search for the juice name and ‘cracked tank’ should turn up any reports. Mt Baker Vapor maintains a list of known or reported tank crackers, as do others.

“Steeping” your juice

Poke around online in the vaping community and you are going to find people talking about “steeping” juice. I don’t know who came up with this term, but it is wrong. “Curing” or “maturing” is more accurate for what we are actually doing here (I like and use the term curing).

Many of the juices that you get will not taste very good right out of the package (I always try them as some are good to go immediately). This is largely due to the flavor suspension agents used in them. This will go away if you cure your juice. There are many ways to do this, and there are a lot of myths and misinformation floating around out there about what works, what doesn’t, and what all is necessary.

First, the only thing you actually “need” to do to improve juice by aging is just that; let it sit in a cool dark place for a while (anywhere from a few days to a month or more depending on the particular juice).

It is commonly said that you need to open the cap of the juice during this time. You do not. The chemical blending reaction that causes the flavor profile of juice to change with age is going to occur with the cap on or off. There is no actual evidence that having the cap off does anything (except perhaps allowing a small amount of your liquid to evaporate, PG and VG are both technically alcohols after all).

Heating however (gently, you don’t want to ‘burn’ anything), does greatly speed up the curing process. There are many methods to cure juice with heat:

  • Immersing the bottle in warm water in a coffee mug, and placing on a cup warmer for 6-8 hours (popular, but messy for the labels on your juice bottles, taping over them with clear tape before immersion helps).
  • Nuked Rice method (microwave uncooked rice with no water in a container deep enough to bury the bottles completely for 30-60 seconds depending on your microwave, then bury the bottles in it and leave it sit for an hour. Repeat 5-7 times for a total of 6-8 hours).
  • Place juice bottles in a ziplock bag and leave in your glovebox on a hot day for 6-8 hours (this is usually what I do as it gets nice and hot here, up to 114F at times. Just make sure to keep the juice out of direct sunlight as it will cause degradation of flavor and nicotine).

Notice that all of those require about 6-8 hours total. Some people find that their juice only takes a couple of hours to cure using these methods. It is going to be highly dependent on the specific juice, and your tastes.

Until someone has access to a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (these are super expensive both to acquire and to run), this is the sum of the scientific knowledge we have about curing juice (a reddit user had access to an infrared spectrometer):

  • Aging causes chemical reactions (peak changes) in the juice. These reactions can be observed as early as a few days and as late as 6 weeks depending on the specific juice.
  • Gentle heating (I think in the 140-180F range was his test variance) over 6-8 hours causes the same chemical reactions.
  • Bottle cap on or off did not make a difference.

So there you have it. Personally I just throw new bottles in a ziplock and leave them in my glovebox all day while I am at work. If any are still not good, I repeat the process for them. If still not good, I let sit for two weeks in a cupboard at home (I keep my house at about 72F year round). If after that they’re still not good, either I just don’t like the juice, or there is something wrong with the batch and I contact the vendor (assuming I have had the juice before and liked it).

Shelf life

It is generally accepted in the vaping community that juice has a shelf life of about one year from mix date (many vendors put a mix date on the bottle). There are people who have vaped juice older with no adverse effects. Nicotine content will degrade beyond about 12 months.

According to Dow Chemical, PG USP/EP has a shelf life of two years when stored below 40°C (104°F) in closed containers away from sources of ultraviolet (UV) light. VG has a very limited shelf life, and again according to Dow Chemical, given its severely limited shelf life, extracts made from Vegetable Glycerine typically have a shelf life of 14-24 months.

Keeping in mind that those are shelf life for unmixed PG and VG respectively, I don’t think 12-18 months is unreasonable for juice (not that any of mine will ever make it that long).

But what about in a carto or a tank? Well given that PG has both anti microbial and anti fungal properties, I think the only concerns are how the liquid is going to impact the container, and the atomizer. I’ve left juice in a protank for as long as three weeks with no adverse effects, I do not see any reason that it shouldn’t last longer.

I think the key is to keep it out of UV light (including sunlight), and in a cool place (cooler than say 100 degrees should be fine).

Also keep in mind that juice will cure with time, so the flavor profile may change. Juice that has been left sit for several months should be shaken thoroughly before being vaped.

The virtual galaxy of choices in the vaping world of juice can be a bit intimidating. I find my biggest problem is deciding what vendors and which flavors to try next. Seems like a good problem to have.

end

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8 thoughts on “Getting Started: Juice Primer

  1. Pingback: For noobs: Vaping basics and how to choose a vaporizer

  2. Good read right here.

    People get into all the chemicals and stuff and freak themselves out.

    Its a very individual thing. If you were smoking 3-4 packs of cigs a day(I was) and you now vape 10-20 times a day. Its reducing harm.

    If you smoked 1 cig a week and you now vape 15 times a day it might not be reducing harm much at all.

    My inner voice that I know wants the best for me has told me “dont stop vaping” its not always easy to follow your heart but its a start point for me.

    I went from $30 -$40 a day bad disgusting habit that I hated.

    To diy ejuice making and paying less than .25 cents per day and something I consider a fun hobby.

    Ive gained the typical 20lbs from quitting smoking. I literally can now run all day at work and my breathing is not an issue.

    I can go for hours without even thinking about vaping and Im finally truly free of the demons of tobacco.

    There are no demons of vaping. Prob why haters be hating haha

  3. I want to buy some flavours and they contain 0% nicotine, but i can choose from different P/V levels, 0, 12, 18 and 24. As P contributes to the throat hit and V kind of counters it I do not understand the difference between these levels. Also, how much does having nicotine in the liquid affect the throat hit? Would be cool if someone reading this could help me out.

    thanks 🙂

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