Getting Started: DIY 101 – Mixing Your Own eLiquid

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I really wrestled with writing this post. I am currently in the process of starting a juice company (starting small and local, will be expanding to direct online sales at some point), so on one hand this is (at least in theory) taking away from my livelihood. On the other hand, we have the FDA.

Fuck those guys. Man I hate government sticking their noses in where they don’t belong. Bottom line is that I believe that there is a real possibility that the FDA is going to try to squeeze out all of the small businesses that currently make a living from vaping. I hope I’m wrong, but there is just too much money in it for them, especially since vaping is destroying the revenue the states have become dependent on from the Big Tobacco settlements. Make of that what you will.

So, I’m dumping an enormous chunk of my savings into something that may get all dicked up by the government in the not too distant future. The best way I can think of to fight that is to spread the knowledge that I have about making juice. In all likelihood the first thing that the FDA will target is eLiquid vendors. The language in the proposed deeming regulations makes it pretty obvious. Even if the worst comes to pass, I’ll stay in business, I just probably won’t be able to sell premixed liquids. I’ll have to do “flavor doublers” like the Aussies are dealing with.

There are plenty of resources on the internet that will allow anyone who has the desire, to make their own eLiquid. I found the information, you can too. I’m not helping me by withholding this information, I’d be doing you all a disservice. Making my own liquid was part of my vaping journey, and it will be for many others. I’d like to give back to the community that helped me learn to make this stuff by helping others make it.

I really went back and forth over this, in the end I think that people who buy juice will continue to buy juice (for as long as they can), and those who want to make it will make it. I’ve been making juice for a fairly long time, and I still buy eLiquid from other vendors. I vape a lot of my own stuff (I love variety), but I still buy and try juice from other vendors for much the same reasons that chefs still eat at restaurants. Sometimes others do a particular thing better, sometimes I just don’t want to go to the hassle, and sometimes I just like seeing what everybody is raving about.

I’ll warn you now, this rabbit hole is deep. Mixing your own eLiquid is not something that is for everyone, or that everyone can do well. It is as much art as it is science, and just because you can successfully combine some liquids into something vapable does not mean that you can make something that is great.

Safety First

In the Juice Primer I talked a bit about the dangers of liquid nicotine. Since we are (most likely) going to be working with much higher concentrations of nicotine than you get in Vendor Juice, I am going to add a bit to that here.

  • Liquid nicotine can kill you. Most eLiquid makers work with concentrated liquid nicotine at strengths right around 100mg/ml. This is way higher than you can vape safely. If you do not pay attention to what you are doing, you can very easily poison yourself. I highly recommend going to your local community college and taking a lab safety class (or finding a chem student to instruct you in basic lab safety and protocol). Seriously, this stuff is dangerous, and safety requirements cannot be overstated here. If you spill liquid nicotine in a concentration greater than 36mg/ml on your skin you are at risk for nicotine poisoning. Liquid nicotine in concentrations greater than 100mg/ml should be treated as Hazardous Materials, and cleaned up appropriately.
  • I am not giving you advice here. I am sharing what I have found on the internet. As such you need to consult qualified specialists before actually following any of the processes or procedures in this post. I am not responsible for your actions. By reading any further you are agreeing to release me, and all of my heirs and assigns from any liability or responsibility for anything you do with this material. This material is presented for informational purposes only. If you do not agree with this statement, you must close this page now.
  • Safety equipment (including gloves, safety glasses, and a lab coat/apron should be worn at all times when handling eliquid components.
  • If you have children in your home, lock up the liquid nicotine. A tool box and lock from home depot is a cheap investment to protect curious children from something that could very well kill them. Seriously, just lock it up. If you’re not using it, keep it locked up and out of the reach of children.

Your First Steps

Before we even get started with anything eLiquid related go get a writing utensil and a notebook. Make notes on everything that you do when making eLiquid. Make notes while you are reading this post. Write down absolutely EVERYTHING. The worst feeling you can have is to vape the last of the best eLiquid that you have ever had, that you made, and relaize that you have no idea what is in it, or how you made it. I’ve had to redo hours of mixing and testing because I forgot how much of what exactly I added.

Almost every person who makes eLiquid will have this happen to them. For me it was pretty frustrating. Save yourself the frustration. Go get something to take notes with.

Once you have note taking materials, Write this down:

  • Vegetable Glycerin
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Liquid nicotine
  • Flavoring and additives

That’s all that you’ll need to put into eLiquid. Well that and sweat, tears, frustration, joy, and money.

Before you get to that point you’re going to need to buy some equipment, some ingredients, you’ll need to find a recipe, and you’ll need to do some math or download a mixing calculator.

Resources

Here are some links to things that you’re going to want to have.

Mixing Calculators

There are many mixing calculators for eLiquid, for everything from your phone to online, to spreadsheets. I’ll list several here, the one I use is this one. It is by far the most feature rich and thorough mixing calculator I’ve come across, and puts the others to shame.

Here are some others:

DIY Forums

These are the places you’ll find recipes and help with your mixing

Flavor and Supply Vendors

There are hundreds of manufacturers that make flavorings that can be used to make eLiquid, but not all flavorings are safe to vape. You’re going to want to carefully research flavorings you are considering using, in general you want to stay away from any flavoring that has any of the following:

  • Sugar
  • Oil
  • Diketones (diacetyl, acetoin, acetyl propionyl)

A full discussion of all of the flavors and flavor makers of DIY eJuice is far outside the scope of this article. There are a handful of flavor makers that are commonly used in vaping (the stuff in parentheses are the common abbreviations used for the vendors):

  • The Flavor Apprentice (TFA/TPA)
  • Capella’s Flavor Drops (CA or CAP)
  • FlavourArt (FA)
  • Flavor West (FW)
  • Inawera (IW)
  • Hangsen (HS)
  • LorAnn’s (LA or LAN for the Naturals line)

This isn’t exhaustive, but these are the common ones. Some of the flavors made by those vendors are not safe to vape. You need to do your research (check the forums listed above and you’ll find the ones that are ok).

All flavors are not created equally. Strawberry can taste radically different from different vendors. Flavor is entirely subjective, so you’ll have to try them until you find one you like.

Some of the resellers that we buy from mark the flavors that are potentially unsafe to vape. Here are some of the vendors I buy from:

Finding a Recipe

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This is perhaps the easiest thing and simultaneously the hardest thing about making eLiquid. There are thousands of recipes online, and millions more possibilities when inventing your own. And there is almost no way to tell if the one you find is going to be any good.

After you have hundreds of hours into DIY you’ll start to develop the ability to tell if you’re going to like a recipe, and if the flavors are in the right proportions (which is a topic for an entirely different post). Until then, you’re going to have to either experiment, or just guess that you might like a given recipe based on what is in it.

Just search one of the sites listed above and find a recipe that sounds like it might be good to you. For your first mix it is probably a good idea to try a recipe that others have said they like.

In the interest of keeping things complete for this post, I’ll use an example recipe that you can follow along with at home if you like (most everybody that has tried this likes it):

Pillow Mints
- 10% Double Chocolate Clear (TFA)
- 5%  Creme De Menthe (TFA)
- 1% Menthol (TFA)

This is usually posted with another name, but I don’t want to run afoul of copyright issues. It reminds me of a rectangular mint that comes in a green wrapper. It’s pretty dang good.

This is a good time to go over the way recipes are formatted on most sites. That first ingredient means that whatever PG/VG ratio and whatever nic content I want, I need to make sure that 10% of the total eLiquid content is a flavor called Double Chocolate Clear from The Flavor Apprentice (abbreviated TFA here).

Lots of people start with TFA and branch out from there (which is why I chose that particular recipe).

So we can see from the recipe that this particular eLiquid will have a total of 16% flavoring in its final form.

The percentages are of total liquid volume (or weight, but we’ll talk about that later). The flavors are concentrated, so adding them to a volume of other liquids will dilute them as needed (in some rare cases flavors may have to be diluted before they can be used, but that is the exception, and will be noted where it is needed).

If we want a 40PG/60VG end product, with 6mg/ml nic content we have some math to do.  This is where a mixing calculator comes in rather handy. Mixing calculators do the math for you. You tell it what you have, and what you want, and it tells you how much of each ingredient to put in. I suck at math, so I’m not going to even attempt to explain the long form here, just use a mixing calculator.

Let’s assume we have a bottle of 36mg/ml nicotine solution that is PG based (you can get either PG or VG based nicotine solutions, and in a range of strengths). To end up with a final product that is in the ratio we want with 6mg/ml nicotine content, we’ll need to mix together the following:

36mg/ml Nicotine (PG).........:  2.5ml (16.7% of total)
PG Dilutant...................:  1.1ml (7.3% of total)
VG Dilutant...................:  9ml (60% of total)
Double Chocolate Clear (TFA)..:  1.5ml (10% of total)
Creme De Menthe (TFA).........:  0.75ml (5% of total)
Menthol (TFA).................:  0.15ml (1% of total)

This will yield 15ml of eLiquid with 40PG/60VG at 6mg/ml nicotine strength when mixed together in those quantities.

Worth noting here is that the majority of flavors that are used in making eLiquid are suspended in PG. It is also common for them to be suspended in alcohol. Some flavorings are suspended in VG. If you are unsure, consult the manufacturer or one of the DIY forums to confirm, as having that information is important to achieving the correct PG/VG ratio in the end product.

Now that we have a recipe, we know what flavorings we need to make some eLiquid, so we need to go shopping.

Buying Ingredients

One of the downsides of this whole thing is that shipping is rather more expensive than any given liquid flavoring, so it helps to minimize the number of vendors that we need to order from to get everything we need.

I highly encourage you to try to find a vendor that has everything that you need in stock, as it will save you shipping costs.

Since our example recipe is all TFA flavors, and we are going to need PG, VG, Nicotine, and lab equipment I would probably shop for this at Wizard Labs. They are the most likely vendor to have everything needed to make the recipe listed above.

When first starting in DIY, you will likely not have any supplies, so the first bottle of eLiquid is going to be rather expensive (relatively).

If we’re ordering for just this recipe, we’ll need the following ingredients:

120ml - 36mg/ml Nicotine Solution (PG)....:  $8.79
120ml - Propylene Glycol..................:  $3.19
120ml - Vegetable Glycerin................:  $3.19
8ml - Creme De Menthe (TFA)...............:  $1.49
8ml - Double Chocolate Clear (TFA)........:  $1.49
8ml - Menthol (WL)........................:  $1.49

 

Oops, looks like Wizard Labs isn’s stocking TFA Menthol. Menthol is pretty much all the same from all manufacturers, is just varies in strength from some. We can either choose to buy TFA Menthol from another vendor (and eat a shipping charge), or substitute the Wizard Labs brand Menthol. I chose to use the WL Menthol simply because it’s not worth the extra shipping cost for me. Your call.

So far our total for ingredients is $19.64 before shipping.

We’re also going to need something to measure the ingredients (or weigh them, that will be covered in the Methodology section below), and something to put them in.

Necessary Equipment

A quick note about equipment. This stuff is frequently out of stock at common vendors. You may have no choice but to split your order among vendors, as I had to do when writing this post. I tried to find a single vendor with everything in stock, but at that time it wasn’t possible. It sucks, but those are the breaks. This is the main reason I try to buy more of whatever I am getting than I need at that moment. I would never place orders like I’m showing here, there would be much more in them.

If you’re not mixing by weight, you really should be using syringes to measure volume. I’ll cover this more in the Methodology section below. For the sake of this article, I’m going to choose to measure by volume, using syringes, which means I need to buy syringes.

Assuming we’re mixing by volume, we’re going to need the following:

  • Bottles (always get more than you need, they’re cheap, and you need them to mix anything)
  • Syringes

Bottles come in all shapes and sizes. I like to mix in bottles that are larger than the volume I’m mixing so that I have room to shake them afterwards. For this recipe I think I’ll choose this bottle. Unfortunately at the time of this writing, Wizard Labs is out of stock for 30ml and 50ml bottles. So I have some choices to make. I can either order 10ml bottles and will have to recalculate my recipe, or I can buy bottles from another vendor and eat it on the shipping.

Since the recipe called for TFA Menthol which Wizard Labs didn’t have, it makes sense for me to buy bottles and TFA Menthol from another vendor. Alternatively I could choose to use another vendor for the entire order to save on shipping (assuming I can find one with everything in stock). Unfortunately I was unable to find a vendor at the time I wrote this post that had both TFA Menthol and 30ml plastic dropper bottles in stock. Bummer, but those are the breaks. So since I don’t want to purchase 100 bottles, I’ll place an order with a second vendor only for bottles.

In the real world, I would really pad that order with additional flavors that I wanted to try that Wizard Labs didn’t stock. If I were to order bottles from Bull City Vapors, I would probably get some Inawera or FlavourArt flavors that I haven’t tried or that I am running low on. My DIYing gets rather expensive at times. I’ll go with this bottle, but because I’m gonna pay full shipping, I’ll get 10 of them to make it worth it.

So I paid full shipping for $5 in bottles from Bull City Vapor.

We still need syringes (which Bull City didn’t have in stock, but luckily Wizard Labs did). I prefer to have one syringe for each ingredient. You certainly can do it with one syringe, but you’re going to have to clean it after each ingredient, and you risk flavor contamination. For the cost, for me, it’s just worth it to buy one for each.

So we added the following to our Widard Labs order:

1ml Syringe (x3)........:  $2.25
5ml Syringe (x2)........:  $1.18
10ml Syringe............:  $0.69
14g Blunt needle (x5)...:  $3.15

So all in all, we spent $26.91 at Wizard Labs and $5 at Bull City Vapor plus shipping from both. Figure $45 all said (probably a touch high for shipping, but not much). Technically that means we are making a $45 bottle of eLiquid today, but anyhting else we make with those supplies is free.

One of the nice benefits of the mixing calculator I use is that it will tell you how much a given recipe costs. The recipe we are making using these supplies cost about $0.80 for the 15ml of eLiquid we are going to end up with, as shown here:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Of course like everything else, the cost per ml goes down when you buy in larger quantities.

My first DIY order was something like $270, but I ordered more than 80 flavors, and a bunch of equipment. The buy in for DIY is kinda steep, but once you have everything you can make eLiquid all day long for about $0.05 per ml. An investment that will definitely pay for itself.

 

Methodology

Before we start mixing eLiquid we need to talk about how we’re going to measure our ingredients.

You have two basic choices:

  • By volume
  • By weight

There are merits to both, but in my opinion measuring by weight is superior. Measuring by weight is now covered in DIY 102, but I’ll just say this here: it is faster, less expensive, and far more accurate than measuring by volume. Liquid mixing by weight is how chemists and manufacturers do it for a reason, primarily for repeatability.

I am using mixing by volume here only because it is much easier to explain (and this post is going to be long enough as it is, we’re at ~3200 words right now for those counting).

Since this post is using volume measurements, I want to talk a bit about how you can measure in volume, and why I chose syringes.

There are basically four ways to measure by volume:

  • Count drops
  • Syringes
  • Pipettes
  • Volumetric marked containers (beakers or flasks)

In the quantities that we are using volumetric marked containers is a bit of overkill, and can be difficult to get repeatable measurements with, plus some of that liquid is going to stay in the container.

Counting drops is the absolute least accurate method. Every dropper is going to dispense a different size drop, as will how you hold that container (vertical versus horizontal versus cocked at an angle will all produce different size drops).

Pipettes can be the most accurate of the volumetric measurements, but a 1ml marked Class A Glass Mohr Pipette is going to cost about $20, plus you’re going to need a pipette pump to make using it accurate (cheapest is about $7, but you lose accuracy there). Plastic pipettes are great for measuring by weight, but not as accurate for volume as a syringe. If you’re going to spend Glass pipette money, you’d be better served by investing in a good digital balance (scale).

Syringes offer the least variance in measuring in the volumes we are talking, and when not measuring by weight, at a reasonable cost.

Syringes can (in most cases) be used without a blunt tip needle attached, but the needles make it a much easier process. Except when measuring VG. VG is thicker than the lies told by politicians and anti tobacco activists about vaping. Seriously it’s thick. I use 14g needles because they are larger than most (smaller numbers means larger diameter with needles). I typically extract VG without a needle, but it can be done with a 14g needle. Try getting 25ml of VG into a syringe with an 18g needle. Your fingers will hate you for it.

To measure with a syringe: draw some liquid into the syringe, and keeping the needle submerged in the liquid, “purge” the syringe by pushing all of it back into the bottle. Now draw out the correct amount. If you did it right you should now have a syringe with no air bubbles in it. With syringes, measure using the bottom of the plunger (they are convex) as the marking point for the graduations on the cylinder.

When you have depressed the syringe all the way, you have dispensed the measured amount, but some still remains in the needle. Do not add this to the liquid you are mixing (unless you don’t care about accuracy). You can carefully put it back in the flavoring container (risking possible contamination) or just flush it with water.

Remember that you are working with highly concentrated liquids here, so a spill is no joke. I spilled about 3ml of Banana flavoring in my kitchen once, and the whole front of the house smelled of banana for a couple of days, despite my best efforts to clean it up. Delicious banana.

I find that using a mixing tray to hold all supplies when mixing is a good way to contain potential spills. You can get these from Amazon or most lab equipment supply stores. In a pinch you could use a sturdy cookie sheet. The lip that surrounds the tray should keep any spill localized and allow for more thorough cleanup.

Ok I think we’re ready to mix our first eLiquid!

Making Your First eLiquid

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Safety first! Glasses on, gloves and apron/labcoat on.

Note taking materials and writing instrument at hand. Print out your recipe, or write it down in your notebook so it is at hand for easy reference.

Gather your ingredients, your bottle(s) (make sure to rinse with distilled water and thoroughly dry them before hand) and your measuring instruments. Lay out a work area (somewhere clean and free from obstructions and debris). Ideally you want a non porous surface, as a spilled flavor can potentially soak into a wood surface leaving a strong odor behind.

Here we go!

The order we mix things in does not really matter. I like to add my nicotine last, as that is the only part that is dangerous. However, the very first thing I do is shake the nicotine solution I will be using. This ensures that the nicotine is well distributed in the carrier, and will be delivered in the right concentration. Now set it aside and let all the microbubbles you just created rise to the top (this usually takes about 10 minutes for most of them to dissipate).

One additional piece of equipment that you’ll want is a cup to discard your used syringes for later cleaning. I use a red plastic solo cup, but any container will do. since my container is light and top heavy, I fill it about half way with distilled water. I call this the discard cup (original I know).

I like to add flavors first, then PG/VG, then nicotine solution, so that is the order I’ll go in here. Follow along or do it in whatever order makes sense to you.

  1. Measure and add 0.15ml Menthol to your empty 30ml bottle using a 1ml syringe.
  2. Cap the ingredient and set it aside, well away from your unused ingredients, place the syringe in the discard cup.
  3. Note what you just did in your notebook.
  4. Measure and add 1.5ml of Double Chocolate Clear to your 30ml bottle using a 1ml syringe.
  5. Cap the ingredient and set it aside, well away from your unused ingredients, place the syringe in the discard cup.
  6. Note what you just did in your notebook.
  7. Measure and add 0.75ml of Creme De Menthe to your 30ml bottle using a 1ml syringe.
  8. Cap the ingredient and set it aside, well away from your unused ingredients, place the syringe in the discard cup.
  9. Note what you just did in your notebook.
  10. Measure and add 9ml of VG to your 30ml bottle using a 10ml syringe.
  11. Cap the ingredient and set it aside, well away from your unused ingredients, place the syringe in the discard cup.
  12. Note what you just did in your notebook.
  13. Measure and add 1.1ml of PG to your 30ml bottle using a 5ml syringe.
  14. Cap the ingredient and set it aside, well away from your unused ingredients, place the syringe in the discard cup.
  15. Note what you just did in your notebook.
  16. Measure and add 2.5ml of 36mg/ml nicotine solution to your 30ml bottle using a 5ml syringe.
  17. Note what you just did in your notebook.
  18. Cap the ingredient and set it aside, well away from your unused ingredients, place the syringe in the discard cup.
  19. Cap the 30ml bottle and shake well.
  20. Clean up all materials.

You are now in possession of one 15ml bottle of eLiquid that (if everything was measured correctly) is 40PG/60VG, 6mg/ml nicotine strength, and delicious.

This particular recipe is good right away (just like Vendor Juice, some DIY eLiquid needs to be aged before it tastes good), so go ahead and try it.

I had intended to add a Tips and Tricks heading here, but this post is pretty long already, and that really deserves its own post.

Did I leave something out? Make a mistake? Let me know in the comments!

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How I rate E-Juice

I’m gonna start reviewing some of the E-Juice that I’ve tried, and I want to explain how I am scoring them.

Some of the points below do not relate directly to the specific juice per se, but are definitely part of the juice buying experience.

I’m using a 100 point scale broken down as follows:

Mixing Options: 15 points possible

  • Does the vendor offer PG/VG ratio specification? 6 points
  • Does the vendor offer nicotine content range from 0-36mg/ml? 6 points
  • Does the vendor offer flavor customization (extra flavor, add different flavor, sweetness, etc.)? 3 points

Cost: 5 points possible

This will be based on what a given vendor charges for a 15ml bottle.

  • Is the cost per ml in line with what other vendors are charging for similar packaging? 3 points
  • Is the cost per ml in line with what other vendors are charging for similar quality juice? 2 points

Packaging (shipping): 5 points possible

  • Is the package secure? 1 point
  • Is the package appropriate for the contents? 1 point
  • Is the order correct? 1 point
  • Is anything leaking/broken? 1 point
  • Was a tracking number given without being requested? 1 point

Packaging (bottle): 10 points possible

  • Bottle material? 1 point
  • Is the bottle well made? 1 point
  • Is the bottle childproof? 1 point
  • Does the bottle include a dropper/spout? 1 point
  • Is the label material durable? 1 point
  • Is the label printing durable? 1 point
  • Does the label list the nicotine content? 1 point
  • Does the label list the PG/VG ratio? 1 point
  • Does the label list a mix date? 1 point
  • Does the label have a safety warning? 1 point

Throat Hit: 5 points possible

Throat hit is entirely subjective. This will simply note whether throat hit is present if it is supposed to be, or not as appropriate on a scale of 0 to 5.

Taste (Before Curing): 5 points possible

Taste is entirely subjective. I will be as objective as possible if I don’t like a juice I will get a second opinion to ensure it is not just a flavor I do not like.

Requires Curing: 10 points possible

People refer to the process of aging juice as many things, I think curing is the most accurate. I sample everything directly out of the mail.

  • Can I vape the juice without curing it? 5 points
  • Does it taste good? 5 points

Cure Time: 10 points possible

  • Did it take more than 8 hours of gentle heating to cure? 5 points
  • Did it take more than a week to cure? 5 points

Taste (After Curing): 25 points possible

Again taste is subjective. Since we vape this stuff for flavor in the first place, taste will account for the largest portion of points on this scale.

  • Does it taste good? 15 points
  • Would I buy this again? 5 points
  • Could I vape it all day? 5 points

Vapor Production: 5 points possible

  • Is the vapor production appropriate to the PG/VG mix? 1 point
  • Is the vapor production appropriate to this device? 1 point
  • Is the room note (the smell that it brings to a room when vaped there) good? 2 points
  • Is the room note strong? 1 points

Tank Cracker: 5 points possible

  • Does the vendor list this clearly on the site? 1 point
  • Does the vendor list this in the product description? 2 points
  • Did it crack/melt one of my tanks/clearos? 2 points

That’s the criteria for the 100 point scale.

Bonus Points: 7 points possible

  • Are nicotine levels beyond 24mg/ml offered for this juice? 1 point
  • Does the vendor include a free sample with each order? 1 point
  • Does the buyer get to choose the free sample flavor? 1 point
  • Is the nicotine level of the free sample the same as the order? 1 point
  • Does the user get to choose the nicotine level of the free sample? 1 point
  • If I have a problem with an order how easy is it to get it corrected? 1 point
  • If I have a problem with an order, did the vendor do something to make up for it (freebie, discount code, etc.)? 1 point

These are things that I don’t necessarily want to deduct points for, but that I feel warrant noting when considering buying from a particular vendor. Scoring bonus points is a way for vendors to overcome minor issues with packaging or shipping related issues.

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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.

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