One of the things that can really sap the fun out of shopping for anything tech-related is being forced to wade through a sea of unfamiliar terms and jargon. If you’re not a gadget lover, you’ve almost definitely encountered that situation when shopping for vape gear. Make no mistake; the vaping industry is most definitely a tech industry, even if the products that it replaces are some of the world’s oldest agricultural products.

This article will focus on defining and exploring the terms associated with just one aspect of vaping: e-liquid. Although vape juice is just one part of a much larger industry with a huge variety of different products, e-liquid is the one type of product that you buy over and over as long as you vape, and it’s important for you to understand it intimately. So, let’s start at the beginning.


What Is E-Liquid?

E-liquid is the substance that you inhale when you vape. Your vaping device heats the e-liquid until it turns to vapour. When you inhale the vapour, you taste the flavour of the e-liquid. If the e-liquid has nicotine, you absorb the nicotine through your lungs.


What Are the Ingredients in E-Liquid?

E-liquid is a relatively simple product and contains just a handful of ingredients. Those are:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Vegetable glycerine
  • Food-grade natural and artificial flavours
  • Nicotine (optional)

Of these ingredients, only propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine may be unfamiliar to you – but they’re only unfamiliar by name because they are both almost definitely products that you use every day. We’ll discuss them next.


What Are Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerine?

Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine are liquids that are created by different means but share several of the same properties. Vegetable glycerine (VG) comes from the soapmaking industry; it’s a by-product that’s created when lye is added to fat to make soap. Glycerine can also be derived from animal fat, but animal-derived glycerine isn’t used to make e-liquid.

Propylene glycol (PG), on the other hand, is synthetic and is often derived from corn.

VG and PG are the ideal ingredients for e-liquid for several reasons.

  • They aren’t water, so they don’t interfere with the operation of a vaping device.
  • They vaporize at relatively low temperatures and create visible clouds that look like smoke.
  • They’re good emulsifiers. They keep the ingredients in a bottle of e-liquid mixed, eliminating the need to shake the bottle each time you refill your tank or pod.
  • They’re good carriers of flavour. Many flavours for the food industry actually use VG or PG as bases, which makes it very easy to add those flavours to e-liquids.

VG and PG are safe to consume and are both used in many foods and beverages as emulsifiers and to prevent spoilage. VG also tastes somewhat sweet and is used in some foods as a sweetener. You’ll also find VG and PG in products like lotions, cosmetics, eyedrops, toothpastes, medications and more.


What Is an E-Liquid’s VG/PG Ratio?

Most e-liquid contains both VG and PG, and changing the ratio in which those compounds are used affects the experience of using an e-liquid and the type of equipment that works best with it.

  • An e-liquid with more VG than PG will be thicker and will generate bigger clouds. A higher amount of VG will also give an e-liquid a thicker, creamier feel in the mouth. VG can make an e-liquid taste sweeter, but it may mask the individual notes in a complex flavour blend.
  • An e-liquid with more PG than VG will be thinner and will generate wispy clouds that dissipate quickly in the air. In its vapour form, PG feels a bit scratchy in the throat and can enhance an e-liquid’s throat hit. PG does not taste sweet and tends to allow an e-liquid’s individual flavour notes to come through more clearly.

When you look at the VG/PG ratios of different e-liquids, the most important factor to consider is the equipment you’re using. The thicker an e-liquid is, the larger the wick openings in your vaping device need to be in order to accommodate that e-liquid. If you have a vape mod with a large glass tank, it’ll work well with an e-liquid that has a high percentage of VG. If you have a smaller device like a refillable pod system, you’ll want to use an e-liquid with a VG/PG ratio more in the range of 50/50.

What Is an E-Liquid’s Nicotine Strength?

The nicotine strength of a bottle of e-liquid is measured in terms of milligrams of nicotine per millilitre of e-liquid. Therefore, a 30 ml bottle of e-liquid with a nicotine strength of 18 mg contains:

  • 18 mg of nicotine per ml of e-liquid
  • 540 mg of nicotine in the full bottle

Because a bottle of e-liquid can contain a very high amount of nicotine, you should always keep your e-liquid out of the reach of children and pets.

The correct nicotine strength for you depends partially on the vaping equipment you’re using and partially on your own particular needs. A vaping device that produces large vapour clouds works best with a low-strength e-liquid, while the smallest vaping devices work best with higher-strength e-liquids.

  • If you experience unpleasant irritation in the throat when vaping or simply feel like you’re getting too much nicotine, you should lower the nicotine strength of your e-liquid.
  • If you can’t control your cravings for cigarettes regardless of how frequently you vape, you should increase the nicotine strength of your e-liquid.


What Is Freebase Nicotine E-Liquid?

Freebase nicotine e-liquid uses nicotine that’s extracted from tobacco plants using ammonia as a solvent. The ammonia renders the nicotine more volatile and more readily absorbed by the body. Most e-liquids, all nicotine replacement products and even many cigarettes contain freebase nicotine. Unless a bottle of nicotine says “salt” on the label, you can assume that it contains freebase nicotine. This is the ideal type of nicotine for all but the smallest vaping devices.

What Is Nicotine Salt E-Liquid?

Nicotine salt e-liquid contains an acid that reacts chemically with the nicotine and changes it into a salt. The acid also reduces the alkalinity of the nicotine, making it smoother and easier to inhale. Nicotine salt e-liquid has made it possible to create e-liquids that are very high in nicotine but don’t irritate the throat. Because most nicotine salt e-liquids are so high in nicotine, though, they’re only appropriate for use in the smallest vaping devices. If you’re new to vaping and are using a small device such as a pod-based system, nicotine salt e-liquid is probably right for you. Most other vaping devices work best with freebase nicotine.