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How to Choose the Best E-liquid for your Vaping Needs

  • March 12, 2017 /
how to choose the best e-liquid for your vaping needs

E-liquid makes or breaks your vape session. You can have the best darn batteries, tanks, and coils that money can buy—but without the right vape juice, you’re probably going to end up with buyers remorse.

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Why? Well, like almost everything else in life, there is no one-size-fits-all option for e-liquid. While e-liquid only has four main ingredients—we’ll get to those in a bit—these components can be mixed together in what seems like a countless variety of measurements. Beyond that, there are two additional factors to consider: the vaping hardware you’re using, and your personal preferences.

It may seem daunting at first, but trust me: this is why so many people love vaping. You can’t fit every single vapor-fanatic into the same box…there's just too much to customize.

​In this article, I’m going to break all the basics of e-liquid down so you can make the best buying decision possible. I’ll also go over some popular vape juice configurations for three of the most used vaping devices: standard/regular, sub-ohm, and e-hookah heads.

Oh, and if you’re pretty sure you know enough about e-liquid but can’t figure out why it’s not tasting right, this article over here is probably what you’re looking for.

What is E-Liquid?

E-liquid (or vape juice/e-juice) is literally what you vape, but in liquid form. You place it into a tank, the battery of your vaping device heats up a coil when activated, and the e-liquid vaporizes into a gaseous state—the stuff you inhale.

E-liquid is made up of four ingredients: flavor, nicotine, propylene glycol (PG), and vegetable glycerin (VG). How each one of these components are measured in a batch of e-liquid plays an important role in vaping—if not the most important. Let’s talk about them in greater detail:

Flavor

The flavor is, well, the flavor. It’s what you taste when you vape. There’s no shortage of options, and e-liquid flavors range anywhere from traditional tobacco, fruits, candy, desserts..even condiments! It’s safe to say that even the strangest palette can be conquered here.

You’re not usually given an choice when it comes to how much flavor you get in a bottle (though some sellers offer a boosted flavor option). Instead, flavor is enhanced (or limited) by the three other ingredients that make up e-liquid.​

What is important, though, is how the flavor reacts to the particular device you’re using—specifically with the atomizer coil. Some things to consider are the color (or more specifically, transparency) and acidity levels.

Color and Transparency ​

The color of your e-liquid usually coincides with the type of flavor. For example, mango e-liquid is typically yellow, green apple e-liquid is usually green, and tobacco-flavored e-liquid tends to be brown. The existence of color in vape juice is a good thing—it means that the e-liquid manufacturers are using an appropriate flavor base for the products they’re offering.

There is a difference, though, between lighter/transparent colors and darker shades. Lightly colored/transparent e-liquid is almost always a safe bet, and it’ll work with just about any type of tank you throw it into (there are still other things to consider, but you get the idea). It’s the darker ones you need to be wary of.

Darker shades of e-liquid do something kind of funny: they sometimes leave bits of residue behind. As a result, they tend to gunk up coils at a faster rate. This means that with dark-colored e-liquid, you have to replace these coils more regularly. Sub-Ohm coils get the worst of it.

I’ve noticed that this effect is even stronger when the flavor is both darker and sugary. I had a terrible experience with hot cinnamon candy/hot tamale-ish flavored vape juice leaving my coil completely unusable after 20 minutes. It also left nasty, gunky residue in the tank, so I had to replace it. It could simply be the type of set up I’m using (Square and Volt E-Vapor e-hookah heads). Just something to consider.

Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean darker e-liquid is bad. Some flavors simply can’t be transparent, but they still (probably) taste great. It just means that you’ll end up buying more parts more consistently if you plan on vaping them.

transparent e-liquid vs dark e-liquid

Lighter/more transparent e-liquid vs darker e-liquid

Acidity

However, those who use plastic tanks should think twice before considering a flavor like cola, citrus, or anything sour. Why? Because acidic flavors have been found to crack tanks made out of this material. Unfortunately, this can be a problem for e-hookah head users, since most e-hookah head tanks are made out of—you guessed it—plastic.

I should probably mention that, as an e-hookah head user, I haven’t really run into this problem. I’ve used acidic flavors before, and I have yet to have a cracked tank. That being said, I’ve never left e-liquid sitting in a tank for longer than a few hours, and I’m not about to experiment with this.

Don’t let this stuff stress you out. Most sellers will provide a warning if a particular flavor of e-liquid can potentially damage your equipment. It also doesn’t mean you necessarily have to avoid certain flavors if they’re darker and/or more acidic—this is all just good stuff to know.

Nicotine

Nicotine is probably the first adjustable ingredient people think about when they consider vaping. It is, after all, the addictive chemical that keeps people in the habit. So understanding nicotine levels is pretty vital when it comes to picking the best e-liquid for your vape device.

The first thing you should know is how it’s measured—which is milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL). Most of the time, a bottle of e-liquid simply tells you the volume by mg…but even if that’s the case, it means mg/ml.

This measurement can also be represented as a percentage, but they are one and the same. In other words, 6mg of nicotine and 6% nicotine both mean the exact same thing: there a 6 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter of e-liquid.

Choosing the right level of nicotine

How much nicotine you need in your e-liquid is yet another personal preference, and should be addressed based on what you used to smoke in the past.

The reason for this is the throat hit associated with nicotine. The higher the nicotine concentration, the more “burning” you’ll feel in the back of your throat. If you’re a (hopefully soon-to-be former) cigarette smoker, this is probably something you’re used to, and therefore it may be an effect you’ll desire—especially if you want to replicate the real thing as closely as possible.

If you’re a hookah smoker, then this throat hit is probably not ideal, since hookah smoke is generally considered a much smoother experience. In this case, you’d want to go with a lower level of nicotine. The same case can be made for anyone who is trying to cut back on nicotine in general.

If that weren’t enough, the nicotine level also has an effect on overall flavor. Generally speaking, the higher you go on the nicotine spectrum, the more muted the flavor. But you probably won’t notice anything of the sort unless you stroll into high nicotine territories.

Here’s a quick and easy way to look at nicotine levels:

  • No nicotine: 0mg
  • Lowest levels of nicotine: 0.1mg to 3mg
  • Low levels of nicotine: 3.1mg to 6mg​
  • Medium levels of nicotine: 6.1mg to 9mg
  • Medium-high levels of nicotine: 9.1mg to 12mg
  • High levels of nicotine: 12.1mg to 24mg
  • Highest level of nicotine: anything above 24mg

So, as you can see, the range is pretty wide. Most custom e-liquid give you a strict set of options to choose from.

If you can’t find a brand of e-liquid with the amount of nicotine you desire, here’s an simple trick: buy a bottle of higher level of nicotine and a bottle of zero nicotine—preferably the same flavor and PG/VG ratio (we’ll get to those in the next section)—and mix them accordingly. It takes a little more work this way, and it’s not super accurate, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

​Something else to consider is how much you plan on vaping. If you want to get your nicotine fix in with as little vaping as possible, then a higher level of nicotine will likely do the trick. If you plan on spreading your overall nicotine intake throughout the day, then a medium or lower level of nicotine is probably ideal.

Best nicotine levels for regular vape devices

This one is easy: any level will work. It’s really up to you. Want a stronger throat hit and/or want to vape less throughout the day? Go higher. Do you value flavor, and/or plan on vaping all throughout the day? Go with a medium or lower level of nicotine. Plan on completely cutting out nicotine altogether? Go with the lowest level, and then ween your way off the stuff completely with 0mg stuff.

Best nicotine levels for sub-ohm vaping devices

​Sub-ohm coils provide a much stronger vaping session than their standard brethren, which means the throat-hit effect of the nicotine is amplified. Most people will tell you to stay away from anything above 6mg, and I can attest that this is good advice. If you plan on using a sub-ohm device, consider 1 to 2mg low, 2 to 3mg medium, and 3 to 6mg high.

Best nicotine levels for e-hookah heads

​Since e-hookah heads use regular-resistance coils—I’ve yet to find one that ventures into sub-ohm land—any nicotine level will do. That being said, if you plan on replicating a traditional hookah session, then I’d advise you not to go over 6mg go nicotine. The throat hit beyond that is simply too harsh, and is in no way comparable to smooth sensation of the real thing. Also, since hookah sessions tend to last longer than your average vape, lower levels of nicotine prevent the adverse effects of ingesting too much of the stuff at any given time. I personally use 3mg in all the e-hookah heads that I use, and it works great for me.

E-hookah heads like the Volt Vapor work best with nicotine under 6mg

Propylene Glycol and Vegetable Glycerin

And now it’s time for the star attractions: propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG). When heated, both PG and VG quickly form into the vapor that you then inhale. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they are the reason why vaping is even a thing. You can have e-liquid without nicotine. You can have e-liquid without flavor. But you simply cannot have e-liquid without PG or VG. It’s impossible…they are the primary ingredients.

PG is a thin, odorless liquid. More of it creates a burning sensation—similar to the throat hit associated with high nicotine levels. This means that a lot of it will make your vape sessions far more harsh. On the plus side, PG really lets flavor shine—so more of it also means more flavor.

VG is a much thicker liquid with a slightly sweet taste. Because of its density, VG makes vapor much smoother. With that, though, there is a cost: VG tends to mute flavors, so more of it typically means less flavor. On top of that, higher levels of PG can also gunk up your coils much faster, which means they’ll last for shorter periods of time.

At this point, we have a balancing act.

​The PG/VG Ratio

Okay, so you know that PG and VG are important ingredients. Now it’s time to figure out how much of each you need.

PG and VG are measured against each other as a ratio, also known as the PG/VG ratio. It’s a pretty easy concept to grasp. A 50/50 PG/VG ratio means that half of the e-liquid is made up of PG, and the other half is made up of VG. A 70/30 ratio means that 70% of the e-liquid is PG, and 30% is VG. 20/80 means that 20% is PG and 80% is VG. So on, and so forth.

As was the case with the nicotine level, the ideal PG/VG ratio is based both on your personal preferences and the type of vaping device you’re using.

First, let’s talk about personal preference. This one is tricky, but in a nutshell, if you want a more intense vape with a stronger throat hit, you probably want to use more PG than VG. If you want a smoother vape with less throat hit, then more VG is probably the way to go. You could even just play it safe, and go 50/50.

​Now, let’s get into specific vape device options. Remember, this is all generalization. There are lots of vape devices out there, and I couldn’t possibly discuss every single one of them. You’ll probably need to experiment a little.

Best PG/VG ratio for standard vaping devices

As with nicotine, there is no real “best choice.” You can really go with whatever ratio you’d like. Former cigarette smokers may have better luck with a 50/50 ratio, or any other ratio that favors PG over VG. Former hookah smokers may want to tone down the harshness by going with a ratio that favors VG more. Just keep the general pros and cons in minds—that is, you get more flavor with more PG and less flavor with more VG.​

Best PG/VG ratio for sub-ohm devices

​Again, sub-ohm vaping is considerably more intense. Just like nicotine levels, you’ll want to tone down the throat hit. This means an e-liquid with more VG is probably your best bet. A popular mix is 30PG to 70VG. While this may seem like a lot of VG, remember that whole enhanced intensity thing. You’re still going to get a lot of flavor with a sub-ohm tank.

​Best PG/VG ratio for e-hookah heads

The whole purpose of an e-hookah head is to emulate the real thing as close as possible, so you’re probably thinking you’ll want to go heavy on the VG. Well, I’ve tried that, and it didn’t work for me. The flavor was non-existent, and my coils died pretty quick.

Truth be told, 50/50 is probably going to be your best bet. It may seem like a lot of PG—aka throat-hit galore—but you have to remember that the vapor is passing through water. And the water tones things down. So without that PG, you’re not getting any flavor. If nothing else, I recommend starting at 50/50 and going from there.

How to buy e-liquid

I’ve given you a lot of information about e-liquid: what its made of, what each ingredient does, and some mixture advice. The question you probably have now is: how do I get e-liquid to my exact specifications?

There are two distinct options at this point. You could buy pre-made stuff, or you could buy custom-made vape juice. Both options are available online and offline, and each have their own set of pros and cons. Let’s look at them individually.​

Oh, and if you're feeling extra frisky, you could always try to make your own. ​

Pre-made e-liquid

These are the bottles you’ll find ready to go at convenience stores and smoke shops. The great thing about pre-made bottles is that they require no steeping—they’re literally ready to go as soon as you buy them. Many of them are also from reputable brands—like Square, Starbuzz, and Fantasia—companies that wouldn’t tarnish their good names with low-quality crap.

This is also where you’ll find “premium” e-liquid. Whether or not they’re worth the price is up for debate, but some people swear by them. I don’t partake, so I have no opinion one way or another.

The bad thing about pre-made bottles is, well, they’re pre-made. That means zero customization. Sure, some of them may have variable nicotine levels, but you’re usually stuck with whatever PG/VG ratio they’ve assigned. And even when nicotine levels are variable, you don’t usually a wide range of options.

Another issue I have with pre-made e-liquid is that it’s usually pretty expensive—I’ve seen 15ml bottles going anywhere from $10 to $30. That’s nuts! 15ml would barely last me three days. I don’t know how much money you make, but these prices are unsustainable for me.

Custom-made e-liquid

On the other side of the spectrum, we have custom made e-liquid. You can find this stuff locally, especially if you live in a medium-to-large town—just google the words “vape shop” and see what comes up. I just did it and found over 50 different options…10 of them only a few miles from my house!​

Buying freshly made e-liquid from local store is a pretty great process. You can ask a human being for suggestions, and you get to see the stuff made right in front of you. It’s the best kind of take-out.

The other option is to order online, which is what I do. Why? Because the quality is usually top-notch (a lot of online vape shops have brick and mortar retail locations) and the prices are considerably lower.

Anyway, the great thing about custom e-liquid is that its, well, custom. You get to choose how much nicotine you want and the PG/VG level. Sure, you’re still given a set amount of choices, but combinations still allow for more than what most pre-made stuff offers. You also get a ridiculous amount of flavor options. Since custom vape shops make everything to order, they can afford to have a diverse variety of flavor base.

The bad thing? E-liquid from custom shops is not usually ready to go when you order it. Most of the time, you have to let it steep to get full flavor potential. This means waiting an additional 1 to 2 weeks after it arrives at your door. This can be a serious issue when you run out of vape juice. My advice? Buy in batches, and always have an extra batch ready to go.

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