Does E-Liquid Go Bad?
If you’ve got an old bottle of e-liquid gathering dust at the back of a cupboard somewhere, you may be wondering if it’s still alright to vape. Like foods and drinks do, e-juice could spoil if you leave it for long enough, and trying to vape it could be a pretty unpleasant experience. So is it true? Does e-liquid go bad?
E-Juice Will Eventually Go Bad
The short answer is “yes,” e-juice will eventually go bad. By “go bad,” we don’t mean that it will get moldy or rancid or anything like that, but the nicotine starts to degrade over time and the flavors will become more muted. It’s also possible that some flavorings will take on an unpleasant taste, but ordinarily the flavors will fade. Because of this, the peppery qualities from the nicotine will seem more prominent. This can be good as a component of a flavor, but on its own it’s generally unpleasant.
The good news is that vaping expired e-liquid isn’t going to hurt you. It might not be pleasant, but if you do vape some you’ll be OK.
What is the Shelf Life of E-Liquid?
The actual shelf life of e-liquid isn’t precisely known, but the general estimate is that e-juice will last between one and two years, depending on how it’s stored. Most mixers cautiously estimate one year, and this is usually what you’ll see listed as the e-juice expiration date on bottles.
How E-Juice is Made
While the basic question “does vape juice expire?” has been answered, there is more to it than a simple yes-no answer. As well as learning about why e-juice expires, there are also several things you can do to maximize your e-juice’s shelf life.
First, though, it helps to understand what e-juice is and how it’s made. For most e-juice, the process is very straightforward. Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin form the base of the e-juice, and they’re mixed in a specific ratio to influence the sort of vape the juice will give you. For example, PG-heavy e-juice doesn’t produce as much vapor, but it has a punchier throat hit and carries flavor better. On the other hand, VG gives a smoother vape and makes bigger clouds.
The nicotine and flavorings are the remaining two ingredients. The nicotine part is simple: a specific amount of nicotine is added to produce the nicotine strength you want in the finished juice. The flavorings used vary, as you may expect, and some juices contain more of them than others. Flavorings come in a PG base, and you can get nicotine either in a PG or VG base.
To make e-juice, all of these ingredients are mixed together in a clean room, with everything carefully planned to ensure that the resulting liquid has the right flavor, PG/VG ratio and nicotine strength. In practice, mixers make big batches and split them into bottles afterwards.
At Black Note, our process is a little different. The flavors in Black Note juice come from real tobacco leaves, which are steeped in a mixture of PG and VG for six to eight weeks. This allows the natural flavoring from the tobacco to infuse into the juice, and then nicotine is added as needed.
For issue of e-juice shelf life, the four main components are crucial. However, pharmaceutical-grade PG, VG and nicotine, and food-grade flavorings are used to ensure maximum purity. This also means that a well-stored e-juice will last as long as possible before going bad.
Why Does E-Juice Expire?
E-liquid shelf life is all about its ingredients. Since vaping is still quite new, we don’t have specific figures for when it will expire, but we do know that the components have their own expiry dates.
The only thing left is the flavors, and that’s where things get a bit more complicated. A coffee e-liquid contains different flavorings to a strawberry one, and each has its own shelf life. As you may be expecting by now, this is the main source of uncertainty about e-juice shelf life. If your flavoring degrades after a year, your e-juice expires after a year.
The shelf life of flavorings varies, but the Perfumer’s Apprentice (a widely-used flavorings company) estimates that flavorings will last at least three to six months, but often longer. You can find specific information about individual flavorings, but the general rule comes down to chemistry.
Bigger molecules aren’t as likely as smaller molecules to evaporate away when you open a bottle. The smaller, lighter molecules are the ones you smell when you open your e-juice, so these components to an e-juice will start to fade first. There could also be interactions with other things in the e-juice or with the bottle itself, particularly plastic ones. This means that more stable chemicals won’t expire as quickly as more reactive ones.
Vapers might recognize many of these ideas from steeping (purposefully “aging” your e-juice like a fine wine), and it’s really the same thing that’s going on. But when you steep an e-juice, you’re controlling the process to get the best flavor. For example, you might let some sharp, volatile elements fade by “breathing” your e-juice. If you steeped for too long, you’d lose too much of that flavor and it would ruin the juice.
This all underlines the reason that expired e-juice isn’t a massive concern for your health. The biggest concern is really for your tastebuds, because all is happening is different components of the flavor evaporating away, oxidizing or degrading. The nicotine strength of the juice will start to decline slightly if it’s not stored correctly too, but this also carries no risk to you as a vaper – you just need to puff a bit more to get your nicotine.
It also explains why there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to working out the shelf life of e-liquid. Each flavoring has its own shelf life, and the mixture it’s part of could also have an impact on how long it’s good for.
Plus, if “good” just means “the flavor hasn’t diminished too much due to chemical reactions or evaporation,” there is clearly an element of subjectivity there too. One vaper’s “expired juice” is another vaper’s “very steeped e-juice.” That said, there will come a point where all vapers will agree the juice is expired, as the flavoring fades so much all you can taste is the peppery nicotine.
E-Juice Shelf Life and Specific Flavors
The previous section illustrates that some flavors will expire more quickly than others. Fruity flavors are usually given by small, volatile molecules and so the shelf life of fruit e-juice will be less than that for other flavors. On the other hand, vanilla and caramel flavors – as two examples – are made from ingredients with larger, more stable molecules, and these will retain their flavor for much longer as a result.
When Should I Throw Out Expired E-Juice?
As this post has stressed, there isn’t a definitive time when we can say “this e-liquid has expired,” so you have to trust your senses. If the juice smells funny, doesn’t taste right or has sediment in it, then it’s probably gone bad. In some cases, sediment will form when the juice is absolutely fine and disappear with a good shake, but if you’ve had the bottle for more than a year, it definitely isn’t a good sign.
We’d suggest a cautious approach: if your e-juice seems bad, err on the side of caution and throw it out. There’s always more e-juice to try anyway.
Tips for Extending the Shelf Life of Your E-Juice
So now we know the answer to “does e-liquid go bad?” and why it goes bad, we can start to think about how to stop it from going bad, or at least how to delay the process and get the most out of your liquid. Although we’ve given some rough estimates of e-juice shelf life above, the truth is that how your liquid is stored has a big impact on the shelf life of e-liquid.
The Golden Rule for Storing E-Juice: Keep it Away from Heat and Light
Thankfully for vapers, the rules for maximizing the shelf life of e-liquid are really quite straightforward. The two main enemies of e-juice are heat and light. If you keep your liquid away from sources of heat and out of direct sunlight, it will last a lot longer than e-juice kept in a warm place in direct sunlight.
The reason for this again comes down to chemistry. Heat is the easiest one to understand, because the temperature of something is really just a measure of the energy of the molecules that make it up. So the molecules in hot liquid are moving a lot faster – on average – than the molecules in cold liquid. If the molecules are moving faster, more of them will be able to escape the confines of the e-liquid and evaporate away, and more of them will have enough energy to react chemically with other ingredients or the bottle itself.
For light, the situation is a little bit different, but the basic message is the same. The sun gives out UV light, which is a high energy form of light that can easily affect your e-juice and the molecules that make it up. Like heat, it can encourage chemical reactions or even cause components to break down. Ultimately, this can lead a juice to spoil much more quickly, as well as reducing the nicotine content.
Keep Your E-Liquid Somewhere Cool and Dark
The most important tip for extending the shelf life of e-liquid follows right on from this: you need to keep it somewhere cool and dark. A medicine cabinet or any other wall-mounted, enclosed cupboard is perfect for storing e-juice.
You could also use a chest or box, but if you have children or pets, keeping it out of reach (or at least locking it so they can’t get inside) is absolutely essential. Nicotine is a poison, and although the amounts you consume when vaping or smoking aren’t going to pose a health risk, if a small child or animal gets access to a whole bottle (or a pack of cigarettes), the consequences could be very severe.
Minimize the “Head-Space” Air if Storing for a Long Time
The other main thing that can impact the shelf life of your e-juice is air. Nicotine reacts with oxygen (particularly in the presence of UV light) to form cotinine, and when this happens, the amount of nicotine in your e-liquid reduces. Cotinine isn’t dangerous (your body turns nicotine into it anyway), but minimizing how much your nicotine degrades still makes sense.
However, this isn’t as easy to avoid, because as soon as you’ve had some of the juice, there will be “head-space” in the bottle above the liquid that is filled with air. This can only be avoided if you’re storing a new, sealed bottle, or if you have a smaller bottle you can decant your e-juice into. If you put your liquid into a smaller bottle, you’ll probably have some left over (and exposed to air), but it’s better than all of your juice being exposed to air.
Store Your E-Juice in Glass Bottles
Although many mixers use plastic for their e-juice bottles, if you’re hoping to maximize the shelf life of your e-juice, glass is the best bottle material. Plastic e-juice bottles are absolutely fine if you won’t be storing them for very long, but if you’re storing them for a long time, glass bottles are the best choice.
The reason e-juice shelf life is better in glass bottles is that plastic bottles actually allow small amounts of air through their walls. As we learned in the previous section, this can speed the degradation of the nicotine into cotinine. Additionally, there is also the possibility that the bottle itself could degrade or react with the juice. Glass bottles – like those from Black Note – solve both of these problems, and so are a better choice for long-term storage.
Can You Refrigerate or Freeze E-Juice?
Finally, it’s worth mentioning the possibility of storing your juice in the refrigerator or freezer. This can be useful because heat is one of the main things to avoid. In the refrigerator or freezer, the colder temperature reduces the energy of the molecules in the e-liquid, and makes reactions or degradations less likely to happen. In practice, this means that you’ll generally improve the shelf life of your e-liquid by using your fridge or freezer.
The main downside to this is that the juice will need to be warmed to room temperature before you can vape it. As long as you aren’t using very high VG juice, the liquid won’t actually freeze, but it will thicken up noticeably after being stored at low temperatures. This means it won’t soak into your wick as well as it normally would, and this can lead to problems with dry puffs. All you have to do is either leave it for a while before vaping it, warm it up with your hands or both.
If your juice actually does freeze (if it’s very high VG, for example), then the same rule applies – just bring it to room temperature and then it’s good to vape. If you notice any changes, chances are it hasn’t quite warmed up enough yet.
Conclusion – Maximizing E-Juice Shelf Life is Important, But Thankfully Easy
There are many good reasons to look after your e-juice, from getting the most for your money by storing it correctly right through to making sure your kids and pets can’t get to it.
The good news is that it’s really simple, and once you’ve found a spot, you can stick with it. And if your bottle goes past it’s e-juice expiration date, it will probably still be fine, especially if it’s been properly stored. All you have to do is take a bit of care and you can enjoy every last drop of your juice.