Vape juice or e-liquid is the substance you know and love that is atomised by your vaping device to deliver delicious flavour and, of course, nicotine. The majority of which, including our own LiQuid range are made using a combination of four ingredients:
Propylene glycol (PG) - the thin clear liquid that helps it all blend together properly.
Vegetable Glycerol (VG) - the thick, slightly sweet liquid that creates the clouds of vapour celebrated within vaping culture.
Nicotine - the active ingredient that satisfies your cravings and creates the throat hit many enjoy.
Flavouring - the stuff we really enjoy, used to create the many different taste experiences available to vapers.
If you want to know more about these ingredients in detail check out our guide, How to Vape Properly.
The answer to ‘does vape juice expire' is technically yes - but not in the way you might expect. You won't find typical mould or foul smells as you might with rotten food, in fact, e-liquid ingredients can be microbiologically stable for up to 10 years if stored correctly, but that's not to say it would taste very nice if you vaped an expired e-liquid after such a long time.
While all reputable vape juice retailers include an expiry or produced-on date on the bottle, if it is not going mouldy, you may ask “how can I identify e-liquid that has started to go beyond the point where I would want to consume it?”. We will explore the tell-tale signs below.
How long does an e-liquid last?
Due to a lack of British Medical Association (BMA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accreditation, there is no true regulated expiration date for e-liquid.
However, the general consensus within the industry is that depending on a few defining factors, an e-liquid lasts between one and two years before being considered an 'expired e-liquid'.
These factors range from the components making up a flavour concentrate used in an e-liquid recipe, to the quality of the PG and VG base materials, and even the nicotine content. The way in which you store your e-liquid also plays an important role in preserving its quality.
Regardless of how cautious you are, even a well-kept e-liquid will eventually suffer a number of issues that you can use to identify if it may have passed its prime and is almost certainly best to discard rather than vape.
What is the shelf life of PG e-liquid?
Propylene glycol (PG) naturally resists deterioration over time. This indicates that vape fluids with a higher PG content can last longer - but again, this depends on whether the e-liquid was handled and stored correctly.
What is the shelf life of VG e-liquid?
Vegetable glycerol (VG) vape juice does not naturally resist deterioration over time the way PG does. However, this does not extend its shelf life. In actuality, if both e-liquids contain nicotine, they would reach the expiration date simultaneously.
One of the most obvious signs your e-liquid has begun to age is a noticeable change in colour, most often to a dark orange or even brown shade. In actuality, this effect will steadily worsen over time, until the liquid appears almost black; however, this would be indicative of years of storage, while most people consume around 10ml every few days. As such, an e-liquid that has drastically changed colour is a strong indication it is near or at its expiration date.
Why does e-liquid turn brown?
The reason behind this colour change is primarily the nicotine content of the e-liquid. Nicotine is photosensitive, which means it reacts to light, and in the case of the nicotine in PG solution used in most e-liquids, this results in it turning darker over time. This effect can be slowed down by storing your e-liquid in a dark place away from direct sunlight.
It should be noted, however, that nicotine is not the only culprit for colour change - even if stored in a dark place, an e-liquid will eventually turn darker in colour because of the compounds within its flavour concentrate. These compounds differ greatly between flavours and there are those that are less prone to change than others.
Menthols, for example, are often very simple with fewer compounds in the flavouring beyond menthol crystals, which are clear to begin with. In this case, it is likely the colour change over time will be minimal. Dessert flavours may contain naturally darker flavourings - liquorice extracts in particular are very dark even when completely fresh - meaning they will inevitably become very dark, especially when mixed with lots of nicotine like 12mg or 18mg.
One of the main issues with storing vape juice for long periods of time is the effect of over-steeping. This essentially means the flavour has grown so strong that it has simply become unpleasant to vape.
The process of steeping begins immediately once flavours are added to a mixture and even affects them in concentrate form before we blend; our raw bulk concentrate has expiry dates just like e-liquids.
Once added to the mixture, the flavourings in an e-liquid begin to mature and develop as oxygen escapes the solution.
While this is a natural part of the process, and even something we allow time for to ensure our flavours are at their very best, over seriously long periods of time the flavours continue to steep and can become quite unpleasant!
If it is not obvious to look at, an easy way to check for over-steeping is to smell the liquid first - it should be easy to tell if the flavour has changed significantly!
Splitting is the process whereby the ingredients in the e-liquid begin to come ‘out of solution' and separate from each other. This occurs because each component has a different weight, and unless homogenised, these will eventually split.
One of the clearest ways to determine whether or not your e-liquid has split is by checking its viscosity. If the liquid appears more ‘watery' than normal, or if it appears thinner at the top and thicker at the bottom of the container, then it is likely the juice has separated.
The heavier components like VG sink to the bottom and the lighter ones like flavouring and nicotine rise to the top. If it's not been too long, sometimes a good shake can recombine the components, but take care.
Separation can also, in extreme cases, result in the presence of sediment that does not recombine with the liquid, even when shaken.
The nicotine used in most e-liquids is called ‘freebase' because the nicotine particles are freely suspended in PG in order for it to blend properly. This also means that over time, they too can separate from the solution, meaning your e-liquid may become unevenly dosed resulting in one tank's worth being weak and another very strong and harsh.
At LiQuid, we homogenise every batch to create a more stable mixture and stave off the risks of separation and ensure your juice stays at its best as long as possible regardless of whether it is 50-50 or HGV.
Is expired e-liquid dangerous?
Even if affected by the above issues, the expired vape juice is unlikely to cause any serious harm; however, the experience of vaping it will almost certainly be far below the standard you would enjoy. While it is not a good idea to vape e-liquid that has passed its expiration date, there is currently no proof that doing so is harmful.
Like any consumable, if you're having doubts about the status of the vape juice, it's best to simply throw it away. After all, there's no point risking feeling queasy if a new bottle only costs a pound or two.
Correct storage of vape juice
While time makes fools of us all in the end, proper storage of e-liquid can help stave off the negative impacts and extend its shelf life.
If you store your vape juices in a cool, dark place, and in its original packaging, your juices should be safe to use for up to two years or more depending on the flavour and strength.
Be sure to avoid extreme temperatures, and once you have opened your e-liquid, you should try to use it as soon as possible so that you don't spoil your vaping experience.
E-liquid that has over-steeped, split and is past its prime can taste anywhere from odd to awful - bear that in mind before you vape an old bottle at the back of a drawer without checking!
How do I dispose of e-liquids past their expiration date?
If you must dispose of it, do so carefully. Do not dump expired e-liquid straight into the sink if you need to get rid of it. Even though vape juice contains a small quantity of nicotine, we should not be putting it into the drainage system.
Many people mix the e-liquid with an absorbent, such as cat litter or coffee grinds, and then throw it away.
After you have disposed of the e-liquid, rinse the bottles, then put them in your plastic recycling bin.