DIY E-Liquid Safety
Whether it’s because you’re hoping to save even more money through vaping, want to create your own flavor concoctions or are just looking for a cool alchemist-style hobby, mixing your own e-liquids (Doing It Yourself – DIY) is appealing to many vapers.
We’ve already covered the risks associated with handling nicotine, and the process for dealing with any spills that occur, but with the stronger nicotine concentrations involved in DIY e-liquid mixing, there are some unique concerns.
Additionally, the juice you create is ultimately going to be consumed by you, so it’s important to take steps to ensure you won’t be trying to vape high-nicotine (translation: pretty damn poisonous) juice.
- DIY e-juice mixing can be dangerous, and should only be attempted if you’ve done your research beforehand.
- Pure nicotine is never needed. Stick to below 60 mg/ml when you’re getting started. Rubbing/isopropyl alcohol is useful for cleaning up any spills.
- Make sure you buy everything you need (including safety goggles, containers and latex/nitrile gloves) before you start mixing e-liquid.
- Liquid strength is calculated by dividing the total amount of nicotine (in mg) by the total volume of the liquid (in ml). Calculators do the work for you, but learning the math helps you spot any mistakes early!
Warning – Learn Before Attempting DIY E-Liquid Mixing!
The best advice on this topic is to only get involved with DIY e-liquids if you know what you’re doing. The advice from the ECF is not to attempt DIY mixing if you have three months or less experience with e-cigs, and preferably only after half a year to a year of vaping under your belt. The reason for this is that you’re more likely to appreciate the DIY mixing safety issues if you’re more familiar with using juice, the terminology and the basics of e-liquid.
There are some useful explanatory posts on the ECF and other forums, but don’t limit your research to this. Spend some serious time consuming all of the information you can on the topic so you’re painfully aware of what’s involved before you get started.
If you’re just pursuing some idle curiosity, a good tip is to experiment by just mixing pre-made e-liquids. The advantage of this is that the highest nicotine strength you use is effectively a limit for the concentration of the resulting juice. If you dilute 18 mg/ml (milligrams per milliliter) liquid in anything weaker, even if it’s just 17 mg/ml, you will never produce a dangerous concentration; it will always be less than 18 mg/ml. It may not be as fun to blend pre-mixed juices, but if making some unique creations is your main goal, you can get some great results with minimal effort and risk.
Why You Shouldn’t Buy Pure Nicotine
So, you just get some pure nicotine, mix in PG, VG and flavorings and vape away, right? Hell no.
Even using the revised toxicity estimates, pure nicotine – even 1ml of it – is potentially fatal. When not bound up in a mix with PG or VG, nicotine will seep into your system through the skin much more easily. Without putting too fine a point on it, if you have pure nicotine and spill any significant amount on your skin, you’re pretty much dead. So just don’t use it.
54 mg/ml (diluted in either PG or VG) is widely available and – although still dangerous in large quantities – can be used much more safely, with one part base nicotine and two parts PG or VG and flavorings needed to dilute and give 18 mg/ml juice.
Generally speaking, stick to below 60 mg/ml when you’re first getting started to minimize any risk.
Materials Needed for DIY E-Liquid Mixing
You can’t just mix e-liquid with stuff lying around your house, so you need to stock up on gear to ensure you’re prepared to deal with chemicals (and make the process easier all-round). The basic items you need for DIY e-liquid mixing are:
- Syringes (low gauge needles are better for thicker, VG-heavy juices)
- Unflavored nicotine and PG/VG base
- PG and/or VG (pure, for diluting)
- Optional extras like menthol crystals and ethyl maltol can be useful depending on what you’re looking to create
In terms of safety, latex or nitrile gloves, goggles (it’s unlikely, but you could get juice/nicotine in your eye otherwise!), protective trays for spills and funnels are a good idea. As always, you’ll need cleaning equipment, and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) is a good addition because the spills when DIY mixing have more potential for risk.
Menthol crystals allow you to make your own menthol flavor extract, but carry their own safety risks that should be taken into account. Generally speaking, wearing goggles and gloves should minimize your risk, but you should treat it in effectively the same way as nicotine. It’s a skin irritant, so you should thoroughly wash the area and seek medical advice if you come into contact with it. Like with nicotine, you should take off any clothes exposed to it and wash them before wearing again. As with everything else, read up on using menthol crystals before getting involved.
Calculating Nicotine Strength of DIY Liquids
The biggest source of potential danger when you’re mixing your own e-juice is the nicotine you use, so the topic of how to determine the strength of your mixes is an important one.
There are numerous e-liquid calculators you can use to determine the strength of your creation or the quantities you need to include for a given strength, but it’s helpful to understand the math behind the programs. This is because there may be errors; you might put the wrong figure in the wrong field or misread the position of a decimal point. The math is very straightforward if you’re just looking to determine if something’s gone wrong. If you’re comfortable using it, it also allows you to calculate juice concentrations without needing a computer or tablet nearby.
E-liquid strength is quoted in mg/ml, which when translated to “mass divided by unit volume” tells you pretty much everything you need to know. In 10 ml of 18 mg/ml of juice, you have 18 mg of nicotine in each ml of liquid. So in the whole 10 ml, there is 18 mg/ml × 10 ml = 180 mg of nicotine. To give the amount in mg/ml, the total mass of nicotine (180 mg) is divided by the total volume of liquid (10 ml), so it’s 180 mg ÷ 10 ml = 18 mg/ml.
So what if you mix 10 ml of 36 mg/ml with 10 ml of nicotine-free PG? From the nicotine base, you have a total of 36 mg/ml × 10 ml = 360 mg of nicotine (there is none in the pure PG so it isn’t a concern, and the same goes for flavorings) and you have 10 ml + 10 ml = 20 ml of liquid in total. To work out the resulting strength in mg/ml, you divide the total amount of nicotine you have in mg (360 mg) by the amount of juice you have in ml (20 ml), which in this case gives 360 mg ÷ 20 ml = 18 mg/ml. In general terms, using S for strength (in mg/ml) and V for volume (in ml).
So the basic principle is to work out how many mg of nicotine is present in each ingredient (for most this will just be how much is added via the nicotine base) and divide it by the total volume of the juice you’re producing.
You can use a dedicated e-liquid calculator to save you the tedious arithmetic, but for example, you can readily identify that if you mix 5 ml of 12 mg/ml liquid with 5 ml of 54 mg/ml base, you’ll produce something that’s roughly 30 mg/ml (actually 33 mg/ml, and therefore too strong for most people to vape). You can check the result you get from the calculators by rounding the figures up or down to manageable ones in your head (in the above example, you could change the 12 mg/ml to 10 mg/ml and the 54 mg/ml to 50 mg/ml) and doing the math with those (so in the example [5 × 50] + [5 × 10] = 250 + 50 = 300 mg of nicotine, then dividing by 10 shows that it’s roughly equal to 30 mg/ml). This isn’t totally accurate but makes it easy to spot potentially dangerous mistakes.
A final point is that syringes (or any container with a volume [ml] gauge on it) are more reliable than counting 20 drops as 1 ml, because drop sizes differ, so your calculations are likely to be out if they’re based on that. Chances are you won’t be out by too much, but – especially when using stronger bases – it’s definitely worth being as accurate as possible.
Conclusion – DIY E-Liquid Mixing is Rewarding but Risky
As long as you do your research before getting involved with DIY e-liquids, avoid high-strength nicotine bases and make sure you’re well equipped, you’ll be able to create your own concoctions safely. The math isn’t 100 percent necessary with the availability of e-liquid calculators, but it protects you in the event of a mistake and means you aren’t tethered to technology at all times.