Does Vape Juice Steeping Really Work?
When you read the posts about vape juice on any vaping forum or discussion group, you’ll find an enormous variety of superstitions and tricks designed to improve the flavour of a bad e-liquid or enhance the vaping experience in some other way. Many of those tricks, you’ll find, aren’t based on anything resembling actual science. If you look for tips about coil gunk for RDA users, for example, you’ll actually find some people claiming that wicking your coils differently helps to prevent coil gunk from forming (spoiler: it doesn’t).
One crazy vaping trick that’s actually managed to persist over the years, though, is the idea that allowing an e-liquid to steep for a few weeks can improve its flavour. So, does vape juice steeping actually work? The answer is: maybe. In most cases, steeping is completely unnecessary and will almost definitely not improve an e-liquid. There are a few cases, though, in which it might change an e-liquid in a pleasant way. Let’s explore what vape juice steeping is and learn more about how it works.
What Is Vape Juice Steeping?
The first thing you need to know about e-liquid “steeping” is that it isn’t actually steeping at all. The act of steeping is soaking a solid in a liquid to extract compounds from the solid. When you brew tea, for example, you’re steeping the tea leaves. For whatever reason, the incorrect term stuck, and it’s been part of the language of the vaping community for a decade.
It’s more accurate to call vape juice steeping a form of controlled aging. During the aging process, certain chemical changes take place in an e-liquid. We’ll describe those changes in a moment.
E-Liquid Steeping Is a Relic of a Past Era
Although vape juice steeping may still have its uses, it’s also a relic of a past era to a certain extent. During the early years of the vaping industry, many people bought e-liquids directly from the companies that made them. Those e-liquid makers were small businesses that didn’t maintain extensive stocks of products and largely made their e-liquids to order. Customers would often receive bottles of e-liquid that were just a few days old.
Today, though, most vape juice is distributed in a much more professional fashion. It’s produced in clean-room laboratories and sent to distributors. Retailers purchase e-liquids from those distributors and sell them to you. By the time you receive a bottle of e-liquid, several weeks have probably passed since the bottle’s production. In other words, the e-liquid has already gone through the steeping process, and there’s little reason to age it further. If you happen to get an e-liquid that tastes a little young, though, that’s when steeping might be a viable option.
How Do You Steep Vape Juice?
Before you even consider steeping a bottle of e-liquid, you should taste it. If you’re happy with the taste of the e-liquid as it is, there’s no reason to steep it because the steeping process will not improve an e-liquid that’s already perfect.
The process of e-liquid steeping is very simple. Open the bottle for a moment to expose it to air. Close the bottle and shake it vigorously for several seconds. Place the bottle in a cabinet to protect it from light. Open and shake the bottle once each day, and after a week, test its flavour again. If you’re still not happy, repeat the process. When you’re satisfied with the flavour of the e-liquid, use it immediately. Remember: Further steeping will not improve an e-liquid if you already like the way it tastes. It’ll make the more volatile flavour notes disappear, leaving you with a vape juice that tastes flat and boring.
What Happens When You Steep E-Liquid?
To gain a better understanding of what e-liquid steeping is, you need to know a bit about how commercial food flavours work because those are the flavours that e-liquid makers use. A food flavour is a highly concentrated compound that requires a carrier. Two of the most common carriers for food flavours are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine, both of which are perfect for e-liquids since those are the carrier liquids that are always used for vape juice. Some flavours use oil-based carriers, but e-liquid makers don’t use those flavours because oils aren’t safe to inhale. The final common carrier is alcohol, and that’s the one we’re mainly concerned with here.
Some vapers are extremely sensitive to alcohol-based flavours in e-liquid and interpret them as “perfume” or “chemical” notes. In the past, many tobacco e-liquids used alcohol-based flavours. There’s also an alcohol-based egg flavour that has been used in many custard e-liquids. If you’re sensitive to the taste of alcohol in an e-liquid, you won’t have any trouble identifying vape juices that use alcohol-based flavours. If you’re put off by an alcohol flavour or an overall character that reminds you of perfume or chemicals, you have discovered an e-liquid that’s probably a good candidate for steeping.
When you steep an e-liquid, a few things happen.
- Alcohol evaporates out of the vape juice since it is a volatile compound that escapes readily into the air.
- The repeated shaking causes some ion exchange and bonding at the molecular level.
- The nicotine in the vape juice oxidizes and begins to turn yellow. Some e-liquids may even turn brown after steeping.
As the alcohol evaporates out of a bottle of e-liquid, the vape juice will begin to lose those off-putting perfume and chemical notes. Many of the flavour molecules will remain, though, because they’ll have bonded to other molecules in the e-liquid. An alcohol-based egg note in a custard e-liquid, for example, will still be evident, but it’ll be less prominent. The ion exchange and molecular bonding will also have the effect of smoothing out the e-liquid’s overall flavour profile and allowing individual notes to meld together into a more cohesive whole.
Don’t forget the cardinal rule of vape juice steeping: When you’re happy with an e-liquid, the steeping process is over. Steeping softens flavours; it doesn’t make them more vivid. If you steep an e-liquid too long, you will not enjoy the result.