Updated: March 2021
A friend of mine tried multiple times to switch to vaping.
He’d picked up an eGo-style device with a basic clearomizer and some e-juice, but vaping irritated his throat so much he couldn’t keep going.
He assumed the nicotine levels in his vape juice was the issue. However, reducing it makes vaping less satisfying for a just-switching smoker. Plus, it didn’t seem to solve the problem for him anyway.
Time and time again, he went back to smoking.
When I found out about it, I conducted a little test. I took over a bunch of juices, varying in both nicotine content and PG:VG ratio, and let him try each. I didn’t tell him which was which. It probably didn’t matter, but I was in science mode and blinding the test just seemed right.
The results were clear cut.
Higher-nicotine liquids with more VG didn’t bother his throat, but lower-nicotine liquids with more PG did. It was the PG bothering him, not the nicotine. After that, he went from being unable to vape for very long to being ready to start replacing smoking with the safer alternative.
He hasn’t looked back.
Although nicotine does have a role to play too, if you’re in a situation like this, it could be that the PG:VG ratio you’re vaping is causing the issue. In other words, you don’t need to give up on vaping yet.
But why did it make a difference? Why do most vape juices still use primarily PG if some people find it too irritating to vape? What are PG and VG anyway, and what’s the difference between them?
Here’s a run-down of the basics of PG and VG and some tips for finding your ideal ratio.
- What is Propylene Glycol (PG)?
- What is Vegetable Glycerine (VG)?
- How is VG and PG shown on e-liquid?
- 5 key differences between VG and PG for vapers
- Making your choice: Which VG:PG ratio is right for you?
- Best devices for high PG e-liquids
- Best devices for high VG e-liquids
- Best devices for switching between e-liquids
- Give it Time; You’ll Find Your Ratio!
Propylene glycol is a colourless, almost odourless alcohol.
Its technical, chemical name is propane-1,2-diol. This tells you it has a backbone of three carbon atoms, with two oxygen-hydrogen (OH) alcohol groups attached to the first and second. It’s generally recognised as safe and is non-toxic. As a result, it’s used in a wide range of different consumer products.
It has many useful properties, including being a humectant (which means it helps to keep things moist), a preservative and a solvent. Because of this, it’s used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, human and pet foods, food flavourings and many other products. It’s also easy to vaporise, which has led to its use in asthma inhalers, theatrical fog machines and vape juice.
You can read more about what we know about the safety of inhaling PG in this article.
Like PG, vegetable glycerine (VG) is an alcohol. It’s colourless, odourless and sweet in taste, and more viscous than PG. It also has three “OH” alcohol groups instead of two, and its chemical name is propane-1,2,3-triol. You’ll often see it referred to as glycerol. As with PG, VG is non-toxic and generally recognised as safe to consume.
It also has a wide range of uses. This is thanks to its sweetness, it’s role as a solvent, the fact that it’s a preservative and its ability to help things retain moisture.
It’s used in pharmaceuticals (such as cough syrups, ointments and creams), cosmetics, things like hand cream and toothpaste, as a moisture-retainer in baked foods and as a solvent for things like food flavourings and colourings.
The difference in the ratios has been expressed in many ways in the past. For example, you might see ratios expressed as PG/VG, VG/PG, PG:VG and so on.
Increasingly, though, the ratio is being expressed with VG first. That’s because most (but not all) e-liquids have a VG percentage of 50 or higher.
For example, an e-liquid with a VG:PG of 50:50 will be 50% vegetable glycerine and 50% propylene glycol. An e-liquid with a VG:PG of 70:30 will contain 70% vegetable glycerine and 30% propylene glycol.
Based on their chemistry and applications, there are a lot of similarities between PG and VG. But there are also several key differences. These become important when you’re considering how much of each you want in your e-juice.
Here are five key points to consider when you’re making your choice.
1 – PG Gives a Stronger Throat Hit
One of the most important things to consider is that PG gives a stronger, more cigarette-like “throat hit.” This might not sound pleasant, but it’s actually a good thing for many just-switching smokers. It makes the feeling of vaping more like the feeling of smoking, which can ease the transition for new users.
But it isn’t a good thing for everybody. VG-based e-liquid has a much smoother feeling on the throat, so anybody finding PG too irritating should choose juices with a higher VG content. Many longer-term vapers move towards higher VG content as a smoking-like throat hit becomes a less important factor.
2 – VG Improves Vapor Production
While VG may be lacking the throat hit many smokers are looking for, the biggest benefit is that it produces denser, thicker vapour. This is the reason that “cloud chasers” – who are looking to maximise vapour production – choose higher VG e-liquids.
For newer vapers, having a high VG content and huge vapour production isn’t as important, but you still have to strike a balance. With little or no VG, the vapour production will be weak and the vape juice won’t do as good a job of replicating the sensory experience of smoking.
This is one of the reasons that many beginner-friendly e-juices use a VG:PG ratio of around 40:60 or 50:50in their mixes. With a blend like this, the vapour production is substantial, but you don’t produce unnecessarily thick clouds. It also helps you avoid some of the downsides of high VG e-juices while still enjoying the benefits.
3 – PG Wicks More Efficiently Than VG
One of the most important downsides of high VG vape juices relates to how well it soaks into wicks. Because VG is much more viscous than PG, it takes a lot longer for it to soak into the wick and reach your coil. This can cause problems when you vape.
Every time you take a puff, you deplete the e-liquid in the wick, and it is replaced by the liquid in your tank. When you take the next puff, if your wick hasn’t re-soaked, you’ll get a “dry puff,” which tastes really nasty. Because PG is much thinner and soaks into the wick quickly, you’re less likely to run into this problem with higher-PG mixes. But for higher-VG mixes, it takes longer for the juice to re-soak the wick and dry hits are more likely.
In many modern sub-ohm tanks, and especially in rebuildable atomizers, this doesn’t really matter. These devices have larger portholes and more effective wicking, so you won’t run into the same problems. However, if you’re using a basic clearomizer (for example, the Aspire BVC or Mini Nautilus), high VG juices could lead to performance issues.
4 – PG Carries Flavour Better
PG is generally better at carrying flavours than VG.
The difference is subtle, but it’s still a factor. Part of the reason for this is that VG is a little sweet but PG is near-tasteless, so VG interferes with the flavour of your e-liquid a bit more. If you tried the same e-liquid in a PG-based and a VG-based version, you’d notice the difference. But it must be stressed that the effect is fairly minor and hard to notice without a direct comparison.
So high PG juices are better for flavour, right?
Well, not necessarily. While PG carries flavour better, when you inhale with a high-VG juice, you usually inhale a lot more vapour. That means there’s a lot more vapour to taste. What’s more, flavourists nowadays are very aware of the differences between high-VG and high-PG e-liquids, and recipes are created specifically for each type of e-liquid.
Learn more: 10 Tips for Boosting Flavour
5 – Some People are Sensitive to PG
Finally, some people are sensitive or even allergic to PG.
Like my friend from the introduction, some vapers find PG intolerably irritating to the throat. This type of reaction is pretty rare, though. But it’s still something to keep in mind if you’re first trying vaping or if you’ve found vaping irritating to your throat in the past. It could be that you’ll need VG-based e-juices to start to enjoy vaping.
In most cases of PG sensitivity, you won’t need to completely remove PG to make vaping tolerable.
If you choose a higher-VG mix and pair it with a capable vape kit, you’ll probably find vaping a lot more enjoyable.
If you need to go for a maximum VG blend, you’ll definitely need a high-quality, more advanced tank or atomizer. (See below for recommendations of different devices to use with different VG:PG ratios.)
However, it’s worth stressing that some coughing is normal when you start vaping. So if you cough at first it doesn’t always mean you’re sensitive to PG. Most vapers report this issue clearing up with time.
So now you know the benefits and limitations of PG and VG-based e-juices, the question is: which ratio is right for you?
The decision you have to make comes down to personal preference. Do you want big clouds? Do you think you’ll need a cigarette-like throat hit? Do you need to keep the VG content quite low so your clearomizer’s wick will soak it up effectively? If you can answer these questions, you’ll have a good idea which ingredient you should prioritise.
However, the standard VG:PG ratio is fast becoming 50:50. As you’d expect, this offers a nice balance of the benefits of each ingredient, so it keeps most vapers happy. Most vapers won’t want to stray too far from this ratio, with anything from 40:60 to 70:30 being in the normal range.
Our own Halo UK e-liquid used to be 60:40 PG ratio – a little more PG than VG. However, we have since moved all our e-liquids over to a 50:50 range. This still provides great vapour production, but also maintains efficient wicking and offers a solid throat hit. Other brands with a 50:50 VG:PG range include WizMix, while VapeMate has a VG:PG ratio of 30:70, making it suitable for vapers looking for a stronger throat hit.
If, on the other hand, you want to try a higher VG vape liquid, one of the best places to look is shortfills, which usually come with a VG:PG ratio of 70:30 to 80:20. Examples include Nasty Juice Short-fills and the IVG Mixer Range - or, for an extreme example, Tropika Twelve Monkeys, which has a VG:PG ratio of 90:10!
What if you are looking for a juice to really maximise the clouds? Wick Liquor, which is also available in 10ml e-liquids, has a VG:PG ratio of 80:20. These e-liquids will give you plenty of vapour - just be aware that you need to use them with coils designed for high VG juices.
The best advice is to try something in the standard range and see what you think, and base your next decision on your experience. For example, you might find wicking problems with the e-liquid you bought. If this happens, you can switch to a higher-PG blend better suited to your equipment.
The only time it’s recommended to stray too far from the usual range is if you have a specific reason. A PG sensitivity is a great example, but you might also be looking for a stronger throat hit (and a higher-PG e-liquid) or better vapour production (and a higher VG one).
Back in the day, this was easy advice to give.
The advice was to use devices with a coil resistance of more than one ohm (Ω) for a high PG e-liquid, and a coil resistance of less than one ohm for high VG e-liquids. A little simplistic, but it followed the broad principle that high resistance coils work with high PG e-liquids and vice versa.
Broadly speaking, that’s still the case, but the situation is starting to change. Resistance is only one factor in how a coil and tank work with e-liquid and some manufacturers are bringing out low resistance coils that work with high PG e-liquids. At E-Cigarette Direct we now provide recommendations for which e-liquid to use in the FAQS of each product (working with the manufacturer where necessary) and that’s always worth checking.
If you’re looking to use a high PG e-liquid for a strong throat hit, you can’t go wrong with the Aspire PockeX. We also recommend the Smok Acro - despite the 0.8Ω coil, it handles high PG e-liquids well, and we’re also super impressed that Smok managed to squeeze a 1000 mAh battery into a slim pod system. The Aspire Favostix comes with a 1Ω coil which is great for high PG e-liquids, but also comes with a 0.6Ω coil that can handle higher VG e-liquids, such as those with a VG:PG ratio of 60:40.
The Vaporesso Itank 2 is one of the single best device I’ve seen for handling high VG e-liquids (and for cloud chasing). The tanks works well with any mod with a good wattage range such as the Smok Morph 2.
First, bear in mind that even if you have a device that can handle different VG:PG ratios, you will still need to switch between different coils. That’s because coils have different designs for different types of e-liquids.
As long as you’re happy switching between different coils, you will find plenty of choice. I particularly like pod mods for flexibility. Pod mods are a cross between a pod device and a mod device and are often designed for a range of vaping styles.
One of the best current options for flexible vaping is the Vaporesso Luxe X. The 0.4Ω coils are good for high VG e-liquid, while the 0.8Ω coils work well with 50:50 e-liquids. Alternatively, the Voopoo Drag E60 is a great option for someone progressing from a more basic device, as it has good coil options combined with a sensible wattage range.
Also see: The 6 Best Pods Mods for the UK
This might all sound a bit complicated, but don’t worry too much. The only times it’s more than a personal preference is if PG doesn’t agree with you or if you need a smoking like throat-hit to replace cigarettes. Most vapers are happy with anything in the usual range. We may have preferences, but we’re hardly strict. Just explore the options and experiment a little; you’ll find something that satisfies you in no time.