In hindsight, I wish I’d taken all of the safety advice for DIY e-liquid mixing seriously.
But I used to smoke, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I have a bit of a cavalier attitude to risk.
It didn’t happen on my first mix, but I quickly learned that DIY mixing wasn’t the place for risk-taking.
I was using 72 mg/ml nicotine base – before it was outlawed by the EU’s TPD – sucking a millilitre of it up into a syringe and carefully dripping it into a bottle for an e-juice I was working on.
I’d added the nicotine and removed the blunt-tipped needle from the syringe to clean everything, when a couple of drips previously clinging to the outside of the metal found their way onto my fingers.
With ready-to-vape e-juice, this would be no big deal, but with 72 mg/ml base, I knew it was something to at least take seriously.
I rinsed and scrubbed my hand immediately, but afterwards I was still on the lookout for symptoms like nausea that could suggest I'd absorbed too much through my skin.
Luckily I had no problems in the end. That said, I still washed and rewashed that hand many times before I finished making my mix.
A couple of drops wasn’t really anything to worry about – I washed it off almost immediately anyway – but what if it hadn’t been just a tiny accident? What if the whole bottle had toppled and covered my hands? What if I’d got some on my fingers and not realised it?
This is why DIY e-juice mixing scares many vapers. And needless to say, from that moment on, I never mixed without wearing gloves. Although the TPD outlaws it anyway, this is also why I don't recommend mixing with high-strength nicotine base.
But there are tons of benefits to mixing DIY vape juice, and many vapers are taking the plunge despite some potential risks.
But what is DIY mixing? Why do people make their own DIY e-liquid? Is it safe? How can you make sure you avoid accidents like the one described above? And is the trend likely to continue to grow with increased restrictions on e-liquid?
To find out we interviewed e-cig experts, DIY e-liquid mixers and surveyed over 700 vapers.
Here’s what we found out.
But first, as DIY e-liquid is not risk free, here’s a disclaimer...
Please note that DIY e-liquid mixing, if using high strength nicotine, may be dangerous if you do not have the correct knowledge and do not follow appropriate steps. Purchasing nicotine strengths above 2% is against e-cig TPD regulations, and we can not condone any illegal purchases.The actions and opinions in this piece of those of the authors alone and at ECD we strongly recommend you always purchase legally compliant e-liquid from a reputable source.
- What is DIY E-Liquid?
- Is DIY E-Liquid Safe?
- Why people mix DIY e-juice
- How to make DIY e-liquid
- Recipes to get you started
What is DIY e-liquid?DIY e-liquid means “do-it-yourself” e-liquid. In other words, it’s e-liquid that you make yourself out of the base ingredients instead of purchasing ready-made from a vape shop.
In practice, this means mixing together propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerine (VG), nicotine (which is diluted in PG or VG) and one or more flavourings. The amounts of these ingredients are carefully chosen to ensure that the end result has the PG/VG ratio, nicotine strength and flavour profile you’re looking for.
However, there are many different ways to make DIY e-juice. Although purists may not agree, even mixing together two ready-made e-liquid classes as making your own DIY e-juice to some extent.
You can also buy “flavour shots” to add to the base mixture of PG, VG and nicotine. These are ready-made combinations of flavourings that turn your base mix into a ready-to-vape e-juice when you add a suitable amount.
This is largely the same as making your own juice from scratch, but takes care of the most challenging part – finding the right balance of flavour components to make a delicious juice – in a much simpler way.
But most DIY mixers choose to mix flavourings themselves instead of using pre-mixed flavour shots. This means buying several flavourings and finding the right quantities of each to produce the desired flavour.These flavours are sometimes designed specifically for vaping, but often they’re ordinary food flavourings sold by companies like the Perfumer’s Apprentice, Capella Flavors or LorAnn Oils that weren’t originally intended for use in e-liquid.
Is DIY e-liquid safe?Whether DIY e-juice making is safe depends on how you mix your e-liquid. There’s a huge difference between mixing existing brands of e-liquids to playing with undiluted nicotine ordered from China.
DIY e-liquid with high strength/undiluted nicotineWhen researching this article, a number of people thought that with restrictions on nicotine it wasn’t even worth covering the dangers of high strength nicotine.
But while it may be illegal, almost 20% of vapers who we surveyed used a nicotine base which was 70% nicotine or stronger.
Clive Bates, former director of Action on Smoke and Health and a trustee of the New Nicotine Alliance, recently bought high strength nicotine base to demonstrate how easy it was to circumvent regulations on e-liquid.
But he also told us that:
You really don't know what you are dealing with and what strength it really is.There’s a real danger that the nicotine strength you are getting is wrong.
Nicotine in the diluted form used in commercial e-liquid is not really a concern. But pure nicotine is a whole different ball game…
The dangers of high-strength and pure nicotineMany sources claim that 60 mg of nicotine is enough to kill an average-sized adult, but the real figure is more like 500 to 1000 mg, (based on research by Bernd Mayer).
This is why spilling a few ml of 6 mg/ml e-juice on your skin isn’t a big deal – just 18 mg of nicotine in total is unlikely to do much other than make you feel sick. And you couldn’t possibly vape your way to a nicotine overdose using any commercially-available, ready-to-vape e-liquid.
But with pure nicotine or even just high-strength nicotine, things get a lot more serious. Pure nicotine is 1,000 mg per ml. This means that even a single millilitre spilled is potentially deadly.
If you vaped it, although it wouldn’t be pleasant, you could actually die or get very ill.
This is why you aren’t advised to use pure nicotine under any circumstances. Although it’s now outlawed, many vapers will still have high-strength (i.e. 72 mg/ml) nicotine base to use for DIY mixing. This isn’t dangerous as long as it’s handed carefully and you take precautions, but still, just 7 ml of this stuff is potentially deadly to a fully-grown adult, much less for a child or pet.
Make no mistake: pure nicotine is dangerous and high-strength base must be handled with care. You should never use pure nicotine for DIY mixing, and if you use high-strength nicotine base, you need to be very, very careful. It needs to be safely stored and handled with extreme care. With safety issues and the TPD in mind, the best advice is to avoid high-strength nicotine altogether and just use nicotine shots.
There’s also a danger that the nicotine you use is not pure. Nicotine used in the vape industry in the UK is usually pharmaceutical grade, and at least 99.9% pure. However, in China pharmaceutical grade nicotine is much harder to come by, which is why we ship out UK e-liquid to China for use in the manufacture of our cartridges.
Clive also highlighted that when using pure or high strength nicotine base, you could also be exposing other people in transport and shipping to risk.
DIYOrDie, of the DIY or Die website, also highlighted the dangers of using high strength nicotine:
...in fact, you’ll be banned from 99% of the DIY forums and messages boards if you even talk about it, because of how dangerous it is.“If you need to ask someone on a message board how to use Pure Nic, then you obviously don’t have the means to use it. You need an entire lab to dilute the stuff. So, stick to the already diluted stuff that companies like Liquid Barn and VapersTek provide and you’re fine.Clive Bates did want to highlight one last thing:
It [mixing high concentrate nicotine with flavours] is not as dangerous as smoking - taking account of health and fire risks. It is not surprising that people will seek out these liquids if they can't get what they want legitimately.
Using correct process and equipmentTo safely mix DIY e-juice, it’s essential to make sure you have the right equipment and know exactly what you’re doing.
We have more detail on this later in the post, but the two most important things from a safety perspective are:
- having protective equipment
- making sure your finished e-juice is the right nicotine strength.
The three most important things to own are:
- nitrile gloves
- a pair of goggles (yes really)
- an apron to protect your clothes.
The most important part of the process of mixing is the planning stage.
The biggest risk is making a mistake with your nicotine strength, so be sure to plan this out carefully using a DIY e-juice mixing calculator or app. If you add too much nicotine, you could end up with a much stronger e-juice than you intended. You’re unlikely to make a big enough mistake to put yourself at risk, but it’s better to double-check just in case.
Using non-tested flavoursOne of the great advances in vaping, at least in the UK, has been the focus on testing. E-liquid we sell undergoes both standard e-liquid testing (testing the e-liquid for impurities - see here for details and certificates) and emissions testing. (See What's In Your E-Liquid for more info.)
However, flavour concentrates used for DIY vape juice may not be tested. It’s hard to assess the danger of this, but it’s highly unlikely that the danger is anything like that of smoking. Clive Bates told us that:
... people should use flavours from a good source and approved for food use - don't go experimenting and stop if any adverse reactions. There is a case for limiting or warning about flavours with known risks (cinnamon or diacetyl perhaps), but they shouldn't become the basis for a panic based on tiny exposures.In fact, some users think that you might be better off using your own, carefully chosen flavours. DIYOrDie argued that:
...with DIY, you can make sure to stay away from that stuff if you so choose. You can’t do that with commercial e-liquid. You don’t know what their recipes are.Many of our survey respondents agreed, with almost 26% stating they made e-liquid for safety reasons, and because they wanted to know exactly what they inhaled.
In mixing, anytime you look for an ingredient, you can see if it contains aldehydes or any problematic compounds. So, if someone wants to ensure they’re vaping something DA [diacetyl], AP [acetyl propionyl], Sucralose, and aldehyde free, DIY Mixing is the only way to really do it.
With the current testing regime in the UK and the EU, vapers shouldn’t need to be concerned about impurities, but in other countries this might well be a valid concern. Still, the knowledge, time and resources needed to source high quality ingredients and vet the companies supplying them can be considerable.
What’s more, most food grade flavour concentrates haven’t been emissions tested. Most emissions testing that has taken place has shown there is very little need for concern, but sometimes flavours have been pulled because they have shown some (usually low) quantities of impurities or carcinogens.
Lars Simensen of SteamEngine.org agreed.
Vaping is new and the science is not in, but at least we can try to minimize the risk. Use flavours made explicitly for vaping, from reputable manufacturers. Stay away from food grade flavours, unless you have specific knowledge about the safety of that particular flavour.If you want any certainty beyond that, then it's a matter of sending each flavour to a laboratory for analysis, which is not cheap. I don't imagine most vapers would be interested in doing that.From a strict safety point of view, you’re probably better off buying vape flavour concentrates which have been emissions tested. But this isn’t always possible, and whatever flavour you use, the risk is still likely to be far lower than smoking.
Vape ConcentratesSince we first wrote this post, there has been a surge in the availability of e-liquid concentrates. These can be used with ready-to-mix nicotine, VG and PG solutions.
While they may not offer as much room for creativity, there are some serious advantages in using concentrates created by vape companies.Unlike non-vape concentrates, vape companies create concentrates knowing they will be inhaled. Reputable vape companies put their concentrates through the same testing process as TPD compliant e-liquids, and some, like Cuts Ice, creator of T-Juice Concentrates, go well beyond the legal requirements.
Is making your own DIY vape juice legal?The law on nicotine base is quite clear - it’s not legal in the UK (or the EU) to sell nicotine base above a strength of 2% (2mg).The rest of it is far less clear. Is it legal to buy high strength nicotine base from abroad? What about buying untested flavours or flavour shots? None of this is mentioned in the TPD.
How popular is DIY e-juice mixing?Surprisingly popular!
We surveyed 740 vapers, the majority of whom came from our newsletter subscribers and social media channels. 61% of them had some experience with DIY e-juice, although this could be as simple as mixing two existing flavours together.
Is vape juice mixing becoming more popular?Our interviewees were slightly divided upon this.
Lars Simensen pointed out that the use of his e-liquid calculators was fairly constant, while DIYOrDie believes that there has been a big growth in the DIY market over the last 6 months.
We also asked our survey respondents who had not mixed e-liquid whether they would mix it in the future.Almost 19% said yes, while 56% thought they might in the future. Only 25% replied with a flat out no.
Why do people mix their own e-juice?
Saving moneyIt’s often cheaper to mix your own e-liquid. This is especially the case if you buy e-liquid flavour concentrates in bulk.DIYOrDie believes this a large part of the reason is to save money.
It’s mainly due to cost. As wattages increase, tanks get bigger, vapor gets bigger. It’s hard for a lot of vapers, who thought they’d save money switching to vaping, to keep up with all the costs. You move to DIY, and immediately your budget opens up.That tied in with our survey results, with over 70% selecting saving money as one reason for mixing e-liquid.
E-cig regulations/ fearFor 37% of our respondents there’s an additional reason for making vape juice, and that’s a combination of restrictive legislation and a fear that there will be a ban.
That’s not a huge percentage of the total, but things could change in the future. Over 70% of our respondents felt that they would be more likely to mix e-liquid in the future because of legal restrictions.
After all, the disruptive e-cig industry has been under attack for almost all of its life.In the USA there’s a danger that almost all e-cig products could be banned, while in Europe new legislation is restricting size, nicotine strength, choice and increasing prices. DIYOrDie told us:
...people are mixing because of a “doomsday” scenario. I always tell everyone it’s a great idea to learn to mix, even if you never do. Just in case your favourite e-liquid that got you off smoking is gone, or your state tries to ban the products you need to keep you smoke free.Clive Bates agreed, telling us that restrictive regulations are a major reason behind the trend.
The EU, FDA and WHO are busy creating a market for illicitly supplied high strength liquids. They should know by now that people will find a way to get what they want and need. If they discover how cheap it it, these regulators will have created a substantial illicit cottage industry, undermining the genuine and compliant vendors such as vape shops. It's totally stupid. But then we've come to expect that.
Flavour, tailored e-liquid, and other reasons….It’s not all about legislation, though. 63% of DIY Mixers choose to mix e-liquid to create a juice that matched their own specific requirements, whether it be a specific PG/VG mix, nicotine strength or flavour, while 32% counted it as a new hobby.
For the full list of reasons, see the graph below!
How to make your own DIY e-liquid?Now we’ve looked into the details of what DIY e-liquid is, how safe it is to make and why you might want to try it, the only thing left to do is find out how to actually make your own DIY vape juice.The good news is that the process itself is really quite straightforward, provided you have the right equipment and know how to stay safe.
Do you need a DIY e-liquid kit?We asked both our e-liquid mixers if they thought beginners needed a DIY E-liquid Kit.Neither thought it was needed, although DIYOrDie did say that the The Liquid Barn Starter Kit was a good option if you do decide to go for one. Neither recommended a UK DIY e-liquid kit.
What Do You Need?Please note that using nicotine content above 2% (20mg) is illegal, and using high strength nicotine carries serious risks.First, you’ll need to pick up a range of supplies to get started. It might seem expensive at first, but many of these are one-time purchases, and you’ll save more than enough in the long-term to justify the initial expense.
- Propylene Glycol (PG): As one of the main ingredients in e-juice, you’ll need some pharmaceutical-grade (USP/EP) PG to get started. If you’re just experimenting with DIY mixing, you can pick up smaller bottles, but realistically it’s quite cheap so getting 500 ml or more is recommended.
- Vegetable Glycerine (VG): Like PG, this is a must-have ingredient that’s cheap to pick up in pharmaceutical-grade quality. Again, it’s worth picking up in larger amounts because it’s so affordable anyway. Since most e-liquids these days use more VG than PG, getting a litre of this is the best approach.
- Nicotine: Nicotine “base” is the high-strength nicotine used for DIY mixing, and it’s bought diluted in PG, VG or both. Previously, most DIY mixers used 72 mg/ml (7.2%) nicotine base, but the TPD limits the maximum strength of nicotine permitted to be sold at 20 mg/ml (2%) and means it can’t be sold in bigger than 10 ml bottles. This makes DIY mixing a little less convenient, and limits your ability to mix higher-strength liquids in particular, but in most cases you’ll be able to mix what you’re looking for.
- Flavourings: Whether you pick up ready-made flavour shots or individual flavourings, this is an essential part of mixing your own e-liquid. We’d recommend picking up a range of e-juice flavour concentrates at first, so you can experiment with making different types of e-juice. (Avoid e-liquid flavour concentrates in bulk until you are confident with your recipes!) Let your taste preferences guide you – for example, I love desserts so I mainly have sweet, bakery-style flavourings – but some variety is a good idea. Flavourings are generally bought mixed with PG.
- Precise Scales: There are two main ways to mix your DIY e-juice, by volume or by weight. If you’re mixing by weight, you often need to add quite precise amounts of ingredients, so you’ll need some precise scales. Ideally, get some electronic scales that measure down to the nearest 0.01 g. This will be your biggest expense, but using this approach saves a lot of work compared to mixing by volume.
- Syringes and Needles: These are a good idea regardless of how you mix, but they’re especially important if you’re mixing by volume. Picking a couple of 1 ml or 2 ml syringes, a 5 ml one and a 10 ml one will be fine for most purposes, but you can get more if you like. Ideally, use one of the smaller syringes for your nicotine and nothing else to avoid cross-contamination. Use thicker (lower-gauge) blunt needles to ensure they can cope with the thickness of the VG. Anything from 18 gauge down to 14 gauge lets you add your VG easily.
- (Optional) Graduated Pipettes: Alternatively, you can use pipettes for mixing, provided they have a scale on the side so you can precisely measure how many ml you’re adding. However, the scales on syringes are usually easier to read, so they’re generally the best choice for mixing by volume. But if you’re mixing by weight, using pipettes won’t cause you any issues.
- Empty E-Juice Bottles: These are easy to find and very affordable. Get ten or twenty 10 ml bottles for the early experimentation phases and some bigger ones so you can create big batches when you’ve perfected a recipe. This depends on how much you’ll be mixing, but they’re very cheap, so it’s generally best to overestimate your needs.
- Safety Gear: You need to stay safe when you’re mixing. Pick up some nitrile gloves, an apron and some goggles to ensure you’re absolutely safe in case of an accident.
- Something to Clean Up Spills: Although you should be careful when mixing, spills can and do happen. Have some paper towels ready for any spills, but make sure you wear gloves and dispose of them carefully if you’ve spilled high-strength nicotine. Some vapers use cat litter or sawdust to soak up the liquid before cleaning. The best advice, though, is to mix on a metal baking tray so that if any spills do happen, it’s all contained and much easier to deal with.
How vapers source ingredientsMost of the ingredients you’ll need are widely-available from online vape shops. PG and VG are always easy to find, but since the implementation of the TPD, you can only buy small “nicotine shots” in a maximum of 20 mg/ml. These have to be contained in tiny 10 ml bottles, though, so you’ll need to pick up quite a few of them to get started with DIY mixing.
Flavourings are easy to find, but getting ones you like isn’t always easy. Most flavourings vapers use come from just a handful of suppliers: The Perfumer’s Apprentice/The Flavor Apprentice, Capella Flavor Drops, LorAnn Flavoring, Flavor West, Inawera, Flavour Art, Hangsen and a few others. These are often carried by online vape shops that cater to DIY mixers, but you might have to shop around to find specific flavourings or companies you’re looking for.Many e-liquid companies also sell their own e-juice flavourings as flavour shots, so you may be able to source your ingredients from your usual supplier, or a company whose liquids you’ve tried before.
What’s involved in mixing DIY e-liquid?Once you’ve got everything you need together, the actual mixing process is pretty straightforward. In a nutshell, all you have to do is mix the various components together in appropriate amounts to get the result you’re looking for.
The most important stage of the whole process is preparation. There are tons of apps and calculators you can use for this purpose, but one simple, effective tool is Steam-Engine’s DIY e-juice calculator.
All you have to do is enter the size of the batch you want to create (at the left of the page), the strength of your nicotine base and whether it’s diluted in PG or VG (to the middle-left of the page) and the desired nicotine strength and PG/VG ratio of your finished juice (middle-right). For flavourings, you use the field in the bottom left to add each flavouring you’ll be using and specify the percentage you want it to be in your final mix. In general, shooting for around 10% to 15% flavouring in total will make a tasty mix, but you can adjust this to suit your preferences.
The readout on the right now tells you exactly what you need to add, both in volume (in millilitres) and by weight (in grams). The remainder of the process is just adding the individual components in the quantities listed.
Make sure you’re wearing your safety gear before you start mixing, and you have a clear, clean workspace. Ideally, you can use one syringe per component to prevent any cross-contamination, but using the same one for the PG and VG or for similar flavourings isn’t a big deal. Now all you have to do is suck up the required amounts of each ingredient with a syringe and put them into the bottle. If you’re mixing by weight, you can use pipettes for this, but syringes are fine for both methods.
Once all of the components are in the bottle, your e-liquid is basically ready – just screw on the cap and give it a vigorous shake to mix the components together. Most freshly-mixed e-liquids benefit from a steep, so it’s best to do this before vaping the juice (although I usually have a taste just after mixing too). We have a detailed guide to steeping here if you need more information!Most DIY mixers recommend keeping a record of what you’ve added to each bottle so you can recreate any successful recipes easily. If you have some sticky labels, you can put the key bits of information (i.e. the percentages of flavourings used, the nicotine strength and the PG/VG ratio) on the label, but you can also just write it down in a notebook or save your recipes on your computer.
How much time does it take to mix DIY e-liquid?The time it takes to mix a batch of e-liquid can vary, but the actual mixing process is generally quite quick. Most of the time you spend will be planning your mix, from choosing which flavours to combine (or finding a suitable recipe online) to using a DIY mixing calculator to find out how much of each component you need to add.If you’re just doing one flavour, you’ll probably have it finished within half an hour, even if you’re new to mixing. It’s slightly quicker to mix by weight, but once you get used to being precise with your syringes, you can be pretty quick mixing by volume too. When you have some experience with mixing, you’ll be able to put together an e-juice in as little as five or ten minutes.
Testing your e-juiceAfter your e-liquid has steeped for an appropriate amount of time (generally, fruits need less time and desserts need a bit more), it’s time to test it out. When you test the flavour, pay special attention to how the flavour components come through, and note down any components that are too subtle, too strong or don’t work well with the overall flavour profile.
If you’re serious about improving your recipes, this is where having a spreadsheet on your computer or a notebook can be really useful. You can make detailed notes on each mix, and over time it will be a big help in honing and improving your recipes. But even if you don’t want to go into detail, even something as simple as rating each flavour out of five will give you an idea of which mixes to repeat.In an ideal world, you’d send off your e-liquids to a lab to be tested. But in reality, that’s just too expensive for most vapers. Unfortunately, that’s one count against DIY e-liquid.
Popular DIY e-juice recipes (and where to find more)It’s definitely fun to strike out on your own and make up your own recipes from scratch, but there are huge advantages to using tried and tested DIY e-juice recipes. At first, it can be difficult to make delicious e-juice, so using recipes is a big help with your first mixes. It can also be a good way to choose some e-liquid flavour concentrates to buy – you can pick up whatever you need for a particular recipe and build up your collection that way.
As with all things e-liquid, individual preferences play a big role in which recipes you’ll enjoy. That said, there are many great sources for e-juice recipes that have been rated by communities of DIY mixing vapers.
The DIY E-Juice subreddit is a treasure trove of excellent recipes and information on DIY mixing in general. There are monthly threads for the best recipes, but they also have best recipe of the year contests, and these are a great place to start looking for excellent recipes.
Another great source of recipes is the appropriately-named E-Liquid-Recipes.com, which has over 70,000 user-submitted recipes that are rated by the community. Searching by the juices with the best ratings gives you a huge range of options that are generally well-liked by vapers.
There are many other sources of great recipes too, with DIY or Die in particular having loads of fantastic options.If you want something to get you started, here are a few options pulled from these sources.
How to use DIY e-juice recipesDIY e-juice recipes generally list the flavourings used and the percentages of them added to the final mix. This leaves you free to choose whatever PG/VG ratio suits you, although the mixer suggests a ratio in some instances. Of course, you can use as much nicotine as you need to. The basic format is:
Name of e-liquid flavour concentrate (Flavouring Company) @ percentage of the final mix
So for a recipe that calls for 2 % of Capella’s Sugar Cookie concentrate, it would be listed as:
Sugar Cookie (Capella) @ 2%
Most of the time, abbreviations are used for different companies. For example, CAP is for Capella and TFA or TPA is used for the Flavor Apprentice/the Perfumer’s Apprentice. We’ll write the full names of the companies out here for clarity, but it does help to learn the abbreviations used if you’ll be mixing regularly.
Three popular DIY e-juice recipes to get you startedFirst, here is the most upvoted recipe from the 2016 best recipe contest on the DIY E-juice subreddit:
And here’s the most highly-rated recipe from E-Liquid-Recipes.com, which also uses flavouring from just one supplier (although any source of sucralose is suitable as a sweetener):
And finally, here’s a recent creation from DIY or Die: