It’s a question as old as vaping itself: how can you maximize the flavor of your e-liquid? And the answers almost always center on the slightly confusing practice of steeping e-liquid -- allowing the ingredients to meld to enhance overall flavor. Over the years, we’ve heard arguments for and against steeping e-liquids, with some saying it’s absolutely necessary for any juice you own. Others say it’s a complete myth, with any flavor improvements residing entirely in the user’s head. But most vapers believe in steeping freshly made e-liquids – sometimes for weeks -- because the end result is usually better flavor. That said, it isn’t always required. Let’s dive in....
The most-common definition of steeping is simply allowing a bottle of e-liquid to mature, so all the unique ingredients have a chance to meld and intensify. Typically achieved by letting a new bottle rest in a cool, dark area, this extra maturation allows separate ingredients blend to become what the intended flavor is supposed to be. On a molecular level, this melding sets of a series of chemical interactions – especially in juices that contain nicotine – that cause liquid to become darker, stronger tasting, and perhaps even a touch more potent.
While freshly made e-liquid might taste fine right out of the mix, almost all vapers find there are benefits from allowing their new bottles to age, meld and breathe a little, with the cap off. Flavors are richer and more defined, and the vape is much more robust as a result.
This is a question that is debated more than a cure for hiccups. And like those cures, there is no right way to do it, and there are countless methods of steeping all touted as the best. First off, if you’re buying bottled and sealed e-liquid from a reputable vape shop, there’s a good chance most of the melding and maturing has already happened, and the juice is ready to vape. That’s not to say it couldn’t use a few minutes breathing with the cap removed, and some shaking, but chances are the flavor is intact and ready to go.
However, as more buyers turn to custom e-liquid vendors – many of which make juice to order in small batches – steeping becomes altogether more important. Provided you don’t vape 120 mL of juice in hours, within a few days of the juice arriving at your home, you’ll notice distinct changes in appearance and aroma. When it reaches the point where your desired flavor is achieved, vape away. It might take a few days, while others take a few weeks, but one thing is clear – like a fine wine, age only enhances the composition of e-liquid, and patience is rewarded with deeper, more layered flavors.
Let’s dive deeper into some of the most common methods of steeping your e-liquid
Like orange juice, cough medicine or any viscous liquid, your vape juice is comprised of several different ingredients, each with its own weight and volume. Over time, these elements can separate, causing e-liquids to become unbalanced and weak. But a few shakes make things right again. Alright, maybe it’s more than a few. After making sure the bottle cap is secure, hold the bottle tight and shake vigorously for a minute or so. Looking inside the bottle, you’ll likely already see things happening. Swirls of darker colors will begin disappearing, while some juices might even have small floating particles that separated from the main composition. Don’t worry, this is all part of the process.
Some people use ultrasonic cleaners to shake the liquid. This method is said to provide a far more thorough blending of the ingredients than can be achieved manually. In a few minutes, you’ll likely see a more uniform liquid in the bottle. Open it up, take a deep breath, and see if it hits the desired flavor and aroma. If not, put it back in a cool, dark place and repeat every day until that moment comes. After shaking, you might also want to leave the cap off and let the juice breathe for a few minutes, just to facilitate the process a little. Speaking of which.
When coupled with other methods on this list, breathing is a nice way to hasten the e-liquid steeping process. But a dedicated group of die-hards believe the only true way to mature juice is by letting oxygen and nature do the heavy lifting. Of course, to make this work, it requires you to sit and wait.
To successfully "breathe" your e-liquid, you can simply remove the caps and let air flow freely around the juice. Every few hours, cap the bottles and shake them a few times, then remove the caps again. If you’re feeling adventurous, and have plastic e-liquid bottles, you can carefully squeeze out the air inside the bottle, allowing it to refill with new air and fresh oxygen to start the oxidation anew. But experts say oxidation begins as soon as air hits the surface of the liquid, so hours of "breathing" probably has no effect.
If you’re not the patient type, then a growing number of aficionados have figured out more complex ways to move the steeping needle a bit.
Using this method, you’ll need waterproof, plastic zipper bags, a container filled with warm-to-hot water, and a few towels for the inevitable spilling. Notice we said "warm-to-hot" not "boiling". While warmer water will steep the liquids more quickly, excessive heat will degrade the nicotine in your e-liquid, making for a bitter, unpleasant flavor before your juice even steeps. After filling a bowl or mug with warm water. At the same time, put the capped e-liquid bottles inside the plastic bag and seal it. Then simply lower the bottles into the bowl or mug until the warm water reaches the top of the bottles. This ensures all e-liquid is warmed equally.
When the water cools to room temperature, remove the bottles, shake vigorously to distribute the e-liquid, then place back in the bag for another round of soaking. After repeating this process three or four times, the bottles are ready for a quick night of melding, then they should be ready to go. This isn’t the easiest method on the list, but for those who just HAVE to vape their new juices, this is a good way to shave several days off the process.
For vapers in an absolute time crunch, a simple household appliance can make steeping as quick as a few minutes – the microwave. But the tradeoff is that too much direct heat can ruin your e-liquid in seconds. Using this method, you simply place an uncapped bottle of e-liquid in your (otherwise unoccupied) microwave for quick zaps of no more than 1-2 seconds, with 30-second waits between them. That’s it – 1-2 seconds. ANY longer than that could potentially scorch your nicotine, degrade your liquid, and melt the bottles.
Even under the most controlled circumstances, this method can irreparably damage juice by doing one too many rounds, or not waiting long enough between them. It’s amazing how quickly a microwave can alter the makeup of your juice, and even when nuked successfully, it still needs a few days of resting and breathing to be truly steeped. For that reason, we only recommend using this method when you absolutely, positively need to have this e-liquid ready soon. It’s just too easy to ruin the juice.
Because vendors all use different processes to make, bottle and distribute their e-liquids, there’s no concrete, proven way to maximize the flavor. Some vendors pre-steep their juice before bottling, so customers can enjoy them right away. Other vendors that make juice to order include their own recommended steeping instructions right in the package, so you know precisely what to do when you get your vape mail.
Finally, trust your own palate! If a juice arrives and it smells and tastes great, why wait? We’d venture to say that most steeping methods are excessive and overdone, especially when doing so to e-liquids purchased off the shelves at vape shops. Those juices are likely aged well beyond any needed steeping time, and have melded beautifully, rendering any further steeping unnecessary. The only reason to steep e-liquid is to improve flavor and vape quality. If your bottle tastes right just out of the package, then exhale, relax and enjoy your vape.