Here at the Vape Café, the most common issue we deal with on a day-to-day basis is the confusion between salt-nicotine and traditional e-liquids. We find more and more frequently that customers aren't really all too sure what the difference is, and moreover, don't realize that switching between the two can vastly change their vaping experience.
To talk about the difference, we have to start by discussing nicotine in it's rawest form. Nicotine salts occur naturally in tobacco leaves. Their chemical composition is a salt (meaning that it has positive and negative ions in its chemical structure, don't let this fool you into thinking it's similar to table salt, this nicotine does not taste salty and does not contain salt.)
There are certain acids that naturally occur in the human body which when bonded with nicotine salts, increase the nicotine's effectiveness and bioavailability. Pairing these acids with the nicotine salts creates an e-liquid solution that is much more quickly absorbed by our bodies, reduces the temperature the salts need to be vaporized, and decreases the pH level of the salts which culminates in a much smoother experience for the throat when vaped. This is commonly referred to as salt nicotine, nic-salts, or just salts if you're in a hurry.
Then there's the good old, traditional e-liquid. You'll notice we frequently refer to this as "freebase" e-liquid on our website. This term arose from the chemical process used to create traditional e-liquid, where a more basic substance is added to the nicotine to change it from it's salt state, into it's purest form. This makes freebase nicotine stable for vaporization and very effective in the body. However, pure nicotine is harsh in high doses, which is why you'll commonly see freebase only sold in those 0mg/3mg/6mg strengths.
These different chemical processes leave us with two e-liquid solutions that perform different jobs for vapers. Freebase, which generally results in a thicker solution at a lower nicotine dosage, is better for the seasoned enthusiasts who are vaping for pleasure, people who enjoy using larger devices with higher heat settings, or users who are seeking to gradually lower their nicotine intake. Experienced vapers specifically, often seek out these harsher throat hits because traditional e-liquid was all there was when the industry first started, which is why you'll find that our house line goes all the way up to 18mg in our freebase collections.
However, we find that this harshness is usually what deters new vapers away from vaping. As a result, we often recommend salt nicotine to new users, as it produces a much smoother hit even at the highest quantities of nicotine. These salt-nicotine e-liquids are also optimized for smaller, more discrete, convenient devices making them perfect for new users who are just dipping their feet into vaping.
Here's where the problem lies: This information is rarely displayed on e-liquid bottles, so how do you tell if a juice is freebase or salt-nic?
Realistically, your retailer should always be letting you know in advance that what you're buying is either salt-nicotine or freebase. Depending on the device you own, these two e-liquid solutions are going to run very differently. Putting freebase into a small, pod-style device might leave you with a spitting, flooded, sputtering pod, and likewise, putting salt-nicotine into a device that outputs too much heat is going to leave you getting too much nicotine, too quickly, in the wrong way. We do some of the work for you by sorting all of our juices as freebase, or salt-nicotine here on the website, and when you buy from us we will always ask what kind of device you're running to make sure you're using the right e-liquid for your needs.
But, the easiest way to tell is by the size of the bottle you're buying. Here in Alberta, freebase generally comes in those 60mL and higher bottles, while salt-nicotine will only be sold in 30mL bottles. This is not a hard and fast rule though, so it's always good to ask.
If you're making the transition to vaping and feel a little shaky about all the terminology, or don't know where to start, remember you can always stop by the store, give us a ring, or shoot us an email anytime, and we would be more than happy to give you a hand.
Keep the good times rolling,