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The e-liquids used in cartridges or ‘e-cig cartomizers’ as well as sold in bottles for re-fillable devices are indeed susceptible to going bad, but it is also fairly easy to maintain a shelf life of 1 or 2 years with little effort. Most e-juice bottles and cartridge packs carry an expiry date as well but some questions remain on what happens to e-liquid passed its shelf life. The way the product is cared for and stored can also diminish the strength and life of the e-liquid.
First let’s look at why storage is important. All e-liquids, regardless of PG, VG, water or alcohol based flavors are susceptible to heat, diminishing nicotine concentration as well as evaporating flavor, water or alcohol, while also being at risk of a chemical reaction. Leaving your cartridges or e-liquid in the sunlight or car would be a very bad idea, spoiling the e-liquid sooner than it should have, but it is very unlikely that it can get hot enough to turn VG or PG into a toxic substance, after all, the atomizer heats it up to vapor. However, extended exposure to heat will break both PG and VG liquid components down, causing permanent sedimentation. Although not highly toxic or dangerous, due to various makers and ingredients used, we highly suggest never to use it and throw it out!
Exposure to air also adversely effects e-juice. Oxygen exposure causes… you guessed it, oxidation. When the air comes in contact with e-liquid, the liquid will begin to oxidize, which is a process of decay and spoiling of the e-juice. It takes a long time, but you still don’t want to needlessly leave your bottle open for any amount of unnecessary time. A sealed bottle or cartridge pack should easily last over a year or two while a previously opened but well stored bottle should last a bit under that but not much less. Oxidation causes the color of flavored e-liquids to change, usually to a darker shade and can be used as an indicator. Once the flavoring ingredients and additives go bad, it’s not worth taking the risk of using it and it will taste horrible, throw it out!
Best Storage Practices
Storing e-liquid is fairly simple. Most reputable e-liquid makers package their product in tinted glass bottles to avoid contamination and long shelf life, while the best e-cig and cartridge makers offer air sealed packaging for their ‘cartomizers’ to stay fresh longer. Flavor goes bad first, and losing nicotine strength should be of little concern. MadVapes has tested e-liquid storage very extensively while measuring nicotine levels diminishing and the results show that loss is very minimal. Instead, storage should ensure you avoid extended high temperature or light as well as keeping your bottles tightly sealed and stored.
The refrigerator is one of the best spots for storing e-liquid and cartridges as it provides dark, cold and dry storage, but a box inside a drawer or shelf also does a good job, just as long as room temperatures remain cool and dry. We even shared some ideas found on the web for DIY e-liquid and e-cig storage solutions and found cool and really usable ideas like cigar boxes and foam inserts.
The question of how dangerous expired e-liquid is remains a bit of a mystery. Most PG e-liquids are rated for 1 to 2 years of shelf life while VG based e-liquids usually cap off at 1.5 years. However, because of the sheer amount of variety, flavors and ingredients used, those numbers can vary. Since the 1 to 2 year mark is a very long period, and can be trusted as long as proper storage is used, we highly suggest to follow these dates just to be on the safe side. We do not believe that using e-liquid a month or two past expiration will hurt you, however, it is very important to use common sense.
Detecting Spoiled or Expired E-Liquid
If the e-liquid has discolored, or if you see the flavor elements have separated, the smart thing to do is to get rid of it. Some e-liquids will cause sediment to settle at the bottom of the bottle after a short amount of time, and simply shaking it vigorously will blend it all up again. But if the e-juice was exposed to air or heat, it most likely spoiled and the sediments cannot be blended again and also should be thrown out, even if it is way ahead of its expiration date. If it has passed the expiration date, the separation of the ingredients is also a sign that it has gone bad. Smelling is always a good idea. If it has a questionable smell, let that be enough to persuade you to throw it out. Your gut instinct is your trusty friend.
Conclusion – Dangers of Expired E-Liquid
Overall, there is little known danger that using expired e-liquid is seriously dangerous or toxic at any degree. As mentioned, failure to properly store it, will cause it to spoil and decompose and at that point, it is not worth using. Not only will the taste be gone, it will most likely be replaced by a nasty flavor and deliver little satisfaction. The price of e-liquid is terribly low and economical enough that it is way more worth it to buy a new bottle than risk using spoiled or expired e-juice.