Adventures in DIY Part II: Making My Own Ejuice
Last week I wrote about my blunders and tribulations of making my e-juice. It had its ups and downs but after many revisions, I had something that I could vape without instantly regretting it. I wanted to see how the professional e-juice makers were doing it on a large scale instead. I called up a few of my favorite vendors in the tri-state area to see if there were willing to have a one on one and talk about their experience and walk me through their process. Regrettably not many vendors wanted to reveal their e-juice secrets to me, but fortunately, I did have two vendors (who wanted to remain anonymous) willing to share their secrets and their e-juice making process with everyone who wants to know about it.
My first vendor was a small startup that recently opened for business. Their place was smaller than most B&Ms, but they did have a dedicated room for e-juice making, unlike some other stores I’ve seen that has it out in the open. The owner/e-juice maker explained to me that everything they do is hand made that is customers can choose whatever ratio and nicotine levels they want when they purchase. Some stores pre-make their e-juice so that they can easily and quickly check out their customers. The owner believed more in customer service than that of speed and convenience as he knows every person is different in what he/she wants and he would much rather have a happy customer than someone who is dissatisfied.
In the room, he had a laminar flow hood that used to make e-juice in. The laminar flow hood prevents contamination of the air going over the bottles. It filters to below three microns to prevent any dirt or grime that may get into the bottles. He uses surgical gloves and works with needles and pipettes. The flavorings he uses are stored in amber dropper bottles with a 1ml dropper included. When he needs to make a large batch of E-liquid, he uses lab specific glass beakers and cylinders to measure accurately and consistently. Spreadsheets are used to record ratios needed for any PG/VG ratio or nicotine level. He uses standard USP Kosher PG/VG and mixes down to 90% VG E-juice but normally he makes around 20% flavoring so 20% PG and 80% VG for maximum flavor; only using 90% by special request.
When steeping or curing the juice he lets the bottles sit in industrial grade jewelry cleaner where the e-liquid will become homogenous only after a few short hours. All glassware are cleaned and washed after every mixing to avoid contamination of flavors or nicotine. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with this small startup company how much he paid attention to detail and cleanliness to his craft. He is definitely a person that takes pride in his work.
My second vendor was a much larger store. There was space for people to hang out and socialize, even a lounge area where couches and a large screen TV was located. They had what they called a “Juice Bar” where people can sample the e-juices that they sold before purchasing. It seemed this store had a large customer base already as they were very busy when I came in on a weekday morning.
Their bottles looked professional done that is they didn’t print their own labels on an inkjet printer and put it on the bottle. The labels almost seem laminated on with your requested ratio, nicotine levels, and flavor that you picked. I was further impressed with the warning label they put on each bottle stating that the bottles contain nicotine and to keep it away from underage children. Most e-juice bottles don’t even bother printing these on their labels as they figure it is just common sense, or at least that’s the excuse they give. Its common sense to keep a bottle of bleach away from children as well and they still have a warning label on it!
The owner led me to the back room where I saw two employees that were a part of their dedicated e-juice making team. They all had blue shower caps on (similar to what nurses wear), facial masks, lab coats, and wearing surgical gloves. The room also had a filtration system installed to prevent contaminates from entering as well. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought, it was an actual clean room from a laboratory!
The owner led me to very large machine and explained most of the mixing was done with the machine. I was confused as I’ve never seen something like this before. Apparently all they have to do is load the PG, VG, and nicotine into the machine and the machine accurately measures everything out for them and there is no room for human error. The members of the e-juice team then measures out the flavoring and injects it into the bottle before sealing it up. The pipettes used were mechanical in nature and held up to 10ml of flavoring. They had a pipette for every flavor the store carried so all they had to do was press the button and the precise amount of flavorings was released into the bottle.
I was awed by the efficiency of his e-juice making setup. I bluntly asked him about his investment in such a machine and he just told me that the store has gotten so busy that he could not meet the demands of his customers unless he either hired 10 more people just to bottle his e-juice or he invested in the machine. The way he saw it with almost a dozen people handling nicotine ratios and flavoring there was bound to be human error at least a few times a day and he wanted to avoid that at any cost as he understood the dangers of nicotine poisoning. It seemed like a perfect setup and a well-oiled machine he was running in his shop.
However, there was one thing that bugged me a bit, with how the machine worked; there are only so many combinations he could have, that is if you preferred a certain combination PG and VG they could not make it for you. I personally prefer no PG at all in my e-juices; however, that wasn’t one of the options that the machine made. They did have high VG but with my PG allergy, I, unfortunately, could not partake in their e-juices.
As you can see, there are two sides of the coin in the e-juice making business. Businesses can either hand make them or use a machine that helps get the job done quicker and more efficiently. With the machine however only so many combinations, it can create so some of the artisan aspects of e-juice making is taken out of it.
To me personally it is really an art form and making it by hand meets my needs more than a machine. However, the aspect of human error doesn’t escape me either as an e-juice maker can easily confuse VG and PG if they are not paying attention and ruin my e-juice (it’s happened before, most likely will happen again); either way I am happy to see both vendors taking safety and contamination into heavy consideration prior to making and selling their e-juices. I’ve seen many stores that make their e-juice out in the open, next to food or drinks, and keeps mixing materials in the bathroom (yuck). Avoid those stores at all costs as the last thing you want in your e-juice is someone’s lunch!!