We’ve all dealt with expiration dates. I can remember times from my childhood, when my mother would throw together giant “catch all” dinners, to ensure we cleaned the fridge of meats, eggs and milk before those faintly printed dates lapsed, staving off unspeakable food poisoning.
(Yes, my mother had a flair for the dramatic.)
Since those days, consumables industries have only become more cautious, adding “born by” and “best by” dates to any item that may suffer over time. This includes the ever-growing e-liquid market, which is trying to stay in the good graces of both consumers and federal agencies.
Is it all necessary? Well, that’s hard to say. But we have a few insights.
An official word on expiration dates
For a basis of discussion, here’s what the FDA has to say about expiration, best-by and use-by dates on consumable food products:
With the exception of infant formula, the laws that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. FDA does not require food firms to place “expired by”, “use by” or “best before” dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.
A principle of U.S. food law is that foods in U.S. commerce must be wholesome and fit for consumption. A “best by,” “use by” or expiration date does not relieve a firm from this obligation. A product that is dangerous to consumers would be subject to potential action by FDA to remove it from commerce regardless of any date printed on a label.
In everyday practice, this makes a lot of sense. If milk looks and smells good, but is two days past the printed expiration, you’d probably drink it, right? But if that block of brie is smelling a little gamy, even with another week to go before the deadline hits, common sense dictates you throw it out.
These dates are largely guidelines – and helpful ones, at that. But it’s entirely possible many of us lend a little too much credence to them, forsaking good judgment. The FDA Center for Tobacco Products, which assumed regulatory control of e-cigarettes and vaping products with its deeming regulations, has no requirements for expiration dates on e-liquid labels — yet anyway.
How long does e-liquid actually last?
The short, but honest answer is that we really don’t know. A correctly stored bottle of e-liquid should be perfectly fine for up to two years – an estimate based on what we know about propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, and nicotine oxidation.
In layman’s terms? If you buy well-made e-liquid, and store it in glass bottles in a cool, dark place, there’s a very good chance your juice will outlast bottles sitting on an open windowsill, and will meet or exceed any expiration dates printed on the packaging.
Expiration dates are arbitrary, and are more accurately described as freshness gauges, rather than concrete indicators of spoilage. They don’t really apply to something as shelf-stable as e-liquid.
But there are always exceptions. An all-natural e-liquid, made with just a few ingredients, might not keep as well as varieties made with solely artificial flavorings, but tastes amazing from first drop to last. Yet, a bargain-basement, chemical-heavy brand might be able to outlast every juice on your shelf, regardless of environment, but could have harsh notes and odd flavorings.
Which of these would you rather vape?
Let’s get more specific…
There are many variables to consider when judging e-liquid longevity. The quality of PG, VG, nicotine and flavorings; the ratios they’re mixed at; and the conditions under which the e-liquid was handled could all affect how long your juice lasts.
Though the commonly accepted shelf life of e-liquid ingredients is around two years, quality is paramount. If you get cheap juice, it’s likely cheap for a reason, meaning your PG and VG may begin degrading before that two-year mark.
In turn, improperly handled nicotine may oxidize more quickly. If you repeatedly leave e-liquid exposed to sunlight, humid rooms, or rapid temperature changes, the nic becomes darker, with more harsh, “peppery” notes in each hit. Oxidation doesn’t seem to affect potency though.
Finally, flavorings vary in both quality and formulation. Natural ingredients like vanilla or other food-based extracts may lack the preservatives of more chemical-based juices, reducing shelf life, as well.
You may also notice that some natural flavorings begin to separate from other ingredients if left unused, leading to sediment in your bottles. If shaking the juice does not properly redistribute the ingredients, throw out the juice, as it will likely be unpleasant to vape, even if still safe.
So, is vaping “expired” e-liquid dangerous?
Again, an e-liquid’s lasting power really comes down to what’s in the bottle, not what’s printed on it. The best juices in the world might not last past a year on the shelf … but if they’re that good, you’ll probably finish the bottle long before its age becomes a factor.
Before you panic about the older entries in your collection, and start tossing gallons of supposedly “expired” e-liquid in the trash, stop and think about what we said about milk. Now apply that thinking to your juice:
- How does the e-liquid smell?
- How does the e-liquid look?
- Is the e-liquid clear and free of solids?
If the e-liquid looks and smells fine, then you likely have nothing to worry about. Minor color changes are likely due to nic oxidation, which isn’t a health concern. Not sure? Toss it and try to balance your consumption with the rest of your collection. It’s a small price to pay for peace-of-mind.
What do YOU prefer?
Our best advice is to judge your e-liquids yourself. If you have even a concern about something you take into your body, don’t use it. Throw it out – if the bottle is that old, chances are you won’t miss it, anyway.
One more thing – if you take a chance on some older e-liquid, you may also discover flavors and vape quality you never got when the bottle was fresh. In fact, lots of vapers actually prefers their juice to be well-aged, allowing flavors to steep and meld, while getting a little extra kick from naturally oxidized nicotine.
But that’s a personal choice, and – as we say often around here – your preferences may vary. As long as your liquid doesn’t have any off-putting qualities in the bottle, it should be perfectly fine to vape, regardless of what the supposed expiration date might dictate.