The Vape Town Guide To Nicotine Salts

Nicotine Salt E-liquids vs Freebase nicotine

What has led to the massive rise in popularity of nic salt based e-liquids recently? We take a look at how they compare to their freebase nicotine counterparts to see what all the fuss is about.

Nicotine salt (aka nic salts) has been used in e-liquid for a few years now. However, their meteoric rise in popularity has only happened over the last 12 months.

Nic salt e-liquids are particularly popular in the States where they commonly vape a whopping 50mg of nicotine salts. The EU versions are limited to the 20% nicotine level allowable by the TPD regulations.

This rise in demand has seen us massively increase our own range of nic salt e-liquids. We created this guide to help you make an informed decision about whether vaping nic salts is right for you.

What is freebase nicotine?

Firstly, let’s address the more common form of nicotine - freebase.

Cigarettes, nicotine replacement therapies (gum, patches, etc.), and regular vape juices all contain freebase nicotine. Freebasing is achieved by converting nicotine from its natural ‘salt’ state into its base ‘pure’ form. It’s a way of increasing strength without increasing the quantity. Protons are stripped from the nicotine salts using ammonia, increasing its pH level (alkalinity) and returning it to a deprotonated ‘freebase’ state.

So why would vapers benefit from a switch to nicotine salts if freebase nicotine so pure? The answer lies with the main drawback of using freebase nicotine in e-liquid.

The cons to using freebase nicotine in e-liquid

The main requirement of choosing vaping to quit smoking is to make the sensation of vaping as close to that of smoking a cigarette as possible. Therefore, the nicotine delivery has to replicate smoking.

Because freebase nicotine has a high pH value (making it more alkaline) it is extremely harsh in high doses. The throat hit from a high mg dose of freebase nicotine is found to be too severe for most vapers to enjoy.

This can lead to vaping newbies reducing the nicotine content of their e liquid before they’ve conquered the early cravings.

The clever folks behind nicotine salts for e-liquid wanted to find a way to deliver both an effective craving quasher and a smooth vaping experience. So, let’s take a look at what the nicotine salt that they created actually is...

What actually is nicotine salt?

Firstly, let’s dispel a myth - nic salt will not make your vape juice taste salty, and will not increase your sodium intake. In chemical terminology, a salt is simply something that is made up of a chemical reaction that has a positive charge (acid) and a negative charge (base).

Tobacco leaves contain nicotine ONLY in its salt state. It is these nicotine salts that are deprotonated to create freebase nicotine.

The chemical make-up of nicotine salt has a naturally weak base which needs to find positively charged particles (protons) to become stable (ionised). Because ions struggle to move through cell membranes, they don’t travel easily to the nicotine receptors in our body.

If pure nic salts were added to the VG/PG that comprises e-liquid, it would need to be vaped at extremely high temperatures for the nicotine to be effective. So, to rectify this, the nic salt requires a little chemical conversion of its own.

How do nic salts become suited to vaping?

Rather than bore you with the precise molecular breakdown, we can sum it up in two words: pH levels.

If you increase the acidity of pure nicotine salt, you can deliver much higher doses of nicotine without the nasty throat hit.

Acids bond well to nicotine. There are certain acids that occur naturally in every cell of the human body that are perfect for the job of converting natural nic salts to ‘vapable’ nic salts.

The most commonly used is Benzoic acid which has three key benefits:

  1. It gives the nicotine a chemical structure which is far more rapidly absorbed by our bodies

  2. It enables the nicotine salt to vaporise at lower temperatures

  3. It lowers the pH level resulting in a much smoother throat hit

By raising the acidity of nicotine salt, it delivers a concentration of nicotine to the blood that is comparable to combustible cigarettes, in roughly the same amount of time.

Nicotine salt vs. freebase nicotine

Let’s take a closer look at the key differences:

Nicotine Salt

Freebase Nicotine


  • Contains Benzoic or Citric acid

  • Is absorbed faster into the bloodstream

  • Is smooth at high doses

  • Does not enable large cloud production

  • Suited to mouth-to-lung vaping

  • More expensive by volume

  • Suitable for high nicotine strengths

  • Ideal for new vapers, or mixed users

  • Well suited to pod vapes and lower power vape devices

  • Less liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit

  • Slow oxidation means longer shelf life

  • Contains no additives

  • Has a slower absorption rate

  • Is harsh at high doses

  • Enables large cloud production

  • Suited to mouth-to-lung or direct-to-lung vaping

  • Less expensive by volume

  • More suited to low and medium nicotine strengths

  • Suited to vapers with lower nicotine requirements

  • More liquid needed for comparable nicotine hit

  • Faster oxidation means shorter shelf life


Is nicotine salt right for you?

Nicotine salt e-liquid might just be the right thing for you if you can tick yes to any of the below questions:

  • Do you want to quit smoking?

  • Have you tried vaping before without success?

  • Are you happier with a more basic vaping device?

  • Do you prefer higher nicotine levels than regular e-liquid can provide?

If you have any more questions about nicotine (or anything vape related for that matter), we’re always on hand to offer expert guidance and advice. Please feel free to get in touch.