Salt Nicotine vs Freebase Nicotine

Vaping has become an extremely popular alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes. There are many different types of vaping devices and e-liquids available. Two of the main options for e-liquids are salt nic and regular freebase nicotine. Understanding the key differences between these two common vape juice types can help you choose the right one to suit your needs.

An Introduction to Nicotine Salts

Nicotine salt e-liquids, often referred to simply as “salt nic”, are one of the newer innovations in vaping. Salt nic was originally developed by the popular vape company JUUL and has since become widely adopted by other brands and device manufacturers.

What Are Nicotine Salts?

Nicotine salts are a form of nicotine found naturally in the leaves of tobacco plants. The term refers to the chemical state of the nicotine. In salt form, nicotine is bound to an organic acid.

Common salt nicotine bases used in vaping include:

    • Benzoic acid
    • Levulinic acid
    • Citric acid

Binding to these acids makes nicotine salts less harsh and smoother inhaling compared to freebase nicotine.

The Science Behind Nicotine Salts

The reason nicotine salts create a milder vaping experience relates to the pH level. Freebase nicotine has a higher pH of 8-9, making it more alkaline. This “free” form is harsher on the throat when vaped.

Salts lower the pH to around 5-7, making nicotine more bioavailable. Our bodies more readily absorb nicotine in its natural salt state. The result is faster delivery and satisfaction from less vapor.

The JUUL Breakthrough

When JUUL launched its revolutionary pod-based vape system in 2015, it contained nicotine salts. JUUL’s special “nicotine salt e-liquid” formulation became a game changer.

The high nicotine concentrations delivered more potent throat hits while remaining smooth. This innovation fueled the rise of nic salt vaping.

Pros of Using Nicotine Salts

There are several potential benefits to vaping nicotine salts compared to freebase nic:

    • Smoother throat hit at higher strengths
    • Faster nicotine absorption
    • Satisfaction from less vapor
    • Mimics analog cigarette feel
    • Easy switch for new vapers

Due to the smoothness of salt nic, it allows higher nicotine concentrations to be vaped comfortably. This makes salts ideal for transitioning from smoking.

Freebase Nicotine in Vape Juice

Before nicotine salts, all vape juice used freebase nicotine. This is sometimes called “regular” nicotine, but it differs chemically from the natural salt form.

The Freebase Production Process

Freebase nicotine is produced through a chemical process using alkaline solution to remove protons from the nicotine molecules. This raises the pH and “frees” the nicotine from its salt bonds.

Removing the acidic components results in a more alkaline pH between 8-9. At this higher pH, freebase nicotine is harsher and less bioavailable when ingested or vaped.

Grades of Freebase Nicotine

There are a few grades of freebase nicotine used in vape juice:

    • Pharmaceutical grade: Highest purity for medical applications
    • Food grade: High purity but may have slight taste
    • Technical grade: Cheaper but may impart flavor

Most vape juice uses food or pharmaceutical grade for best results. Technical grade is lower quality with potential taste issues.

Pros of Freebase Nicotine

Despite some downsides, freebase nicotine offers benefits including:

    • Wider range of nicotine strengths
    • Greater throat hit and vapor
    • Works better with sub ohm devices
    • Provides more control over nic level
    • Original standard vape juice format

Thanks to the smooth nature of nic salts, freebase remains useful for sub ohm vaping and offers more flexibility for users to choose their desired nicotine level.

Key Differences Between Salt Nic and Freebase

Now that we’ve covered the basics of each nicotine type, let’s directly compare some of the major ways that nic salts and freebase differ.

Throat Hit and Harshness

The reduced acidity of freebase nicotine creates a harsher throat hit. Nicotine salts have a more neutral pH, making for smoother inhales.

Salt nic can be vaped at higher concentrations without the harsh “bite” of freebase, even with simple pod devices.

Nicotine Strength Options

Typical nic salt juices range from 25-50 mg/mL to as high as 60 mg/mL. This allows low powered devices to still deliver strong nicotine.

Freebase levels range from 0 mg up to 24 mg/mL. The harshest strengths would be too irritating to vape in most pod system devices.

Vapor Production and Density

Higher nicotine concentrations mean less vapor production is needed with salts to get your nic fix. The vapor is low density and dissipates quickly.

Freebase produces larger, dense vapor clouds. It relies more on vapor amount rather than nic strength to deliver nicotine.

New User Friendliness

Nicotine salts closely mimic the feel and absorption of traditional cigarettes. This makes transitioning to vaping easier for new users.

The lower nic levels and bigger hits of freebase work better for experienced vapers. The harshness can deter new converts.

Device Compatibility

Nic salts are designed for low-powered pod vapes, AIO systems, and starter kits. The high nic strength could damage coils not designed for salts.

Sub ohm tanks, rebuildable atomizers, and box mods perform best with freebase juices. Salts may not wick well due to the viscosity.

difference between salt nicotine and regular nicotine

Is One Nicotine Type Better for You?

With the different characteristics of freebase and salt nicotine, you may wonder if one option is better or safer overall. But the answer really comes down to personal vaping preferences.

It Depends On the User

For newer vapers or smokers looking to switch, nicotine salts offer an easy transition. The familiar cigarette-like satisfaction can prevent relapse.

Experienced vapers may prefer freebase for fuller vapor, throat hit, and more nic strength flexibility. Sub ohm devices also depend on freebase juice.

Less About Health, More About Experience

While some may perceive salts as “smoother” and therefore safer, both contain nicotine and pose similar addiction risks. But they allow tailoring your experience.

One is not necessarily healthier than the other. It’s more about finding the vaping enjoyment and nic delivery that keeps you off cigarettes.

Consider Combining Both

There’s no rule you must choose one nicotine type. Many vapers keep multiple devices on hand for salts when out and about and freebase at home for longer sessions.

Having both options offers versatility across situations. You get the best of both worlds!

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we’ve explored the key differences between freebase and salt nicotine, let’s answer some common questions vapers have when deciding between them.

Can You Use Any Nicotine in a Vape?

While freebase and nic salts are the two main options designed for vaping, technically you could use other forms. However, performance and safety may suffer.

Always use nicotine designed for vape juice, don’t try extracting nicotine from other sources. Stick to reputable e-liquid brands.

Do Salts Deliver Nicotine Faster?

Yes, nicotine salts tend to absorb faster into the bloodstream thanks to the natural pH. Users often report a quicker nic hit from salts compared to the same strength freebase.

The faster satisfaction from salts makes them ideal for intermittent vaping when you need a quick break or nicotine boost.

Is Freebase Nicotine Harsh?

At higher concentrations, freebase nicotine can be quite harsh on the throat when inhaled. Around 12-24 mg/mL is the comfortable limit for most users. Any higher tends to taste peppery and cause a burning sensation.

This throat harshness limits the nic strength levels suitable for direct lung vaping. Nic salts were a game changer for higher strength Pod devices.

Can You Sub Ohm Nicotine Salts?

You can vape lower strength salt nic in some sub ohm tanks, but performance may be poor. Salts are designed for pods and mouth to lung devices. The viscosity and rapid absorption can cause dry hits or muted flavor in sub ohm tanks.

For the best experience, pair sub ohm devices like mods and rebuildable atomizers with traditional freebase juices instead.

Which Lasts Longer in Vape Juice?

There is some perception that nicotine salts don’t last as long before going “bad” compared to freebase, but little evidence confirms this. Stored properly, both types should last a similar duration before nicotine oxidation occurs.

Do Salts Stain Pod Systems?

Clearomizers and pods may develop staining or residue more quickly from higher strength salt nic e-liquids. But keeping devices clean and replacing pods regularly prevents excessive staining.

For clear devices where appearance is important, stick to lower nicotine levels if you notice staining from salts. Otherwise, clean frequently.

Finding the Right Nicotine Type for Your Needs

Hopefully this breakdown gives you a better grasp of the key differences between freebase and nic salt vape juice. To summarize:

  • Salts: excellent for new vapers, pod systems, rapid satisfaction
  • Freebase: wider nic range, bigger vapor, works better in sub ohms

With this knowledge, you can confidently choose the nicotine type for your vaping needs:

I’m New to Vaping – Salts

If you’re making the switch from traditional smoking, nicotine salts offer the closest experience. Salts replicate the quick nic hit and cigarette feel to make transitioning easier.

I Vape High-Power Devices – Freebase

For chasing clouds on box mods, RDAs and RTAs, go with smooth freebase juice. Salts won’t perform well in high-wattage setups. Choose lower nic concentrations around 6-12 mg/mL.

I Use Both Pod Systems and Mods – Try Both

To get the versatile benefits of salts and freebase, use nic salts in your pod device for quick breaks and freebase juice in your mod at home. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one type!

No matter your experience level or preferred vaping style, understanding the differences between freebase and nic salt e-liquids allows picking your perfect juice. Then you can relax and enjoy the best vaping experience.


Vaping technology has come a long way since the early days of bulky cigalike devices. Nicotine salts ushered in a new era of potent yet smooth high-strength nic vaping. This innovation expanded satisfaction and accessibility for smokers looking to make the switch.

While freebase e-liquid with its wider nic range remains essential for sub ohm setups, nicotine salts are ideal for pod systems and new converts. The rapid nic hit and cigarette-like draw is invaluable.

With both salt nic and freebase options widely available, vapers can enjoy the best of both worlds. Mix and match juices across your devices to customize for clouds, flavor, or quick nic satisfaction.

The beauty of vaping is the range of choices available today. By understanding whether to reach for freebase or nic salts, you can optimize performance and find your perfect vape!

Matthew Ma