Vaporizers & Vaping

What Is Vape Smoke? Explaining The Difference Between Smoke and Vapor

Gabi Antunes

Jul 21, 2019

You may have wondered about the difference between vaping and smoking. If you’re not setting anything aflame while vaping, what exactly is that puff produced after you inhale? That “cloud” is vapor, much more closely related to an actual cloud than what you see after bringing a lighter to plant material.

While the two terms may be used in conjunction with one another or even interchangeably, that’s simply not correct. Smoking and vaping are worlds apart, scientifically speaking. Vaporizers are designed to avoid any smoke-causing combustion, and this major distinction dictates the vaping experience, from taste to desired effect. In this blog, we’ll explore the difference between smoke and vapor, and we’ll dive into why the term “vape smoke” isn’t the correct terminology to use.

What is smoke and combustion?

In short, smoke is defined as “the gaseous products of burning materials, especially of organic origin, made visible by the presence of small particles of carbon.” Smoke is produced as material burns, a process also known as combustion.

Take, for example, a campfire made from ordinary logs and small kindling. When you first light the kindling beneath the logs, there’s generally quite a bit of smoke. Then, as the kindling lights and the logs start burning, the amount of smoke typically increases. Once you have a roaring fire going, the amount of smoke in the air tends to reduce, but there will continue to be wisps throughout the duration of the campfire.

Smoke occurs whenever there is incomplete combustion, which means there is not enough oxygen to fully burn the aflame material. The leftover, unburned particles go up into the air as smoke, which is often why so much smoke is created in the early stages of combusting material. In this example, the smoke you see coming from your campfire are volatile organic compounds called hydrocarbons evaporating from your logs. When there is complete combustion, however, those hydrocarbons are completely broken down into water and carbon dioxide, resulting in little to no smoke while the fire burns.

How is vapor different than smoke?

The short definition of vapor is “a substance in the gaseous state as distinguished from the liquid or solid state.” The difference is that a vaporized substance is simply in its gaseous form, unlike smoke, which contains a wide-range of hydrocarbons and partially broken-down compounds.

By definition, vapor is completely different than smoke. Vaporizing turns the material in the vape from its solid or liquid state into its gaseous state. When vaporizing, material is heated to its boiling point with the purpose of releasing vapor. Combustion from the campfire, on the other hand, can produce acrid and smelly smoke. When used properly, vapes do not combust the materials loaded into the chamber or contained in the cartridge.

How does vaporization affect smell?

If you’ve ever spent a considerable time around combusting materials, such as the burning wood on our campfire, you know that the smoke lingers and leaves an unmistakable smell behind. When you come home from a camping trip, you might find your clothes still smell strongly of that campfire from the night before. When articles of clothing or other items are exposed to smoke for a prolonged period, that smoky smell might not even easily wash out.

Why is that? Smoke creates what is known as a “coating effect.” The coating effect is caused by volatile organic compounds that linger in the air long after the combustion has ceased. Depending on the compounds found in the combusted material, that smell could be a signal of toxin build-up in the immediate environment. Because these compounds are sticky, it is often difficult to clear away the smoky smell.

Vaporizing materials, on the other hand, typically does not result in a long-lasting or hard-to-get-rid-of smell. Vaping is more closely related to what happens when you boil a pot of water. When you’re cooking and the water begins to boil, you might detect a light scent. But once the burner is turned off and the water ceases to boil, the smell completely dissipates. You could boil water every day and there would be no persistent scent in your home, but a roaring fire in a fireplace would leave a smell that’s both unforgettable and unmistakable. That’s a major difference between smoke and vapor, and it’s good news for consumers who want to avoid the notorious long-lasting odor caused by smoke.

Is it correct to use the term “vape smoke?”

You may hear consumers use the term “vape smoke” when talking about their vaporizers. This is technically incorrect, as the clouds produced from a vaporizer contain absolutely zero smoke. It’s all vapor, the remnants from boiling the material in your vape’s cartridge or that you’ve loaded into the chamber.

The term “smoke” implies that new compounds and chemicals are being created by incomplete combustion of a fuel source, and as we’ve learned here, that is not the case when vaporizing the material in your device. Unlike smoke, vapor dissipates very quickly. It does not create a lingering odor either. When it comes down to the science of it, there are no similarities between smoke and vapor.

Now that you know the major differences between vapor and smoke, you can gently correct people who refer to the clouds puffed from your vaporizer as “vape smoke.” Vapor is made up of the same compound in the unused material in your vape; if it were smoke, altogether new compounds would be created by incomplete combustion. To suggest otherwise simply misses the mark.