S10 Blog

Vape Hardware: Cotton And Maintenance

Published Date:
January 25, 2022

Cotton may not be the first material that comes to mind when you think of vape hardware, but it’s a critical component of many vaporizers. Today, we will break down the purpose of using cotton in vape hardware, discuss the best ways to maintain vape cotton, and explore its limitations and potential alternatives.

Why Do Vapes Use Cotton?

Some vaporizer devices utilize cotton in order to help wick the cannabis extract or e-juice. Essentially, it partially absorbs the liquid, holding it in place so that the device can properly convert the extract or e-juice into an inhalable vapor.

The cotton may not be immediately visible when looking at a vape device. That’s because the cotton is housed inside the device’s heating element.

What Is The Heating Element/Atomizer In A Vape?

All vaporizers have a heating element, though sometimes they’re referred to as an atomizer. The heating element draws power from the device’s battery unit and uses that power to create enough heat to vaporize the cannabis concentrates or e-juice housed in the device’s tank.

Different vaporizer manufacturers construct heating elements out of different materials, and only certain ones will require the use of cotton as a wicking agent.  

Which Vapes Use Cotton?

Specifically, vaporizers that employ the use of metal coils in their heating elements will need cotton to function effectively.

Metal coils are wound spirals of wire held in place by the device's heating element. When the heating element draws its power from the battery, it directs it to the coil, raising the metal wire’s temperature high enough to vaporize the concentrate or e-liquid.

However, coils aren’t able to vaporize liquid on their own. They require a cotton wick, which is pulled through the coil itself, to absorb the liquid and directly expose it to the heat generated by that coil.

Do Disposable Carts Use Cotton?

Often, coils are used in the construction of DIY box mods. However, you’ll also find metal coils and cotton wicks in many disposable prefab vape carts. If the cartridge is made of metal and plastic, it almost certainly has a cotton wick.

Types Of Cotton

Not just any type of cotton can function safely as a vape wick. In the early days of vapes, DIY mod builders would use regular cotton balls, like the kind found at neighborhood pharmacies, as wicking agents in their devices. However, this practice is considered dated and unsafe.

Not just any cotton wool can safely serve as a vape wick. It must be undyed, unbleached, and chlorine-free. Today, vape stores carry a wide array of cotton specifically designed for use in vaporizers. It’s highly recommended consumers only use this type of cotton in their devices.

How To Replace Cotton In Vape

Cotton wicks don’t last indefinitely. Depending on the frequency of use, they may need to be changed as frequently as every few days.

When the cotton begins to wear out, it no longer effectively absorbs liquid and begins to fail. If you notice your device produces less vapor than it used to, it may be the first sign that your device requires a cotton replacement. Continued use of a device with compromised cotton can lead to dry hits—a hot plume of smoke that tastes like burnt cotton and can irritate the mouth and throat.  

To change the wick, you’ll need to disassemble your device to reveal the coil. Then, using tweezers, pull the failing cotton out of the coil. It may look black or gunked up depending on how long you’ve gone since changing it. This is also a good time to wipe down your coils, cleaning off any residue that can negatively impact flavor. Next, take your new cotton, and pull it through the coil using your tweezers. You’ll want the cotton to fit snugly in the coil, and you may need to twist the cotton into a spiral shape to get the best fit. Finally, trim the ends of your cotton and tuck them down, leaving some breathing room around the atomizer’s 510 threading.

Potential Complications With Metal Coils Cotton Wicks

Metal coils and cotton wicks are extremely common in both the cannabis and nicotine vape industries primarily because they’re cheap to produce. However, they aren’t necessarily the most functional or safest options for vaporizer heating elements.

Firstly, metal coils run the risk of leaching toxic heavy metals into the cannabis extract or e-juice. This can present a serious health concern to consumers.

Additionally, metal coil and cotton wicks require constant maintenance in order to avoid dry hits. Cotton wicks can quickly become dirty, detracting from the flavor of your vapor. Plus, metal coils are incompatible with more viscous types of cannabis concentrates.

Alternatives To Cotton

Ceramic coils and cartridges are some of the best alternatives to conventional metal coils. Because ceramic is such a naturally porous material, it easily absorbs liquid without having to use a cotton wick. This eliminates the chore of wick replacements and removes the unpleasant possibility of dry hits. Ceramic is also an incredibly heat-resistant material, which means ceramic coils will last longer and perform better than metal ones.

Ceramic coils offer more overall surface area than metal coils providing more robust and flavorful hits every time. This increased surface area also makes ceramic coils more compatible with high viscosity liquids, opening the door to a broader array of potential cannabis concentrates.

Finally, ceramic coils and cartridges don’t utilize metal components, so the health risk of heavy metal leaching is no longer a concern for consumers. Ultimately, ceramic provides better flavor, better functionality, and a safer experience compared to metal coils with cotton wicks.

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