Is Cotton Really the Best Wick Material for Vaping?

It often feels like it’s nearly a universal truth that people who build their own vaping coils love to tinker with different aspects of the vaping experience. If you build your own coils, it’s likely that you’ve made coils with kanthal and nichrome. You may have even tried some more exotic coil materials like stainless steel, nickel and titanium. When it’s time to add wicks to your coils, though, we bet there’s a more than 90 percent chance that you’re using cotton.

There are many reasons why cotton is the most popular material for vaping wicks. Cotton is inexpensive and easy to use. People feel confident about its safety. Cotton delivers a pure flavor. Although cotton can burn, it doesn’t burn easily unless you’re negligent about keeping it wet. Cotton provides a balanced vaping experience that’s good for just about everyone – but is cotton actually the best wick material? That’s what we’re going to examine in this list of alternatives to cotton for vaping wicks.

Silica Wicks

Before the sub-ohm vaping era, it was silica – not cotton – that was the most popular wick material for vaping. Silica is even more neutral in flavor than cotton, and burning a silica wick is impossible at temperatures that a vaping device can reach. Since they don’t burn, silica wicks are extremely long lasting. Cotton ultimately overtook silica in popularity, though, for two reasons. The first is that silica isn’t easy to work with. You can’t squish silica between your fingers as you can cotton, so you can’t thread a silica wick through a coil; you have to wrap the coil around the wick. Silica also doesn’t transport e-liquid quite as efficiently as cotton. If you use a silica wick for sub-ohm vaping, you’ll have to wait between puffs to let the wick re-saturate. While a silica wick isn’t a good choice for chain vaping, it’s worth considering if you prefer lower-temperature vaping, want the purest flavor possible or simply want a wick that can last an incredibly long time.

Rayon Wicks

Rayon is another vaping wick material that’s been with us for a long time. Unlike silica, though, rayon has successfully made the transition from low-temperature vaping to sub-ohm vaping because it’s an extremely efficient carrier of liquids. E-liquid travels so quickly across a rayon wick, in fact, that many people advocate trimming rayon at an angle to minimize the amount of material that touches your atomizer’s deck. The main challenge when using a rayon wick is using the correct amount of material. While cotton expands when it’s wet, rayon shrinks. When wicking a coil with rayon, you should thread as much material through the coil as possible without deforming the metal. As well as rayon works as a wicking material, some people feel that its flavor isn’t as pure as that of cotton. Since taste is subjective, only you can decide whether using a rayon wick changes the flavor of your favorite e-liquid in a negative way.

Ceramic Wicks

Ceramic wicks have seen a bit of use in the sub-ohm vaping era; companies such as Vaporesso and Atom Vapes use ceramic in some of their lower-wattage coils. Although ceramic is a bit more efficient than silica as a wick material, it still can’t transport e-liquid quickly enough to support high-wattage vaping. During a long puff, a ceramic wick will quickly dry out, and it’ll take several seconds to become wet again. Despite that shortcoming, many people love ceramic for its pure flavor and extremely high heat resistance. Some people clean their coils by dry burning them with the ceramic wicks still in place – you could never do that with cotton. If you’d like to experiment with using a ceramic wick, you can buy strands of braided ceramic ready for immediate use. The ceramic wicks made for sub-ohm coils are a different form of ceramic called sintered ceramic. Sintered ceramic is a liquid form of ceramic that’s poured into a mold and heated in a kiln until it’s solid. Sintered ceramic isn’t appropriate for RDA coils.

Stainless Steel Wicks

Using a conductive metal as a vaping wick might seem counterintuitive if you’re not a long-term vaper, but e-cigarette users have actually been using stainless steel mesh as a wick almost since the beginning of the vaping industry. Before sub-ohm vaping became popular, the Genisis – the misspelling is intentional – tank was one of the most popular vaping accessories among coil builders. The Genesis used a rolled-up tube of stainless steel mesh to draw e-liquid up from a reservoir situated below a single atomizer coil. The Genisis tank was legendary among flavor chasers, but it didn’t work for the lung hits that many vapers prefer today. It was purely a mouth-to-lung tank. Stainless steel still works as a wick material for sub-ohm vaping. Its extremely fast capillary action makes it great for chain vaping. Stainless steel isn’t popular as a wick material among mainstream vapers, though, because it’s difficult to set up. You have to put a stainless steel wick through an arduous process of torching and quenching to build up a layer of oxidation on the steel. Otherwise, it’ll conduct electricity – and you’ll have a short.

Hemp Wicks

Hemp is probably the least popular wick material for vaping for three reasons. The first reason is that hemp is more difficult to work with than cotton. Hemp isn’t as soft as cotton, so it isn’t easy to cut the correct amount of hemp and thread it through a coil. The second problem with hemp is flavor. Some people find that hemp adds a distinct “grassy” flavor to e-liquid. The last problem with hemp wicks is availability. If you want to use a hemp wick for vaping, you need to find hemp that’s processed to remove all gums, waxes and impurities. Since hemp vaping wicks aren’t popular, few companies produce them. Despite its problems, though, hemp is an interesting choice as a wick material because it’s a natural fiber that’s much stronger and more durable than cotton.

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