A Guide to Wicking Materials
Your wick is one of the key components of your setup, but not all wicks are created equally. Not only can the speed of wicking vary between different materials, certain options will mute the flavor of your e-liquid, so it’s worth considering what the best materials to use are. Although the widespread move to cotton has left organic cotton balls as the most widely-used option today for rebuilders, with things like cellulose cotton, cotton bacon, rayon and hemp all having staunch supporters, how do you make your choice? Well, we can’t say what you’ll prefer, but here’s a look at the most commonly-used wicking materials for vaping and their pros and cons.
Stainless Steel Mesh
Back in the days of genesis-style atomizers, stainless steel mesh wicks were used for their great wicking ability, the relatively good taste and their inexpensive nature. They’re bought as a sheet of fine mesh, which is then rolled into a tube for use as a vaping wick. They can be used in RDAs (rebuildable dripping atomizers), but they’re best-suited to genesis-style, vertical wick setups. The main downside is that your coil surrounds a conductive material, which leads to many problems with shorts, and the wicks require oxidizing to reliably prevent such issues. Generally, these issues have led to stainless steel mesh falling out of favor with vapers.
The original wick choice for e-cigarettes, silica wicks are pieces of twisted rope made from silicon dioxide. They’re suitable for use in tanks, RDAs, genesis-style atomizers or pretty much any other application, they’re very easy to work with and they can stand up to short periods of dry-burning. Their flavor is passable, although noticeably muted, and their wicking ability is far from the best. Black Note’s NET e-liquid is wick-and-coil-friendly, but NET blends using sweeteners or high-VG juices can easily lead to clogging. You wrap your coil around your wick, so changing wicks when you change flavor isn’t really practical – it can be done, but it isn’t as easy as it is with cotton.
This is basically silica version 2.0, made from braided silica and having a hollow center to aid wicking ability. It offers the same benefits as silica in terms of ease of use, and it can stand dry-burning much better. The main improvements on the standard silica are in wicking ability and flavor, with Ekowool having a cleaner taste overall than silica. It’s also now available with a cotton core for even better wicking. However, both silica and Ekowool have the same problems with juices prone to clogging wicks.
Cotton is the new standard when it comes to wicking materials, and it’s easy to see why. Picking up some 100 percent organic cotton balls is unbeatably cheap, it works perfectly for dripping atomizers, the flavor is fantastic and it wicks fairly efficiently – although not as well as other cotton-based wicks. Whereas you build your wicks around silica, Ekowool and stainless steel mesh, cotton is easy to thread through (and remove from) your coil, making it much, much easier to change wicks when you switch to a new flavor. Although those in search of the very best performance should consider other options, for most vapers’ purposes cotton strikes the perfect balance between affordability, performance and ease of use. However, cotton will burn if you fire your device without any liquid, so no dry-burning! The taste of a dry hit from cotton is also notoriously horrible, so it’s better to make sure it’s well-soaked for that reason too.
Another natural fiber that’s found its way into many atomizers is hemp. The main benefit of using it is that it can soak up quite a lot of juice, but it has quite a few downsides. Firstly, it’s expensive in comparison to other options, it isn’t the easiest material to work with – being quite stringy and hard to get into a suitable wick shape – it doesn’t wick very quickly and it imparts a noticeable woody flavor to your juice.
Rayon is a cellulose fiber made from wood pulp, and while that might not sound appealing, the structure of the fibers makes it amazingly efficient when it comes to wicking. It also doesn’t burn as easily as cotton – so it’s easier to avoid those horrible dry hits – and still doesn’t cost very much. For flavor, it’s widely-regarded as having a very clean taste. It works particularly well for drippers, but doesn’t hold as much juice as cotton, and many vapers have concerns about the possible health risks associated with vaping it, although there is no reliable information on this yet.
This is pretty much the same as rayon (even coming in an almost identical box), but the fibers are made from cotton instead. This has all the benefits of rayon, but it’s better at holding e-liquid, and will expand to do so. It also pulls apart into strands more readily than cotton balls – making it easier to form into wicks – and soaks up juice much more quickly and efficiently. Although some are concerned about health effects, there seems to be no reason to expect there would be any difference between this and ordinary organic cotton.
Cotton Bacon is a wicking material made by vapers, for vapers. It offers many of the benefits of ordinary cotton, but it comes in strips, making it easier to work with, and it also boasts a superior flavor, imparting very little if anything onto the taste of your juice (making it a great option for any flavor-chasing vapers). It’s ready to vape right out of the packet, because it’s undergone extra processing to remove any oils from the cotton. It’s also more absorbent and efficient at wicking than cotton balls. The only downside is the price, which isn’t too much but is definitely more expensive than ordinary cotton balls or cellucotton.
Japanese Cotton – Koh Gen Do
This is the high-end wicking material of choice, costing notably more than other wicking options but widely-claimed to offer a superior vape. The main benefits are its complete purity, with no chemical treatment or bleaching, and the fact that it comes in pads, which makes it very easy to work with. The interwoven structure of the material gives it fantastic wicking ability, and it’s very absorbent. It works particularly well in tank systems, although it’s definitely suitable for drippers too. The main downside is the price, but when you’ve picked up a pack (which usually includes 60 pads or more) you’re unlikely to need any more for a while – each wick can last quite a long time, and can stand up to heat better than ordinary cotton.
Conclusion – Try Out Some Different Wicks
So there are plenty of options for wicks besides silica and organic cotton, but when you get towards the higher-end materials, choosing between them is more a matter of personal preference than anything else. The best advice is to test out some different options and see which works best for your needs – this guide should point you in the right direction, but when it comes down to what you prefer to work with and what you think the best flavor comes from, there’s really only one way to find out.
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