Most advertising nowadays about vape wicking is embellished. Maybe very embellished! But that doesn’t change the fact that different wicking materials produce different types of experiences. And for vaping, that's a big deal. The wick is important!
Yes, cotton balls. But note: I don’t mean the bright white variety you see at drugstores. Standardissue cotton balls are white because they’re bleached. You can use these, and most of us did in the beginning, but there are better options. Organic cotton balls, which are more off-white, can be purchased in vape shops, and in specialty health and beauty stores. They wick juice very quickly, while also holding a lot of it.
Just be sure to wick it right – even though organic cotton has a high capacity for e-liquid, it can become dry in a flash, thanks to the fast wicking properties. If you overstuff or otherwise impede the flow of e-liquid, you’ll experience more than your share of dry hits. Another item of note is the cotton degradation that occurs with regular use. Though a perfectly wicked coil can last for a week or more, I find the best results for wicking vapes like this: change the cotton every couple days. Though it’s not the most convenient option, there’s nothing quite like the flavor it gives when wicked properly.
Chances are, if you buy cotton pads from a vape shop, you’re puffing on a variant of Japanese organic cotton. Though the most popular brands used today are Koh Gen Do and Muji, the countless offshoots all follow the same formula of unbleached, unpigmented cotton squares that are free of any chemical treatment. This results in rich, unadulterated flavor after a minimal break-in time.
Japanese cotton can retain some wick flavor and can degrade fairly quickly, so you’ll find yourself rewicking your coils fairly often. But, since Japanese cotton is extremely cost-effective, and typically comes in large quantities, you won’t find rewicking to be too taxing.
Moving into less-common wicking materials, rayon (the most common brand is Cellucotton) is a unique, fast-wicking vape material that maintains a loyal fanbase within the community. A few years back, when vapers began exploring better ways to deliver more intense flavor, some found that rayon (made from cellulose, which is a wood product) maintained the soft, aerated qualities of traditional cotton, with practically no flavor of its own. This makes for a fast-wicking, flavor-first material that can hold a boatload of e-liquid.
Though this is no longer a commonly used wicking material, rayon still has its fans, and can be had in large quantities for minimal expenditure, making it a solid option for vapers tiring of traditional cotton squares.
Moving further back into the annals of vape history, silica was once the preeminent wicking material for vapers looking for a fast, efficient delivery system. If you ever had a tank or RDA come with a small piece of braided, rope-like material, you’ve likely had silica wick in your atty. Silica became popular for its extremely high temperature threshold, ensuring that even heat-intensive vapes hit cleanly. It also has a very mild taste of its own, and does a good job delivering flavor.
The concern about silica was the possibility of silica fibers detaching from the wick and being inhaled. Whether vaping silica wick presents serious health risks, some vapers prefer to avoid the possibility. Small disposable atomizers, like 510 and 901 atties -- which have fans in the vaping community to this day -- use silica.
Ceramic wicks are hard cylindrical tubes and house the coil inside or affixed on the outside. They require minimal break-in time. They wick well, withstand ridiculous amounts of heat, and can handle any type of juice, from thin, high-PG varieties to cloud-focused brews, and everything in between. The major knock on ceramic wick is its brittleness, and its tendency to flake away if not properly used. These minute ceramic flakes could affect the quality of your vape, and might choke come along with the vapor on the inhale.
Much of ceramic wicks' appeal is in flavor and wicking abilities. They can be cleaned easily too, since they can be dryburned. But in the cleaning process of excess heat, the concern of flaking appears again. A few years ago, it appeared ceramic wick was going to be the new mainstream vape wick material. That talk has faded a bit, but don’t count out ceramic just yet.
We close out this overview with a highly conductive, but also highly temperamental material, stainless mesh. Though it’s not exactly a beginner material, due to the prep needed to make it work, stainless has the ability to bring vapers brighter, livelier flavors with most types of e-liquids. Much like silica and ceramic, these wicks use stainless steel to create a soft, pliable mesh pad that can be cut and shaped like any other fiber. It can be wicked like cotton or any other material, but it’s important to watch for gaps and tight spots, since it can lead to inconsistencies and hot spots. The good things about stainless mesh wicks is how it has a high temperature tolerance, and comes in different sizes and thread counts to accommodate different juice viscosities. However, stainless mesh needs to be kept moist at all times. Dry mesh tastes like oxidized metal – not exactly a primo vape. Today, it’s rare to find stainless mesh vapers, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for them to explore beyond organic cotton, and find new ways to deliver flavor from their atomizers.