What are wicking materials for vaping
It's very easy these days to walk into any vape shop and pick up a bag of specialist vaping cotton or pre-made wicks. Manufacturers of vaping coil heads have also, for the most part, settled on organic cotton as the tried and tested wicking material of choice. It hasn't always been this way and many different types of wick have been used in the past and others have fallen in and out of favour.
There's always been concern by vapers about the materials used as wicks but I think they are largely unfounded, though understandable. There hasn't (as far as I'm aware) been any real testing on wick materials and of course the vast majority of us want our equipment to be as safe to use as it can be, so it's obviously a talking point.
Providing we are using our vaping equipment correctly, the wick is fully soaked with e-liquid and we aren't burning it, there isn't any conclusive evidence to say any of the commonly used materials would pose a serious danger.
Here we take a closer look at each of the common types of wicking materials for vaping:
Cotton is the wick material found in most vaping e-cigarette devices these days, either as a thin sheet wrapped around a replaceable coil head or as a fluffier material suitable for rebuildable devices.
It's become the industry standard for many people. It's very absorbent and a natural product, which is both a good thing and a cause of some concern for some. Non-organic cotton farming uses a lot of very toxic chemicals that you really wouldn't want to be vaping. So the cotton used for vaping should be either organic or highly processed to remove anything bad. Specialist vaping cottons tend to be the latter and go through special processes to make them a clean and usable product for vaping, while other manufacturers use organic cotton, typically from Japan.
There aren't many negatives to using a cotton wick, some people find the taste a little off-putting until they've vaped on a new wick for a while. It's commonly called a 'break-in period' and many people will find their second tank will taste slightly nicer than the very first on a new coil. Personally I can't usually taste cotton wicks, however cotton is highly absorbent. I found out just how absorbent it is by leaving some cotton wick on my kitchen table for a couple of days out of it's sealed bag and it seemed to absorb every smell and taste that went through my kitchen in those couple of days. Trust me, nobody wants to be vaping cotton that has absorbed the aromas from a curry, some chip fat and a dash of cat food. Keep it sealed and keep it fresh. The same goes for pre-made coil heads, leave them sealed until you use them.
Many years ago now almost all vaping tanks and coil heads used silica wicks. You may have seen them before on older style equipment, they look like little ropes that dangle out of the coil into your liquid. It's a lot more durable than cotton but it isn't anywhere near as efficient so it's not really a suitable product for modern vaping. When vaping devices used very thin, higher PG liquids it may have been ideal but for most vapers it just wouldn't work. Users of silica wicks report a very clean flavour and very long lasting wicks.
Probably the most controversial material used by some manufacturers in their replacement coils. The coil is surrounded by a porous ceramic material and is heat resistant and long lasting. The most well known of this type are Vaporesso's CCELL coils but it has been used in some fairly recent pod systems too. The Aspire AVP pod and Innokin's I.O. Kit both have ceramic coils available. Some people are highly concerned that the ceramic element could become damaged and lead to the inhalation of ceramic particles into the lungs. Again, without a lot of testing I don't know if this is very likely or not. The benefit of a ceramic wick is that it won't burn like cotton, it will last a very long time and should produce a very clean flavour.
Stainless Steel Mesh
It's pretty common for the coils themselves to be constructed from a mesh material today, we can even buy pod systems with a kanthal or steel mesh heating element but it's also been used as a wicking material. It's far from common these days but there are still groups of people who are dedicated to using mesh wicks. It's predominantly by mouth to lung vapers in RTA and RDA set ups and it's the most difficult material to use. Because the metal mesh conducts electricity the roll of metallic mesh has to be coated in a thin layer or carbon oxidisation, which is created by repeatedly torching or heating over a flame. As you can imagine it takes a lot of practice and time to use it successfully, something that isn't really compatible with the way vaping has been going over the last 2 or 3 years. There's nothing convenient about using mesh wicking and it's not really efficient enough to use in most modern devices, but its fans can expect maybe the best flavour and a wick that could last for months.
Rayon is a wick material that's been around a long time, and while there are many different types of rayon materials, most common is a rayon beauty product called CelluCotton. Some people still swear by it but as a synthetic material some people have concerns about using it and would rather stick to a fully natural product. It's probably the best material for fast wicking, it's extremely absorbent and e-liquid will flow throughout its fibres with ease. Some specialist vaping cottons have used a rayon blend in their products and it's generally considered safe to use by most. As I said before though, there isn't really any totally conclusive tests. All I've read is people's opinion, which could be right or completely wrong.
We've seen a handful of newer products used by manufacturers: hemp, wood pulp, and cotton blends used in replacement coils. It's difficult to know if these are really any better than plain organic cotton or just 'unique selling points' to get people excited and interested in the product.
Admittedly all this leaves us in quite a difficult position when trying to choose a wick or select from several replacement coils with different materials inside. I've read both positive and negative articles about most wicking materials so I tend to keep an open mind. What I would say though is if you experience anything negative that's out of the ordinary while trying any vaping products, stop using them and try something else. Personally I would like to see more testing done on all wicking materials, it should be a requirement for them to be sold. Like most things I suspect they all are 'safe' when used properly and may have the potential to be harmful when they aren't.