Last fact-checked 20 January 2021 | Report a factual error on this article
The wick is one of the most important — and most commonly misunderstood — parts of an e-cigarette. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes, and it can be hard to know which wick is the right one for you.
The good news is the more you know about wicks and how they work, the better your vaping experience will be. We’ve sold thousands of wicks over the years, and we’ve personally tested just about every wick available in the UK.
In this buyer’s guide, we’ll answer some of the questions our own customers ask us about wicks. We’ll explain what you should look for in your wicking cotton, talk you through the jargon and show you how to get the most out of your vape wicks!
A vape wick is the absorbent material that sits inside your heating coil. It’s there to make sure that — when you fire your vape device — the heating coil makes contact with the e-liquid that it needs to evaporate.
To work properly, a wick needs to be fluffy and absorbent enough to either draw e-liquid up from a reservoir, or hold on to excess e-liquid that has been dripped from above (see our guide to RDAs). A vape wick should always be kept moist (primed) so that you get a full mouthful of tasty vapour and so that you don’t get a burnt hit when you fire your heating coil (see our article on burnt & dry hits).
If you build your own coils you’ll most likely have handled wicking cotton yourself, but if you only buy replacement coils, it’s possible you haven’t ever seen a wick. In every vape device, the wick is the go-between that connects the heating coil to the e-liquid — it’s an absolutely vital component — so even if you can’t see it you should get to grips with what it does, and what makes a ‘good’ wick.
Vape wicks are almost always made from 100% organic cotton. In the early days of vaping, wicks were made out of all kinds of materials (including silica and rayon), but nowadays organic cotton dominates the market footnote 1. You often hear the expression ‘wicking cotton’ or just ‘cotton’; that’s because cotton has become so synonymous with vape wicking that there really is no other alternative worth considering. There are some really good reasons for using cotton in vape wicks: footnote 2
- Cotton soaks up moisture quickly (it’s what’s known as a ‘hygroscopic’ material). When installed correctly, an organic cotton wick should be able to hold a lot of vape juice without leaking
- Cotton doesn’t burn easily. If your cotton wick is primed correctly (thoroughly soaked with e-liquid), it shouldn’t singe or crisp up (this tends to happen as a result of dry hits)
- Cotton holds its shape well. You can stuff a coil with a fluffy thread of untreated cotton, snip and tuck the ends in and it will normally hold its shape. Cotton doesn’t sag or collapse under the weight of e-liquid — even when it’s fully soaked — so it will make good contact with every square millimetre of your heating coil.
- Cotton is cheap and biodegradable. Wicks need to be replaced every once in a while (especially if you’re using a high-VG juice - see our VG/PG guide), so you need your wick to be made out of a material that doesn’t cost too much and that isn’t going to harm the environment. Untreated organic cotton is a relatively cheap commodity (especially when you’re only using a little bit to stuff a coil). It’s also biodegradable, so you can chuck it in the compost when you’re done — it doesn’t need to go to landfill.
Vape coils should always be stuffed with organic cotton — you can’t just grab a cotton ball from the bathroom. Organic cotton hasn’t been exposed to any pesticides — it also hasn’t been bleached. You don’t want to run the risk of inhaling trace amounts of these dangerous chemicals, so it’s best to buy proper 100% organic wicking cotton just to be on the safe side.
We do sell one alternative to 100% organic cotton. SWAG Fibre Cotton is a blend of cotton and cellulose (another naturally-occuring material). It offers heat resistance up to 300 degrees centigrade, which works well for some hobbyist and connoisseur vapers. It comes in a reel and it’s only suitable for rebuildable atomisers, but if you’re looking for something a bit different it’s well worth a try!
We’ve taken a look at our own sales figures for the whole of 2020, and when it comes to wicks there are 3 clear winners that stand head and shoulders above the rest! These three bestselling cottons make up more than two thirds of all rebuildable wick sales on our site in 2020: footnote 3
Cotton Bacon Prime by Wick n’ Vape takes pole position, followed closely by Firebolt Cotton Strips in second and Wotofo Ageleted Wicking Cotton in third place. Wick n’ Vape’s signature ‘bacon shaped’ wicking pieces are the go-to for most rebuildable fanatics, but the aglets on Firebolt and Wotofo’s offerings come in really handy for anyone looking for something less fiddly (don’t worry — we’ll explain what an ‘aglet’ is in the next section!)
Even pure organic cotton needs its own set of specialist terms! Here are a few of the phrases you might come across when browsing our vape cotton department:
- Fast Abs: don’t worry — we’re not selling exercise equipment — this just means ‘fast absorption’. If a cotton promises ‘fast abs’, it means that the cotton will absorb e-liquid quickly; you should spend less time priming your coils and reduce the risk of dry hits.
- Aglets: Aglets are the thin, coated ends of a shoelace ...and they make threading your own coils much less fiddly! With agleted cotton, the wicking cotton strip comes with a thin, coated end that you can easily thread through your coil. Aglets are just there to make the threading part easier and can be snipped off once your coil has been threaded.
- Fluffing: After you have threaded and snipped your wick, you then need to ‘fluff’ the ends with tweezers. Fluffing opens up any bulky or tightly-packed patches of cotton in your wick, so that you get rapid, evenly-spaced liquid absorption with no dry spots.
- Loops, Balls, Reels & Pads: these words just refer to the shape of the cotton when you open the packet. Agleted strips are probably the simplest shapes for beginners, but as your skill level develops, you might prefer a roll or loop of cotton. Pads are handy for certain mesh coil RTAs - if you’re in any doubt about which shape of cotton will work best for you, feel free to get in touch.
Innovations in Wicking Technology: What Comes Next?
In recent years, no other wicking material has come close to the quality, ease of use and purity of natural organic cotton. That may all be about to change in 2021, thanks to ceramic coils.
More and more replacement coils use ceramics rather than a cotton wick. With a ceramic coil, your heating element is pre-coated in a special absorbent ceramic material that absorbs e-liquid well, heats up quickly and doesn’t burn or crisp up.
If, like most of our customers, you buy replacement coils and you see a ‘ceramic’ option, give it a try. Ceramic is completely taste-free, and it’s more forgiving of the occasional dry hit. There’s some early evidence to suggest that ceramic coils can outlast cotton coils by a long way, too.
Picking the Right Cotton For You
That’s it! You now know everything you could possibly need to know about buying cotton wicks! It will still take some trial and error to settle on the best wicking cotton for you. Feel free to try out a few different types of cotton and see what works best ...and as always if you have any questions, just let us know!
Stay safe and happy vaping!
- John Boughey
Links & Citations
We took a look at our own sales figures for the past 4 years, and every wick product we have sold in that time has either been 100% cotton or a cotton/cellulose blend (like SWAG).
The German Insurance Association has some really interesting statistics on cotton (its flashpoint, what happens when it gets wet etc.) at the link below:
Our bestselling wicks graphic is based on sales figures observed on our own site between 1 January and 31 December 2020. Different types of wicks suit different rebuildable atomisers — if in doubt, please contact us for advice.