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Atomizer Wicks: Going Beyond Cotton

It used to be easy in the old days. We used silica wicks and we liked it that way. Then cotton became the new hottness and fundamentally changed the way coils were built and atomizers were designed. But if there’s one thing you can count on in the world of vaping, it’s that someone somewhere is trying something new and weird.

But do these crazy materials really make a difference? And if so, which is best?

Sterile Cotton Balls

You know it, you love it, it’s sterile cotton. Give it a round of applause, folks. It’s been my go-to for a long time, and probably yours as well. If you’re new to cotton, the main thing to remember is to use the sterile, unbleached variety. I don’t want to wade into the ongoing war that is “boil vs. no boil,” but I will just say I don’t boil. Sterile is sterile, right?

• Cheap
• Easy to find
• Good flavor

• Easily burnt
• Slow wicking
• So-so wicking

Cellulose Cotton (CelluCotton)

This cotton is found in large boxes in beauty supply stores. The brand name is Graham Professional. I have no idea what them ladies are doing with it, but I love the price on this stuff. Some folks confuse this with rayon, because the boxes are nearly identical.

I’ve been using cellulose cotton for a couple months now, and I love it. It wicks better than regular sterile cotton balls, seems to burn less, and remains cleaner, so it’s not necessary to rewick quite so often. I also like the strandy nature of it, which makes it even easier to work with than sterile cotton balls.

I have a hard time coming up with any cons for cellulose cotton. The main objection seems to be that it is relatively new as a wicking material, and the health effects are unknown. Myself, I don’t see how it would be any different than cotton balls, but then when you’re inhaling something hundreds of times a day, it’s not ridiculous to be concerned.

• Cheap
• Great wicking

• Requires visiting a beauty store
• Ugly box

Cellulose Rayon (Rayon)

This is the cousin of cellulose cotton, also made by Graham. Like I said, the box looks nearly identical, save for a few words indicating that there be rayon inside, rather than cotton. Don’t be confused, as I once was!

Some folks really love their rayon. It wicks crazy fast and it’s really, really difficult to burn. But as fast as it wicks, it just doesn’t have the same capacity as cotton. In other words, it doesn’t expand to hold juice the same way. Because of this, it tends to work great in drippers. But conversely, it’s easier to get a harsh hit in a vacuum-based RTA such as a Kayfun or Orchid when the wick can’t keep up with your incessant chain-vaping.

Some folks have wondered about the possibility of inhaling small bits of rayon (much like concerns with silica). As far as I know, there’s no science on this yet. As a man-made material, it just doesn’t seem as safe as cotton.

• Cheap
• Great wicking
• Damn hard to burn

• Doesn’t hold as much juice as cotton
• Unknown health effects
• Ugly box

Japanese Organic Cotton (Bleached and Unbleached)

The other new hottness in the wicking wars, Japanese cotton appeals to the distinctive vaper, who enjoys only the finest in wicks. Yes, we’ve reached our Kale and Quinoa moment.

Japanese cotton comes in the form of a pad, and is apparently also used in some sort of beauty regimen. Who knew? You can choose from bleached and unbleached. I’ve tried both and didn’t notice a difference, but in the future, I’ll stick with unbleached, because, you know – bleach.

The best method for wicking with Japanese cotton pads seems to be to pull the pad apart into two pieces, then cut into strips with scissors. It’s quicker than unrolling a cotton ball, and you can have a usable wick in no time.

But how’s it vape? It vapes well, my friend. Very well. It’s right there with cellulose cotton, and may even be better. Like cellulose cotton, it’s strandy and expands to hold lots of juice. It leaves cotton balls in the dust as far as wicking and juice capacity. And for whatever arbitrary reason, I feel a little safer vaping with something called “Japanese Organic Cotton” than a bag of stuff from a beauty supply shop.

• Fantastic wicking
• Less prone to burning
• Cool packaging
• Imparts elite status

• Expensive


Some vapers swear by hemp. And by that, I mean as a wicking material. I took the plunge and ordered some (again, wicking material). This stuff is expensive. A small bag containing one gram was $4 plus another $4 in shipping. I’m sure there are more affordable means, but even in larger amounts, it’s still the most expensive wick out there.

And I really wasn’t impressed. It’s stringy, rather than strandy, and doesn’t “fluff.” Fashioning it into a cohesive wick is decidedly more involved than other materials. I wouldn’t say it’s difficult, it’s just another step. And that wick has a lot of space in between those fibers. It should, in theory, hold plenty of juice with all that airspace. But in my trials, I found low juice capacity and slow wicking compared to various cottons. Plus, there’s an earthy, “hemp” flavor that only goes away after some break-in time.

I know lots of folks insist it’s the best wick out there. But then there are folks who wear the stuff for clothing, as well.

• Natural fiber

• Expensive
• Hempy flavor
• Poor wicking
• Difficult to work with

It’s Wick Pickin’ Time

As with most things in life, there is no “right” answer. The best wick is the wick you like best. For me, that’s Japanese cotton. You just can’t go wrong with it. I like Cellucotton just fine, and if it’s handy, I’ll use it. I’m going to continue to give cellulose rayon some more time in the atties, but I’m not sure it’s right for me and my vaping habits.

The one thing I know for certain is the reign of cotton balls is over. Cotton is dead, long live cotton! If you want the best and don’t mind paying, get the Koh-gen-doh cotton pads (Muji is also great, and the no-name pads sold on Amazon and eBay are fine, too). If you want cheap and almost as good, get a box of cellucotton. It’ll last forever. If burning wicks is your main concern, go with rayon. And if you’re a hippie, go with hemp. But you knew that already.

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  1. I love Japanese cotton, but ill have to try the cellulose cotton.

  2. A very good article that I did enjoy. Most of it was already known by me but is always good to try a new opinion. I use Japanese Cotton most of the time and occasionally cotton balls, but I must confess I don’t get to see any difference. As long as the coil is well built and the juice is good all goes well.

  3. Nice write-up, Thanks!

  4. There is also the Fiber Freak. It’s kind a cellulose whish has great succes in europe. It’s a french invention. It has greater wicking ability than cellucoton, hold more juice than coton, have no taste, and is nearly impossible to burn. Dry hit is also alot less harsh than coton. Only con : it’s pretty expensive. But it stay clean and you can keep it for two weeks and even more.

  5. Great explanations about the different types of materials. Thanks for sharing! And the cellulose cotton is great in my opinion.

  6. I have used both: japanese cotton pads and cotton balls.
    For me better suitable balls (organic cotton balls from Bocoton) as the keep juice much-much better, so no dry hits at all!

  7. Great info but I think you need to be a bit more clear on “bleaching”. Actual bleach is not the method used. Peroxide bleaching is the method of choice and is assumably safer.

    • Actually, it’s hydrogen peroxide, which is NOT peroxide.. peroxide would be toxic. Hydrogen peroxide is just a name given to what is H2O2 in chemical terms (and by that I mean on the periodic table of elements). Basically, that means it’s water with a second oxygen molecule. The second oxygen molecule will separate so that it can become water again, and this released oxygen is what has the “bleaching” effect. This is basically what oxyclean does for clothes (but should only be uses on clothes, please don’t use oxyclean on vape cotton!).

      Hope that clears that up. It’s perfectly safe to use “bleached” vape cotton. Its only pesticides and chemicals used in the processing of the cotton that are bad.

  8. I love japanese cotton.. Gives me a Ninja style to my vaping experience

  9. I’d also like to add that cotton balls are not sterile. Anythng exposed to air is not sterile. As mentioned, it’s the chemicals used in processing that are bad, or pesticides, which is why those who choose to use cotton balls boil them. Personally, I’ve tried cotton balls, even organic ones, and found that the taste was nasty. I love to save money, but my health comes first, otherwise the long term effects are likely to cost much more than a few dollars more for the cleanest possible cotton for vaping.

    Cheers 🙂


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