Modern trends have combined to create a major daily annoyance for many who vape: coil gunk.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
You change the coil in your tank. The new coil is great — for a while. After several hours, though, the flavor of your e-liquid begins to fade. In its place, all that you can taste is burned sugar. You try a different e-liquid, and it tastes exactly the same — muddy, smoky caramel. Gross. You continue using the coil for as long as possible, though, because replacement coils are expensive. After a while, though, you can’t take it anymore. The vapor is so harsh that it burns the back of your throat. When you finally open your tank, the coil looks greasy, black and torched. That’s coil gunk. In today’s world of sub-ohm vaping and heavily sweetened e-liquids, coil gunk is a more serious problem than ever.
Here’s the short answer about coil gunk: If you like your e-liquids as sweet as candy — and you like vapor clouds big enough to alter weather systems — you’re going to deal with coil gunk every day.
But it doesn’t have to be as bad as all that, does it?
Let’s learn what you can do about preventing coil gunk — or at least make it less of an annoyance.
What Is Coil Gunk?
Coil gunk is the concentrated residue of everything in your e-liquid that doesn’t vaporize cleanly. The residue sticks to the coil, gradually becoming thicker and darker. Eventually, the layer of crust on the coil becomes so thick that you can barely taste your e-liquid anymore. Instead, all that you can taste is the residue as it burns. Although it’s possible in some cases to restore a bit of a coil’s original performance by cleaning the coil, the coil will never again perform like new. The only real fix for coil gunk is to replace the coil.
What Causes Coil Gunk?
There are two solutions for coil gunk. You can slow its formation, or you can change something about the way you vape so that coil gunk becomes less of an annoyance. We’ll discuss both strategies in this article, beginning with a list of what causes coil gunk. If you can eliminate just a few of these things from your vaping setup, you’ll experience drastically improved coil life.
E-Liquid Sweetener Is the Top Cause of Coil Gunk
Have you noticed how much sweeter e-liquids taste these days compared to a few years ago? Have you also noticed how much more problematic coil gunk has become? That’s right; sweeteners such as sucralose are the top cause of coil gunk. Sucralose doesn’t vaporize; it caramelizes and burns. Switching to an unsweetened e-liquid is an easy way to make your coils last days instead of hours. One problem, though, is that most of the e-liquid brands with wide-scale distribution are heavily sweetened because that’s what many people want. Since the widely distributed e-liquids also sell in high volumes, they’re often priced quite affordably — but unsweetened e-liquids are still out there.
To find some great unsweetened e-liquids, you may have to look online for some smaller independent e-liquid makers. You might pay a little more when you buy e-liquid from a smaller company, but you’ll also spend a lot less on replacement coils. The other benefit is that you’ll have an opportunity to taste flavor profiles that are a lot more interesting than what you’ll find in many vape shops.
The above video shows what happens if you drop a ball of glowing hot nickel into a bowl of sucralose (Splenda). The heat doesn’t create vapor — it causes the sucralose to smoke and turn black. It looks, actually, very much like coil gunk.
The formation of coil gunk is largely a function of how much sweetener is in your e-liquid — but sweetened e-liquids have always existed. The other reason why coil gunk has become such a major problem is because the accumulation of coil gunk is also a function of how much e-liquid you use. If you’re a heavy vaper with a big sub-ohm tank, you may start to detect that burned sugar taste mere hours after changing your coil. If you increase the nicotine strength of your e-liquid and switch to a less powerful vaping device, you’ll consume a lot less e-liquid without compromising your level of satisfaction.
Retailers such as Second City Vapour in the United Kingdom have reported that many of the people buying their small vaping devices aren’t new to vaping; they’re long-term vapers who are “downgrading” to smaller devices because they’re tired of dealing with coil gunk every day. If you switch to a device that produces a quarter of the vapor that your current device produces, your coils will last four times as long — and you can still enjoy your sweetened e-liquids. You’ll just need to increase your nicotine strength a little to compensate.
Poorly Filtered Tobacco Extracts
Almost as long as vaping has been around, people have tried to create an e-liquid that captures the real flavor of tobacco. One method of doing that is by creating an extract from real tobacco leaves. Naturally extracted tobacco e-liquids — or NET e-liquids — don’t taste like actual cigarettes exactly, but they do capture many of the subtle complexities of tobacco in a way that traditional non-botanical flavors can’t.
These days, companies use far more advanced methods for capturing and filtering tobacco extracts than were common in the past. If you happen to taste an “ashtray” note when vaping an NET e-liquid, though, you’re tasting residual tobacco solids that manged to make it through the filtering process. Tobacco solids don’t vaporize, and they can form coil crust very quickly. If you’re a fan of NET e-liquids and find yourself dealing frequently with coil gunk, you should consider trying a different e-liquid brand.
Comparing VG vs. PG, many people have noticed that VG-heavy e-liquids seem to gunk up coils more quickly than PG-heavy e-liquids. Although it wouldn’t be advisable to switch to an e-liquid with an overly low percentage of VG if you use a sub-ohm vaping device, you might consider trying a 50/50 blend to see if it extends the life of your coils a bit.
If you’ve tried a lot of e-liquids — particularly ones from smaller regional makers — you’ve probably noticed that they can vary greatly in color. Many e-liquids are clear, but others are so dark that they’re almost brown. Some people subjectively feel that darker e-liquids cause coil gunk to form more quickly. Although our experience suggests that other factors contribute more strongly to coil gunk, it’s worth considering if your favorite e-liquid happens to have a dark color.
That’s right, folks; just about every e-liquid flavor — with the exception of menthol — can contribute to coil gunk. Don’t believe us? Try an unflavored e-liquid and see how much longer your coils last. If you prefer heavily sweetened e-liquids like many of today’s vapers, vaping an unflavored e-liquid might not sound like a lot of fun. In truth, though, there are actually many people around the world who use unflavored e-liquids exclusively for the prevention of coil gunk, for health reasons or simply because they prefer neutral flavor profiles. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Unflavored e-liquid isn’t truly flavorless because vegetable glycerin tastes a little sweet on its own. It might taste even sweeter, in fact, when you realize that you’ve been using the same coil for three weeks with no drop in performance.
Menthol is one e-liquid flavoring that doesn’t seem to contribute to coil gunk at all. If you’re serious about reducing coil gunk, consider trying Menthol Burst by Volcano. It’s a 50/50 VG/PG e-liquid with an extremely high amount of menthol and no other flavors. Coils last forever when you’re vaping nothing but Menthol Burst. The only downside is that Volcano’s e-liquid is quite expensive compared to many other brands.
How to Stop Coil Gunk
Above, we described the six factors that contribute most strongly to coil gunk. If you want to eliminate coil gunk, you’ll need to eliminate those factors. In short:
- Switch to an e-liquid with no added sweeteners.
- Switch to a vaping device or tank that generates less vapor. You may need to increase the nicotine strength of your e-liquid to compensate.
- If you like NET e-liquids, avoid any e-liquid with an “ashtray” taste that indicates an inadequate filtering process.
- Try an e-liquid with a lower percentage of vegetable glycerin.
- Use clear e-liquids whenever possible.
- Try an unflavored e-liquid for maximum coil life. Menthol is OK as it doesn’t contribute to coil gunk.
Dealing With Coil Gunk Without Changing Your E-Liquid
We admit that some of the changes we suggest above are pretty extreme. If you love your vaping experience as it is, switching to an unflavored and unsweetened e-liquid to prevent coil gunk might not sound like a lot of fun. Let’s suppose that you don’t want to change anything — you just want to know if there’s any way to deal with coil gunk aside from simply changing your coil. We have a few suggestions that may help.
Coil Gunk and Sub-Ohm Tanks
Remove Coil Gunk With a Good Cleaning
The simplest way to remove coil gunk is by removing the coil head from your tank and cleaning it with a long dip in hot water or a strong alcohol such as vodka. Drop the coil in a cup, swish it around and let it soak for a day or so. Use a backup coil in the meantime. After giving your coil a long soak, leave it out for a day to dry. If you soaked the coil in alcohol, rinse it first. If you clean your atomizer coils without disassembling them, you’re probably not going to get rid of every trace of coil gunk. Cleaning a coil also won’t fix a burned cotton wick. You may find, though, that cleaning your coils allows you to continue using them for an extra couple of days.
Wait — You Can Disassemble an Atomizer Coil?
Did you know that it is actually possible to disassemble and rebuild many pre-built atomizer coils? To find out whether an atomizer coil is a good candidate for rebuilding, look at the coil from the top. If the coil has a mesh screen covering the wick and heating wire, you’ll need to remove the screen with a pair of needle-nose pliers. The screen helps to prevent atomizer spitting. If you can remove it, you can probably rebuild the coil — but the atomizer may spit and pop without the screen.
The second challenge you might face is that many of today’s pre-built coil heads actually contain several individual coils. You’ll probably find that type too difficult to rebuild. If you see only one coil when you look at the coil head from the top, though, you’re in luck. To rebuild the coil, you’ll need a sheet of Japanese organic cotton.
How to Rebuild a Sub-Ohm Tank Coil
Start by pulling out the pin from the bottom of the coil head. Under the pin, you’ll see an insulating ring separating the coil’s positive and negative leads. Remember the positions of the two wires. You might consider taking a picture to use as a reference. When you reassemble the coil, you’ll need to return the wires to their original positions to avoid a short circuit. We accept no responsibility for errors made when rebuilding coils! Remove the insulating ring. You should now be able to push the entire coil and wick out through the top of the coil head.
Peel the cotton away from the coil. At this point, you can get a good look at the coil; you’ll probably see that it’s quite black. Clean it by swishing it in vodka or hot water. Rinse and dry the coil before continuing.
To rebuild the atomizer coil, cut a strip of cotton as wide as the coil is tall. Wrap it around the coil as tightly as possible. Gently push the coil and wick back through the top of the coil head. Return the insulting ring to its original position between the coil’s positive and negative leads. Replace the pin at the bottom of the coil head. Check the coil’s resistance to confirm that you assembled it correctly. Prime the coil and vape.
Agitation Is Great for Cleaning Coil Gunk
You may find that a simple soak in water or vodka doesn’t do as thorough a job of removing coil gunk as you might like. Whether you’re cleaning an entire coil head, just the heating wire from a pre-built coil head or an entire rebuildable atomizer, try using an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner. Many people have reported that the gentle agitation of ultrasonic jewelry cleaners leaves their coils almost as shiny and white as when the coils were new.
Coil Gunk and Rebuildable Atomizers
If you’re tired of going through one atomizer coil after another and don’t want to change your e-liquid, the best way to deal with coil gunk is by ditching your pre-built coils. A box of pre-built coils for a sub-ohm tank typically costs about $2-3 per coil. If coil gunk forces you to replace your atomizer coil daily, that’s a pretty big expense. Compare that to the cost of getting a rebuildable atomizer and building your own coils. You can get a big package of organic cotton and a spool of wire for about the same cost as a box or two of pre-built coils — and for that price, you’ll have the materials for months of daily coil replacements. Sure, building atomizer coils from scratch takes longer than replacing pre-built coil heads — but it can also save you hundreds of dollars per year.
Switching to a rebuildable atomizer may mean that your coil replacements will cost less, but it won’t eliminate coil gunk. In fact, since a rebuildable atomizer usually has better vapor production than a sub-ohm tank — and thus consumes more e-liquid — you may find that coil gunk forms even more quickly after the switch. The good news is that dealing with coil gunk is a lot easier when you’re an RBA user.
Let’s learn more about your options for RBA coil gunk.
The Basic Re-Wick
When you begin using a rebuildable atomizer, you’ll find that the cotton wicks become fairly dark after several hours of use. The dark color comes from caramelized sweeteners and other ingredients in your e-liquid, and all of that caramelization can eventually become detrimental to the vaping experience. Some people find that they can extend the life of their RBA coils simply by replacing the wicks each day.
Is Coil Gunk Really Your Problem?
Examine your wicks when you remove them from your RBA. Do you find the wicks difficult to remove because they’re split in half right under the coils? Is the cotton black where it splits? Your problem may not be coil gunk at all — you might be burning the cotton because you’re chain vaping, vaping at too high a temperature or forgetting to keep the wick wet. Don’t assume that the problem is coil gunk simply because you’re getting a burned taste when vaping.
Different Wick Materials Have Different Properties
If high-temperature vaping is burning your wicks or encouraging the formation of coil gunk, you may experience great results by switching to a different wick material. The beauty product CelluCotton — it’s made from rayon — is a popular wick material among some vapers who demand really efficient wick performance. The capillary action of rayon is much more efficient than that of cotton. If you don’t like the taste of rayon, you might also consider silica or ceramic rope. Silica and ceramic wicks are both extremely durable and resistant to heat, but they aren’t terribly efficient. If you use a silica or ceramic wick, you’ll need to wait a few seconds between each puff to give the wick a chance to get wet again.
Remove Coil Gunk With a Dry Burn
If you’re replacing the wicks in your rebuildable atomizer anyway, why not clean your coils while you’re at it? The most popular way to clean RBA coils is by dry burning. After removing the wicks, press your device’s fire button in brief pulses to make the coils glow dull orange. You’ll see smoke rise from the coils; that’s the coil gunk burning away. After a few seconds of dry burning, you should see that the coils have just about returned to their original silver color.
Remove Every Trace of Coil Gunk
Even after dry burning, you’ll probably notice a bit of carbon stuck to your coils. You’ll want to remove every trace of that carbon if you can because if your coils aren’t perfectly clean, you’ll find that the coils will become gunky again even more quickly than they did the first time. Some people use small wire brushes to sweep away the carbon. Others dip their coils in water while they’re still glowing. The water that touches the coils will boil immediately, creating agitation that clears away the carbon. Whichever method you choose, remember that you can’t dip your coils in water or touch them with a wire brush while you’re holding your mod’s fire button. Alternatively, you can remove the rebuildable atomizer from your device and place it — build deck, coils and all — in an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner after removing the wicks. Buy a second atomizer to use as a backup while the other is in the cleaner.