A flooded atomizer happens to just about everyone at one point or another when vaping — and the results are never fun. Your atomizer pops and spits, or you hear gurgling sounds. Your coil doesn’t vaporize e-liquid efficiently. E-liquid may even leak all over your e-cigarette and your hand.

If you’re using a dripping atomizer, flooding usually happens because the wick no longer works efficiently or because you add e-liquid too soon after the last time you dripped. If you’re using a sub-ohm tank, flooding may happen because the tank has been assembled or filled incorrectly. Fixing a flooded atomizer is easy. Preventing it from happening in the future requires a better understanding of the cause.

Why Is My Atomizer Flooded?

When we discuss flooded atomizers, we’re actually using the same term to describe two different vaping setups. You can flood a dripping atomizer, or you can flood the replaceable atomizer in a tank.

Flooded Dripping Atomizer

Flooded Atomizer RDA

306 atomizer and drip tip (left) and rebuildable dripping atomizer (RDA, right)

If your atomizer looks like either of the ones above, you have a dripping atomizer. The one on the left is a 306 atomizer with drip tip — those aren’t too popular anymore — and the one on the right is a typical rebuildable dripping atomizer. E-liquid reaches the coil through the drip tip at the top.

So, why is your dripping atomizer flooding? It’s flooding because you’re adding too much e-liquid. Your atomizer has a wick that brings e-liquid to the coils and a well that holds a bit of excess e-liquid. If you add more e-liquid than the well can hold, e-liquid will probably leak out of the atomizer.

You might add too much e-liquid because you’re new to dripping — or because you added e-liquid without realizing that there was already e-liquid in the atomizer’s well.

You might also add too much e-liquid because you’re getting dry hits. You assume that the wick is dry, so you add more e-liquid — and your atomizer floods. The actual cause of the dry hits is an old wick that’s either burned in the middle or no longer working efficiently.

Flooded Tank Atomizer

Flooded Atomizer Tank RTA

Sub-ohm tank (left) and rebuildable tank atomizer (RTA, right)

If your atomizer looks like either of the ones above, you have a tank. The unit on the left is a standard sub-ohm tank with a pre-made atomizer that you twist into a hole in the base. The one on the right is a rebuildable tank atomizer.

Why is your atomizer flooding if you’re using a tank? Since a tank gives you a visual cue as to how much e-liquid you’re adding, it’s rare for a tank atomizer to flood due to overfilling. It’s actually much more common to flood a tank atomizer because of an error in putting it together or in building the atomizer coil.

Now that you understand why you have a flooded atomizer, let’s fix it.

Fixing a Flooded Atomizer

Fixing a Flooded RDA

If you experience a flooded atomizer constantly, it’s likely that you’re using an RDA. An RDA is easy to flood because you’re the one controlling the amount of e-liquid that reaches the atomizer.

If you’re new to dripping, it’s possible that you’re flooding the atomizer because you’re simply overestimating how much e-liquid the atomizer requires. A typical RDA holds enough e-liquid for quite a few puffs. While you become accustomed to dripping, you should remove the top of the RDA periodically to see if the wick is actually dry.

If you’re flooding your RDA constantly because you continually get harsh dry hits, it’s likely that there is a problem with the atomizer coil(s) or wick(s).

Faulty Coil Build

Flooded RDA Coil Hot Spot

If a portion of an atomizer coil doesn’t touch the wick, you may flood your atomizer.

Take a look at the picture above. Do you see how the area of the coil inside the red box is uneven with the rest of the coil? That area of the coil doesn’t have full surface contact with the wick. When you puff, that area of the coil will quickly become dry and glow red. You’ll experience a hot, harsh sensation. In the photo, you can see that the wick is already very wet. If you were to add more e-liquid to this setup, you’d flood the atomizer.

You can fire your atomizer with the cap off to see if you have a faulty coil build. If the wick is wet — but a portion of the atomizer glows red — you need to correct your build.

Faulty Wick

You’re experiencing dry hits with your RDA. The harshness causes you to add e-liquid — even though the wick is already wet — and flood your atomizer. You remove the cap of the RDA and test the coil. The coil doesn’t glow red. The next thing that you need to troubleshoot is the wick.

Not Enough Cotton

How much cotton are you using when you build your coils? The cotton should be slightly difficult — only very slightly — to thread through the middle of the coil. If the wick goes through the coil very easily and moves freely back and forth when it’s dry, you haven’t used enough cotton. When you puff, you’ll quickly deplete the e-liquid that’s close to the coil. The puff will become harsh even though plenty of e-liquid remains in the drip well and the outer portion of the wick. When you add more e-liquid, you’ll flood your atomizer.

Burned Cotton

What if you see something like this when you remove the cap of your RDA?

Flooded Atomizer Coil Gunk

If you pulled the wick out of the coil, you’d probably see something like this:

Flooded Atomizer Burned Wick

 

Coil gunk impedes the flow of e-liquid through the wick. With less e-liquid reaching the center of the wick, the cotton eventually burns. Ultimately, there’s almost no material left in the middle of the coil. You begin to experience dry hits even though the wick still appears wet. You add more e-liquid — and the atomizer floods.

You try try to fix this problem by removing the wick and cleaning your atomizer with an alcohol soak or dry burn. For the best possible results, though, you should rebuild your coil.

Fixing a Flooded Sub-Ohm Tank

If you’re using a sub-ohm tank with pre-made coils like the one in the picture below, you don’t directly control the amount of e-liquid that reaches the atomizer. The absorbency of the cotton — and the pressure differential between the tank and the chimney leading out of the tank — do that job for you. These are the two most common signs that your sub-ohm tank has a flooded atomizer:

  • E-liquid leaks through the airflow holes at the bottom of the tank.
  • The tank gurgles and spits e-liquid into your mouth when you try to use it.

Flooded Sub Ohm Tank Atomizer

If you can afford to lose a little e-liquid, you should troubleshoot your tank by disassembling it completely. A typical sub-ohm tank has at least two threaded connections. One connects the atomizer to the base of the tank. The other connects the top of the atomizer or the base of the tank to the chimney or to a cage on the inside or outside of the glass. The threads prevent e-liquid from leaking out of the tank and control the flow of e-liquid from the tank to the atomizer.

Blot the atomizer coil with a paper towel to soak up excess e-liquid, and then carefully fill and reassemble the tank. Reassemble the tank slowly to avoid cross threading. Cross threading could lead to a faulty seal and flood the atomizer.

A sub-ohm tank generally has a few silicone o-rings that help to keep the e-liquid where it’s supposed to be. If you reassemble the tank and the atomizer continues to flood, try replacing the o-rings. It’s likely that one of them no longer creates a reliable seal.

Fixing a Flooded RTA

Rebuildable tank atomizers are notoriously finicky. They often have more removable parts than sub-ohm tanks with pre-built atomizers. To make matters worse, you wrap and wick the coils yourself — which means that you’ll flood the atomizer if you do something wrong.

If you use an RTA, all of the troubleshooting steps for a flooded sub-ohm tank atomizer apply to you, but that isn’t all — you also need to troubleshoot the wick.

An RTA most commonly floods because of wick problems. The fact that many RTAs include no instruction manuals only compounds the problem. Because RTA designs can vary greatly, you may find it helpful to look for a guide explaining how to build and wick coils for your specific RTA model. Lightning Vapes has an excellent series of tutorials covering many popular RTA models. For general help, though, look at the picture below.

Flooded RTA Atomizer

An RTA typically has a sleeve that covers the atomizer. The sleeve separates the atomizer from the e-liquid reservoir — and it has a few holes that allow e-liquid to pass through to the coils. The wicks are the only things that regulate the flow of e-liquid and prevent the atomizer from flooding. When you build RTA coils, make sure that you use plenty of cotton to prevent e-liquid from flowing through too quickly and flooding the atomizer.

Fixing a Flooded 306 or 510 Atomizer

We’ve moved this older content to the bottom of the article as few people use 306 and 510 atomizers today.

When fixing a flooded atomizer, there’s one very important fact that you must keep in mind: if the atomizer’s heating coil is going bad, nothing can fix it. It’s time for a new atomizer. As long as the atomizer is producing some vapor, though, you can clear the excess e-liquid when the atomizer floods and continue using it. All you need is a paper towel.

Disassemble your e-cigarette. If you’re using one of the more common e-smoking setups such as an eGo e-cigarette, this will leave you with a battery, an atomizer, a drip tip and possibly an atomizer cone. Use the paper towel to wipe down the surface of each item, paying special attention to the battery terminal. You may need to fold the paper towel to reach some tight spaces. If necessary, use more than one paper towel to ensure that you don’t get e-liquid on your hands.

Next, replace the drip tip on the atomizer. Fold the paper towel several times and hold it against the end of the atomizer. Blow gently through the drip tip until the atomizer stops gurgling. Reassemble the e-cigarette.

You should now be able to resume e-smoking. Add a little e-liquid, wait for it to saturate the wick and puff away.