For the last year or so, cotton has become the wicking material of choice for many vapers. There are several reasons why cotton makes excellent vaping wick, but there are also some misconceptions about what it offers and what it doesn’t. Recently, I was at a local vape shop and was shocked by what one of the clerks was telling a customer about cotton. Some of the things he said were inaccurate and some of them were flat-out false. With so many unknowns in vaping, I was appalled that a vape shop employee was spreading misinformation and mistruths about cotton. Let’s take a look at some of the things this vape store clerk said about cotton.
“Cotton is totally safe — much safer than silica.” — The first part of of what this clerk said is simply not true, while the second part is unknown. The employee’s reasoning was that cotton is safe because it’s a natural substance. What the employee didn’t tell the customer (either out or ignorance or out of laziness) is that the sterile CVS cotton balls used at his store are chemically treated (more on that in a sec). While its second-nature to vapers that have been using cotton wicks for a long time, newcomers have to be mindful about the wick drying up. Inhaling burning cotton is not safe, despite what the clerk said.
As for cotton being safer than silica, there are no longterm studies about the use of cotton or silica for vaping. Saying one is “much safer” than the other is misleading. The reality is that nobody knows at this time. Cotton balls, silica wick, ceramic wick, steel cable, etc. were not made with inhalation in mind. Just look at the product description for CVS sterile cotton balls: “To be used for application of antiseptics, medications and to cleanse scratches, cuts, or minor wounds.” While it’s entirely possible that cotton could be safer than silica for vaping, there aren’t any longterm studies that back up this opinion. At the very least, someone at a vape shop shouldn’t be stating a rudimentarily-researched opinion (at best) or foolish conjecture (at worst) as fact.
“Sterile cotton and organic cotton are the same.” — Saying something like this to a customer at a vape shop is just irresponsible. There are huge differences between sterile cotton and organic cotton. Again, there aren’t any longterm studies about one being safer than the other at this time, but saying that they’re the same is simply not true. In addition to being chemically treated for sterility and color, the sterile cotton balls that many vapers use were made from cotton staple that was grown with pesticides. Fear of pesticide inhalation is why some vapers choose organic cotton over the sterile version.
That isn’t to say that organic cotton is “completely safe,” but it’s certainly not “the same” as using sterile cotton. One issue with organic cotton is that it requires boiling prior to use. Ideally, this should be done with an immaculately clean pot and distilled water. Some vapers make the mistake of using tap water to boil their cotton. Almost all tap water contains minerals and some tap water supplies have been contaminated with antibiotics. Introducing these elements into something you inhale could be dangerous.
I love cotton, but… — Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not a cotton hater by any means. While it’s not my wicking material of choice, it’s certainly part of my rotation. There are many reasons why vapers love it — low cost, ease of use, clean flavor, etc. — and I totally understand why it’s so popular. That said, many vapers are under the impression that using cotton is completely safe and that’s just not true. For a vape shop employee to say this to a customer is…disturbing. There are a lot of unknowns about vaping and there’s a lot of misinformation being spread. I believe that vape shops have a responsibility to their customers and to the industry; they should be educating people about vaping, not lying to them or misleading them.