We’ve been asked several times now “How often should we replace the wick or coils in our rebuildable atomizers (RBA/RDA/RTA)?”. Also, “Should we replace the coil once it starts to get dirty or can they be cleaned?”. There seems to be some misunderstanding around the frequency and process of cleaning your coil and whether it should be replaced once it gets “gunked up”.
I decided to write a brief guide on the topic so hopefully once you’ve read this you will know what you can do and when you should do it to get the best performance and longevity out of your rebuildable coils.
To clarify what we mean by rebuildable coils, these are NOT stock coils that you would purchase and fit in your pod or tank, but coils that you wrap yourself and use in a rebuildable atomizer.
Stock coils come enclosed in a stainless steel housing as the photo above shows, whereas wound coils can be wrapped yourself, or bought as specific coil types, using an appropriate wire to suit your requirement.
If you’re not familiar with what rebuildable atomizers are, I’ve detailed a basic overview below on the differences between each type of atomizer against that of a standard pod or tank. If you want to skip this section and get straight into the Wicking and Cleaning an RBA Coil then click on the hyperlink.
Pod vs Tank vs RBA vs RDA vs RTA
What is a Pod and Tank?
A pod or tank is the top part of a vape device which holds the e-liquid and houses the enclosed coil. These coils are NOT rebuildable and use stock coils, normally purchased in packs of 3 or 5. When the coil degrades after a couple of weeks, you simply remove the coil and replace with a new one.
You can’t re-wick or rebuild the coil as they are pre-formed and enclosed in a non-opening metal casing. Before you shoot me down, yes some people do re-wick on certain coils but in general, it’s difficult to do.
The differences between a pod and tank are a pod is normally shaped to fit the particular device you’re using and is not interchangeable between different devices. They are normally made out of PCTG material and therefore have a limited life.
A tank on the other hand is normally made out of stainless steel and glass and connects to any mod via its threaded 510 center connection, making them much more versatile and as such should last a lifetime.
What are Rebuildable Atomizers?
A ReBuildable Atomizer (RBA) is a generalized term identifying a range of tanks that do NOT incorporate stock bought coils but rely on the user building and wicking their own coils. This is achieved by wrapping a coil and installing it into a rebuildable deck, where the coil is held in place by raised posts that ultimately connect to the 510 threaded connector on your mod.
There are a few different variants that fall into the rebuildable atomizer category. While we will outline these variants and their specific uses, we can summarize each type as follows:
RBA Coil (Rebuildable Atomizer)
A ReBuildable Atomizer (RBA) coil head is the same size and dimensions as a stock coil but its outer casing can be removed to give access to the build deck. The user builds (wraps) and wicks their coil, screws the outer casing on and this is then inserted into a standard pod or tank.
These are quite small, the same size of the stock coil and are fiddly to build on but do allow a standard pod or tank to be turned into a rebuildable device.
Only a few manufacturers offer the option of an RBA coil to replace their stock coil. They are not cross-compatible with other devices, they only replace the stock coil that fits in that particular pod or tank.
RTA (Rebuildable Tank Atomizer)
A Rebuildable Tank Atomizer looks and functions very similar to a standard tank with one main exception. Instead of using stock pre-bought coils that either screw or push into the tank, an RTA utilizes a build deck where you wrap your own coil and fit a wick.
These build decks are bigger than you would find on an RBA so are easier to build. Because of the increased size, you can use fancier coils or on some decks dual coils for increased flavor etc.
The advantage of this type of rebuildable tank is making your own coils is far cheaper that buying stock coils and you can make the coil to your own specification.
You fill and use an RTA the same as you would with a normal tank but obviously when building a coil you do need to understand Ohm’s Law so you don’t have any disasters. We’ve written a guide on Understanding Ohm’s Law so do take a look.
RDA (Rebuildable Dripping Atomizer)
A Rebuildable Dripping Atomizer is another variation of the rebuildable atomizer but in this instance, it doesn’t have an e-liquid reservoir. They don’t have a glass surround and don’t hold e-liquid like a tank or RTA does.
It has a very similar build deck to an RTA and instead of a glass reservoir, the outer shell of the RBA is made out of stainless steel. E-liquid is NOT stored but dripped directly onto the coil and wick, hence the name “Dripping” or more commonly called a “Dripper”.
These are not as common as they used to be and were used in the earlier days of vaping as they gave far better flavor and performance than the standard stock coils and tanks that were available at that time.
The disadvantage of these is you’re limited to the amount of draws you get before you have to drip e-liquid directly onto the coil again.
Building and Wicking your Rebuildable Coil
We won’t go into the specifics of wrapping and wicking your coil as we have covered these principles in depth in some of our other guides.
Again if you’re familiar with these techniques then you can skip to the next section but for those of you that want to read further information of these techniques you can click on the hyperlinks below to the appropriate guides.
We also have a really good Coil Wrap Calculator that you can use to work out the gauge and type of wire needed with the number of wraps required to build your desired coil.
Cleaning or Replacing Your Coil and/or Wick
The process of cleaning and/or changing your coil/wick is the same irrespective if you’re using and RBA, RDA or RTA.
Similar to stock coils, your built coil and wick does have a limited life. Therefore, to maintain the performance of your coil/wick, you will have to clean or change the coil/wick to achieve the best results possible.
Depending on the type and flavor of your e-liquid, the cleaning/replacing interval process will vary. A loss of performance is usually detected by a loss of flavor, the need to increase the wattage to achieve the same strength of draw or the e-liquid becoming dirtier/darker.
Like all coils, the wick will become dirty and the coil will become clogged with gunk. This is normal due to the heating and cooling of the coil during vaping. This process is speeded up when using sweetened e-liquid or certain flavor e-liquids.
For reference, I normally have to clean my setup on average every two weeks but as already mentioned, this can vary depending on your e-liquid.
Where the confusion seems to arise, certainly from the questions we get asked, are around people changing their coils every time the wick becomes unusable. Of course when this happens with a stock coil you don’t really have any choice but to change the coil.
With rebuildable coils this is a different kettle of fish!
Replacing the Wick and Cleaning the Coil
The standard process I always follow every few weeks when the performance drops off is to take apart my tank to gain access to the build deck so I can inspect the state of the coil and wick.
More often than not the wick will be black and gunky and should be replaced. First of all, remove the wick and discard and then check the condition of the coil. The coil will be messy which is normal so don’t worry at this stage. The main thing is the coil is reading the correct ohms so you know it’s still in working condition even though it looks a black gunked up mess.
What I mean by the correct ohms is it’s reading approximately the same resistance as it did when you first built it or installed it. Most mods will show you the resistive value of your coil so it’s always best to keep an eye on the value so you know the coil is working as expected.
A slight variation (change) of resistance will always happen and this is normal. A 10-20% variation is not uncommon and is nothing to be concerned about.
With the build deck connected to your mod, dry burn the coil by pulsing the fire button so it starts to glow red. Release the fire button and then lightly brush the surface of the coil with a small screwdriver or if you have one a small wire brush. This will start to dislodge all of the crusty burnt e-liquid from the coil.
Repeat this process a couple of time until all of the gunk has come away from the coil. The coil won’t obviously look like a brand new coil but as long as all the gunk has been removed it will be fine to use again.
Lightly blow away any remaining remnants of the gunk from the build deck and then check that the resistance reading of your coil on the mod is still reading the same resistance. You may have to unscrew the build deck and reattach it to the mod so the mod detects the correct change of resistance.
Some people will dry burn their coil and then dunk the hot coil in water to loosen the gunk. I really would NOT recommend doing this.
Once you’re happy that the coil is pretty clean, re-wick the coil, prime the wick with a few drops of e-liquid and then reassemble the tank. Fill the tank with e-liquid and leave to stand for 10-15 minutes. Once done, you’re ready to vape as normal.
As long as your coil is reading around the same resistance as before, there is no reason why you can’t keep cleaning the coil many many times without the need to replace it.
Again for reference, I would normally clean my coil around 10 times and re-wick each time before I feel the need to replace the coil.
Well that about sums up the process of rebuildable coils and when best to re-wick and how to clean the coil. There are slight variations on this process, but for me this technique works best.
The cost benefits of rebuildables really does outweigh that of stock coils and when built and wicked right, certainly can outperform the majority of stock coils. Also in a lot of cases an RBA/RDA/RTA in principle should last a lifetime whereas a Pod or Tank that accepts stock coils will only last the duration that the coils are available.
More often than not I wrap my own coils directly from spools of different wire types although sometimes I treat myself to complex pre-made wrapped coils. I’ve listed a few sites that sell both the spools of wire and pre-made coils for your reference.
- The Crazy Wire Company
- Evolution Vaping
- Vaping 101
- Wicks and Wire
- Element Vapes
Hopefully I’ve managed to convey in this quick guide the advantages of rebuildable atomizers in terms of performance, longevity and cost effectiveness. A single spool of wire will only set you back a couple of pounds/dollars and will make approximately 80 coils, depending on the size of the spool.
As I’ve demonstrated in this guide, the usable lifetime of a rebuildable coil is greatly extended as it can be cleaned many times before it actually needs replacing. Wicking material, most commonly Japanese Organic Cotton, is very cheap and there are quite a few different types that are available.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop us a line.