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Top 10 Ways To Tell Your Vape Is Empty

Published January 28, 2022
Top 10 Ways To Tell Your Vape Is Empty - Secret Nature

Though simple and discreet in appearance, vape cartridges can be tricky contraptions to work in practice—especially when levels of cannabis concentrate start to dwindle. As you near the end of your vape cartridge, it can be hard to tell if your cart is actually empty, if there’s a clog, or if there’s some other issue preventing your vape cart from producing vapor.

In this guide, learn how to tell if your vape cartridge is empty, and find out what to do if it’s not. Then, find answers to common empty vape cartridge questions at the end.

My vape isn't making smoke. What’s going on?

If your vape cartridge isn’t producing vapor, a few different factors could be to blame. Some examples include:

  • Your battery is dead
  • Your cartridge is clogged
  • Your cartridge is empty
  • Your cartridge is defective

Start by replacing or recharging the battery attached to your vape cartridge. If that doesn’t fix the problem, make sure there are no clogs in the airway leading from the atomizer to the mouthpiece. Clogs are easy to diagnose since air will not flow through a clogged vape cartridge.

If your battery is charged and your cartridge is not clogged, you might be forced to admit your cart is empty if it still won’t produce vapor. It’s very rare, but some vape cartridges can be defective. In some cases, these defects don’t appear until partway through the expected life of the cartridge.

Top 10 ways to tell your vape is empty

Ready to find out exactly how to tell if your vape cartridge is empty or not? By the end of this list, you’ll be familiar with the top 10 ways you can tell if a vape cartridge doesn’t have any more extract inside. Along the way, you’ll also learn how to troubleshoot a variety of other common vape cartridge problems. Let’s get started:

1. You’ve reached the end of the vape’s expected life

The first tip we have to offer for checking the status of your vape cartridge’s tank doesn’t even involve looking at the cartridge. No, you should start by seeking out any available information regarding the expected life of your particular vape product.

If a vape is labeled as offering 3-5 three-second hits per day for a period of 30 days and it’s been a month since you started hitting it according to instructions, it’s only logical to assume that your vape might now be empty. Nothing lasts forever, so consider the possibility that it’s about time for your vape to be used up before you go to any further extremes.

2. You’re using the vape correctly

This step might initially seem silly, but never put anything past somebody who has had a little too much THC. You might have simply forgotten, for instance, that you switched from a vape that activates on inhalation to one with a button, and now you’re forgetting to press the button when you inhale.

Once you’ve made sure that you’re using your vape according to its official directions, you’ll be one step closer to knowing if the reason you can’t get a hit is because your vape’s tank is empty.

3. You can’t see any oil through the viewing window

Finally, it’s time to perform a visual examination of your vape. Most vape cartridge designs feature large viewing windows you can use to peer inside and visually assess the contents of the vape’s tank with reasonable accuracy.

As you look through your vape cartridge’s viewing window, note the parts you can see inside. In the center is a slender metal stem that widens at its base. The base contains a series of openings through which extract makes its way to the heating element.

Once you can no longer see extract covering those small, circular openings, your vape cartridge can be considered essentially empty. You may, however, be able to get a few more hits out of your vape before it starts to smoke and taste bad.

4. There’s a burnt taste when you take a hit

If a visual inspection reveals that extract levels inside your vape are getting low, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll experience the second most common symptom of an empty vape cartridge in short order: a burnt, unpleasant taste when you take a hit.

When there’s still a reasonable amount of extract left in your cartridge, a buffer is created between the coil and the surrounding air. Without this buffer, extract burns directly against the coil, causing it to become smoke instead of vapor.

5. No vapor comes out when you take a hit

There comes a certain point of no return past even the moment when your vape first starts tasting smoky. While it’s certainly not recommended, you can technically continue smoking your vape until every tiny last bit of extract has been burnt away.

At this point, no smoke at all will come out when you activate the battery. There are more likely reasons, though, that your vape isn’t producing any smoke whatsoever — most notably that the battery isn’t working.

6. There’s plenty of airflow through the mouthpiece

One of the most common reasons users think a vape is empty when it isn’t is that it’s clogged. And, one of the most surefire ways to make sure your vape isn’t clogged is to try inhaling through the mouthpiece.

If you can’t inhale at all, the mouthpiece is clogged. If you can inhale but your vape still won’t produce smoke, it’s entirely possible that its cartridge has been entirely depleted.

7. Your battery is fully charged

To make absolutely sure your vape cartridge is actually empty, you should charge its battery fully. Even that might not be enough to diagnose the problem, however, since the types of batteries used with vapes lose capacity over time, potentially leading you to think your cartridge is empty when your vape’s battery has simply failed. So, to fully diagnose the issue, try switching to a brand-new battery as well.

8. There’s no issue with the coil

All vape cartridges feature heating elements, most commonly metallic coils. It’s rare, but coils have been known to become damaged over time, and sometimes, vape cartridges can be shipped out with defective coils. Making sure there are no issues with your vape’s coil is an additional step you can take when attempting to determine if your cartridge is simply empty.

9. The vape cartridge gets hot when activated

One way you can sometimes tell if a vape cartridge is empty is by feeling the outside of the cartridge while you activate the attached battery. With a cartridge that is at least somewhat full, it should take some time for the cartridge to feel hot to the touch. Cartridges that are completely empty, however, will become hot within just a few seconds of battery activation.

10. You’re able to hit other cartridges with the same battery

Disconnect the battery that’s currently attached to your cartridge, and try connecting it to a different cartridge. Does the battery hit when it’s connected to the other cartridge? If so, that means the issue is with the cartridge, not the battery — taking you one step closer to determining if your vape cartridge is just plain empty.

Summary: How do you know when a vape is finished?

There are a few surefire signs that a vape cartridge is legitimately empty, not just clogged or in need of a new battery. Some examples include:

  • The vapor your cartridge produces is now hot and smoky
  • Your cartridge becomes hot when the battery is activated
  • There is no sign of cannabis distillate through the glass walls of the cartridge

How to unclog a cart: 3 methods

It’s a tragically common occurrence for malinformed cannabis users to throw away vape cartridges that are simply clogged, not empty. If it turns out your vape cartridge is clogged, there are 3 simple methods you can use to get vaping once again:

1. Use air pressure

Sometimes, all it takes to get the clog out of your vape cartridge is a little bit of negative air pressure. If you try to suck the clog out, a small amount of distillate may exit the end of the mouthpiece. As long as you aren’t averse to trying multiple forms of cannabinoid ingestion at once, apply this distillate clog under your tongue for long-term, mild effects.

2. Apply gentle heat

If you heat your cartridge too intensely, all the distillate will flow out the bottom. Gentle application of heat using a hair dryer or a space heater, however, can melt clogs without having to bust your cheeks with any huffing and puffing.

3. Poke it out

The stickiest and most wasteful option, you can also try to fish out the clog with a needle or paperclip. In practice, this method just ends up getting distillate everywhere while usually perpetuating your clog problem. Out of the three, applying heat is usually the best method of removing clogs from cannabis vape cartridges.

Empty vape cartridge FAQ

Let’s finish up with answers to common empty vape cartridge questions:

Do carts smell?

Yes, some cannabis vape cartridges do emit a relatively noticeable aroma. No vape cart will ever be as pungent as cannabis flower, but if improperly stored, a vape pen in your pocket might attract the wrong kind of attention.

Thankfully, most vape cartridges come with silicone caps for preservation. Simply keep this cap instead of throwing it away, and replace it on the end of your cart’s mouthpiece whenever you don’t want to broadcast your cannabis use far and wide. Doing so also creates an airtight seal that may prevent clogs.

How do you know if a cartridge is bad?

There are a few different ways a cartridge can be “bad.” It can be empty, clogged, or defective. The best way to start the testing process is to try to draw from the cartridge. If there is no airflow, it is clogged.

If a cartridge does not produce vapor even after changing the battery and even though distillate is visible inside, there may be an issue with the atomizer or some other component. Cartridges that produce nasty-tasting, smoky vapor, on the other hand, should be considered empty and no longer usable.

How many times should I hit a cart?

You should feel free to keep hitting your vape cartridge until cannabis distillate no longer covers the small, mesh-covered holes visible through the glass at the bottom of the cartridge’s central “straw.” These holes allow distillate to move from the cartridge’s tank to its atomizer, and if they remain covered, that means the atomizer is submerged in cannabis distillate and capable of producing optimal vapor.

Can vaping an empty cartridge create smoke?

Yes, hitting a vape cartridge even though it is empty can superheat any residual oils to the point that they combust, not vaporize. This is why many experienced cannabis users on Reddit, Quora, and similar platforms complain of inhaling “smoky” vapor when they hit vape cartridges that are already empty.

The components inside disposable vape cartridges are not meant to be heated beyond a certain temperature. If you try to “smoke” the last tiny amounts of distillate in a vape cartridge, you could accidentally melt or incinerate coatings or other components in your vape, contaminating the semi-combusted vapor you’re inhaling even more.

If you’re desperate to get the last little bits of distillate out of your cartridges, we have another method:

  • Find something to hold your carts upright
  • Packaging for 9mm bullets works well
  • Preheat your oven to 200-250°F
  • Place the carts on a cookie sheet
  • Place the cookie sheet and carts in the oven for around 30 minutes
  • Remove, and allow to cool

Upon removing the carts and the apparatus you used to hold them, you’ll find that the leftover distillate in the cartridges has pooled on the cookie sheet. You can then dab it, place it under your tongue, or use it any other form you desire.

What is a “dry hit?”

When it comes to vaping, a dry hit is when you hit your vape even though there is nothing in its tank. More of an issue when vaping nicotine than cannabis, dry hitting can nonetheless be problematic when novice users continue trying to hit cannabis vape cartridges that are clearly empty. 

Do dry hits ruin coils?

With the types of refillable vape cartridges used for nicotine, high-end coils can be one of the most expensive components of a vaper’s rig. Users of disposable cannabis vape cartridges don’t need to worry about taking care of their coils, but they do need to be concerned about the toxic metals that can be released when coils are damaged due to dry hitting.

How do I know how much is left in my vape cartridge?

Most vape cartridges are equipped with viewing windows you can use to visually verify how much cannabis concentrate is left inside the cart. If it is not possible to see inside your vape cartridge, the only way to know how much is left is to simply continue hitting it until no vapor is produced.

Even if you can see inside your vape cartridge, establishing exactly how many doses you have left can be difficult. One approach to the issue is using a fine-point sharpie to mark the level of concentrate in your cartridge every day. That will help you establish a baseline for a good daily dose.

What do you do with almost-empty carts?

If your vape cart is almost empty, stop! Don’t throw it away. There’s still plenty of concentrate in there that you simply can’t see.

Most vape cartridges are equipped with a series of tiny holes at the base of the stem inside of the tank. These holes allow cannabis concentrate to make its way inside the stem, where it passes over the coil and is vaporized.

You can keep hitting your cart until those holes in the stem are no longer covered by cannabis concentrate. Even after this point, there is still a considerable amount of residual concentrate left inside the vape cart, making it possible to take a few “dry hits” before the cartridge can be counted as completely empty.

What happens if you smoke an empty cartridge?

Smoking a completely empty vape cartridge will result in a hot feeling in your mouth and no vapor entering your lungs. Most carts that vapers would consider empty aren’t actually empty at all, though.

If you hit a cart that’s almost empty, the buffer between the coil and the concentrate will be much smaller, making it easier to burn your oil. As a result, your vape won’t taste as good, but it will still produce clouds of cannabinoids you can inhale.

Why does my vape taste burnt?

A vape shouldn’t taste burnt unless you’re almost at the end of your cartridge. Vape cartridges and batteries are designed to work in tandem to establish an ideal, consistent temperature at which cannabinoid concentrate is vaporized. If your cart tastes burnt but it is still full, it’s possible that there’s an issue either with the attached battery (which can easily be replaced) or with the cart’s coil (which can’t).

Can I reuse vape cartridges?

It is not recommended that you ever reuse a vape cartridge once it is empty. Vape cartridges are designed to be used only once — they lack the heavy-duty, durable hardware present in refillable vape tanks.

Even the process of attempting to open an empty vape cartridge often cracks its tank, making any refilling efforts pointless. Plus, unless you have a source of endless, cheap cannabinoid distillate, it’s usually more cost-effective to simply buy a new vape cartridge than it is to refill an old one.

How do I get extra oil out of my cart?

To get the leftover or extra oil out of a vape cartridge, simply remove the top, and extract the concentrate with a medical-grade syringe. If you properly use a vape cartridge to the end of its expected lifetime, though, there won’t be any considerable concentration of extract left inside. Just keep hitting your cart until the small holes on the inner stem are no longer covered with extract, then discard the cart, and start hitting a new one.

How do you clean an empty vape cartridge?

If you’re intent on fully cleaning an empty vape cartridge, one of the easiest methods is simply placing it in an oven at around 250°F. This temperature isn’t hot enough to melt the hardware of the cartridge, but it will fully liquefy any extract inside, allowing it to run out of the cartridge. Once you’re done “cooking your cart clean,” simply use a paper towel to remove any residue that has accumulated on the exterior.

When should I change my vape cartridge?

It’s a good idea to switch to a new vape cartridge the moment your current vape starts to taste burnt. Using a quick visual assessment, you can also check to see if the holes on the bottom of the cart’s inner stem are still immersed in concentrate. Hitting a “dry” or fully depleted vape cartridge can be dangerous, so make sure to switch to a new cart in a timely manner.

Why does my vape crackle?

Vapes normally do not make a crackling noise when activated. The most likely reason your vape is crackling is that it got wet. The sound of the water that has made its way into your cannabis concentrate evaporating can be reminiscent of cracking.

It’s best to avoid vaping wet cartridges; simply wait for your cart to dry before hitting it again. If your vape is crackling even though it has never gotten wet, there could be a fault in the hardware, so you should switch to a new cart immediately.

Why does my vape keep hitting after I stop?

Vapes are designed to stop hitting the moment you are no longer inhaling at the mouthpiece or pressing the activation button. If your vape remains active even after you are no longer using it, you should carefully place the vape on a concrete or metal surface away from any flammable materials. While rare, vape batteries have been known to explode when they fail to properly deactivate.

How long does a vape cartridge usually last?

A vape cartridge should have no issue lasting until every single drop of cannabis distillate inside has been vaporized. The duration of time a vape cartridge will continue to render vapor depends on the capacity of the cartridge, the voltage of the battery, plus the intensity and duration of your hits.

How many hits does a 1g cartridge last?

A 1g cartridge of cannabis extract may last anywhere between 100-300 hits before it no longer produces vapor. The exact number of hits your cartridge produces all depends on how big your hits are and the voltage of your battery.

Depending on your use patterns, a 1g cartridge can last as few as two days or as long as an entire month. Some users may choose to maximize the voltage of their batteries to enjoy the biggest hits possible even though doing so reduces the total number of hits per cartridge.

How can I visibly determine if my vape cartridge is empty?

Most disposable cannabis vape cartridges feature glass walls, making it easy to visually verify the level of cannabis distillate remaining in your cart. A vape cartridge is still viable as long as cannabis distillate still fully covers the small, circular holes at the bottom of its inner steel “straw.” These holes are clearly visible through the glass walls, and the moment they become uncovered and exposed to the open air, you should stop vaping your cartridge.

How do you know when a disposable vape pen is empty?

Depending on the design, it can be harder to visually determine if some disposable vape pens are empty. With disposable vape pens, however, it doesn’t really matter if there’s a little bit of distillate leftover at the bottom of the cartridge—you can’t recharge the battery anyway, so if your disposable vape pen has stopped hitting, that’s the end of the story.

How do you know when a vape pod is empty?

You can usually tell if a vape pod is empty by looking through the viewing window on the side of the pod. Every pod design is different, though, so you may need to try hitting your pod with a charged battery to determine if it’s empty or not. If your vape pod truly is empty, the clouds it produces will taste burnt and have the consistency of smoke.

Even more ways to tell if your vape is empty

Determining the fullness of your vape cartridge is an art just as much as it is a science. So far, we’ve covered a checklist to go through, including what to do if your vape is just clogged and not empty.

There’s a remote possibility that you still aren’t sure whether your vape cartridge has any more extract in it, though. For that exact contingency, we’ve put together these additional variables to look out for as your vape cartridge reaches the end of its life:

— Test the weight

This one might not seem obvious at first, but if your vape cartridge contained one gram of cannabinoid extract to begin with, it will weigh one gram less when empty. For this trick to work, you’ll need to weigh your vape cartridge right when you take it out of the package using a scale that is fine-tuned enough to show tenths-of-grams (0.1g).

Once you have the base (tare) weight of a full vape cartridge, periodically weigh the cartridge as you use it, noting decreases in weight. Once the cartridge weighs one full gram less than it did when you took it out of the package, it can safely be considered to be empty.

— Smoky vapor

We’ve covered how the taste of cannabis vapor changes toward the end of its life, but it’s worth touching on how the consistency of the vapor changes as well. Put simply, vapes become harsher at the end of their life for the same reason joints become harsher as the ember gets closer to the mouthpiece — there’s less cannabis material to buffer the heat.

When a vape cartridge is full, there’s plenty of oil to serve as a buffer between the coil (atomizer) and the outside air. As the cartridge empties, however, the chance becomes higher to expose the atomizer to air, vastly increasing its heat production and scalding any remaining oil. Vape extract will both taste and feel smoky when your cartridge is close to empty.

— Condensation in the tank

Here’s a sign that will take a close eye to spot: Condensation will form inside your vape cartridge if there isn’t enough extract to serve as a buffer between the coil and the surrounding air. This condensation will form around the bottom of the interior of the vape near the small holes that allow extract into the atomizer.

Veteran vapers take the appearance of condensation as the final sign that a vape is not worth hitting anymore. Up until that point, there’s still a possibility of getting a big, full hit of vapor. Once condensation starts to form due to lack of buffer oil, though, you can be fully assured that there are no hits left in your cart.

— No vapor at all

There’s a point of emptiness vape carts can reach that’s beyond even smoky hits and the appearance of hot condensation. Yes, you can actually smoke a vape until there is literally nothing else to vaporize, not even the tiny dregs of extract that will gradually run down the sides of even the emptiest-seeming cartridge.

If your vape is properly hooked up to a charged battery but nothing comes out of the mouthpiece even though the cartridge gets really hot, it’s time to pat yourself on the back. You’ve really done it — you’ve smoked a cart to the quick. Now, where’s that replacement cartridge again?

— Manufacturer indicators

It’s rare, but cannabis manufacturers occasionally include indicators on their vapes to show when they are empty. You might see a line at the bottom of your vape showing where to stop for the best results, for instance.

On the whole, though, vape manufacturers want to leave it up to their customers if they so desire to keep hitting their carts until they’re completely empty. If you want to stop yourself before you get to that point, consider making your own mark on the cartridge at the level you consider it empty.

— Ask the manufacturer

If all else fails, you can always contact the company that made your vape cartridge and ask for their use recommendations. Nobody knows your vape better than the people who made it, so contacting the manufacturer might give you a clear answer when nobody else can.

For the record, Secret Nature recommends that you stop hitting a vape cartridge or disposable the moment the vapor changes in consistency or tastes burnt. Also, do not hit Secret Nature cartridges once all of the intake holes at the bottom of the tank are completely uncovered by extract.

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