How Do You Know When Your Vape Cartridge Is Empty?

Published Fri, January 28, 22

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.

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 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 quite hot when the battery is activated
  • There is no sign of cannabis distillate through the glass walls of the 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 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.

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