What to do when your vape pen cartridge has no airflow

We've come a long way since the days where smoking weed meant rolling a doobie. Nowadays, a vape pen cartridge is the preferred delivery method for many. Cannabis vape pens are growing in popularity due to their convenience and perceived safety in comparison to smoking. Nonetheless, more sophisticated inhalation methods can also mean more complex technical problems. 

If you've ever found yourself pulling hard on your vape pen only to end up with no airflow, you're not alone. Fortunately, troubleshooting vape airflow issues is relatively straightforward.

Here, we'll identify some common vape pen cartridge problems and how to fix them.

cannabis vape pens
Improve your vaping experience with a few tips and tricks. 
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

How to identify common vape airflow problems

If the light is on but no-one is home (i.e., air isn't flowing freely from your vape), several causes could be responsible. 

A clogged vape pen cartridge

Vape pen cartridges can become clogged when the tiny airflow holes get blocked with oily residue after use, according to Winston Peki, editor of product-review site Herbonaut

“A simple way to fix this is by removing the cartridge from the vape pen, getting a needle, and simply gently poking the needle through the airflow holes until the oily residue is gone,” advised Peki. “Important note, though: with disposable vape pen/cart combinations, this isn't always easy because the cartridge doesn't come off unless you use some tools to tinker with it.”

If the airflow holes aren't the source of the clog, there could be something blocking the mouthpiece. Try gently using a safety pin or similar item around the mouthpiece to test if there is something hindering airflow, and see if you can manually dislodge it.

The fix: Avoid overfilling the cart (you'll know when you've done this as “spitback” occurs when the cart has been overfilled and hot droplets shoot out). Avoid leaving the device for too long without using it. 

Incorrect airflow setting

Getting the airflow setting right is key to ensuring your oil flows freely. When you're filling a vape pen cartridge, the airflow holes must be completely closed. When the vape pen is being used, the airflow holes should be open enough that you can inhale with ease, without having to pull air in forcefully. 

The fix: Inhaling too hard can encourage flooding, which can lead to leakage and airflow problems. Inhale gently, and let the wicks on the coil do the heavy lifting.

Twisting the vape cartridge too tight

Filling the cart then over-zealously twisting it closed can block off the airflow holes. “When airflow holes are located in the threading area, you can't screw the cartridge too tight,” said Peki. 

The fix: Screw your cartridge back onto the vape battery gently. 

Oil viscosity

Although oil viscosity is not directly related to airflow, Peki said oil viscosity issues are often mistaken for airflow issues. “Different oils and concentrates have lower or higher viscosity,” he explained. “Thicker oils need more time to warm up. With the thicker oils, we always recommend preheating for a few seconds before taking a hit.” 

Similar to what happens when you put maple syrup in the refrigerator, chillier days can lead to slightly thicker oil viscosity in your vape.

The fix: Allow time for the oil to warm up a little before you start pulling vapor.

cannabis vape pens
Begin troubleshooting by first ensuring that the problem is, in fact, an airflow problem.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

How to troubleshoot when your cartridge has no airflow

According to Peki, begin troubleshooting by first ensuring that the problem is, in fact, an airflow problem. “Oftentimes, the reason why your vape cartridge isn't producing vapor can be related to your voltage/wattage/temperature setting,” explained Peki. “Make sure that you follow the voltage/wattage/temperature setting as recommended by the manufacturer of the cartridge and the concentrate.” 

The fix: If your wattage is too low, you may not be vaporizing the concentrate as quickly as the wick is supplying it. Increasing the wattage can fix this issue if you're using a device with variable wattage. 

How can I unclog my vape cartridge?

If you've checked that the airflow issue isn't related to voltage, wattage, or temperature settings, the cart is likely clogged. Peki recommended following this simple process:

  1. Locate the airflow holes.
  2. Check if the holes are open. 
  3. If they appear clogged with residue, gently clean them with a needle or similar object.
  4. Check whether the holes are being obstructed by any other components of the vape pen (usually by the cart itself). 
  5. Try to assemble your vape in such a way that the airflow holes aren't blocked.
cannabis vape heating element
When your dab pen isn't blowing smoke, the heating element might be at fault. 
Photo by: Stephen Panosian/Weedmaps

Why is my dab pen not blowing smoke?

Cannasseurs in search of a more potent high will often opt for dab pens, which differ from vape pens in several fundamental ways. For starters, dab pens are designed to vape thicker concentrates, such as wax or roisin, which tend to have a higher viscosity than the concentrate liquid used in vape pens. However, some vape pens are compatible with both cartridges and wax. 

When it comes to troubleshooting bad dab pen airflow, there are different issues to identify. The most common issue is battery-related, or in the case of a dab pen, box-mod-related. You'll want to get the setting right for the specific heating coil in your dab pen. Dab pens that operate with a box or vape mod battery often require a little rudimentary research so you can get familiar with your device and how it works. 

“Some box mods come with temperature control capabilities, however, not every type of coil is suited for that,” said Peki. “If you try to dab with a Kanthal coil in temperature control mode, you won't get any vapor.” Peki also pointed out that if the wattage setting of the box mod is lower than the recommended wattage, you can expect feeble, wispy vapor.

Bottom line: High-quality dab pens are extremely modifiable devices that can work with various types of coils (the heating element) and batteries. Often, getting to the bottom of your airflow problem is simply a matter of familiarizing yourself with the quirks and settings of your dab pen.

Why do I have to pull so hard on my vape?

Chances are, if you're pulling hard on your vape pen it's because you've been pulling too hard in the past and you've flooded the tank. Drawing hard when you vape causes the wicks to absorb more concentrate than the coil can vaporize. Excess oil floods the tank and clogs the airflow holes. 

The fix: Take your vape pen apart carefully and clean the threading on the battery, the tank, the air holes, and the mouthpiece. Following this, you can reassemble the device and test it, taking gentle pulls and making sure to inhale slowly and not too forcefully.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on March 23, 2021.