What is a Tank?

In simplest terms; a tank, when referring to vaping, is the part of a vaping device which holds the e-liquid and houses an atomizer (otherwise known as a coil).


A brief history of tanks:


Throughout the years vaping has evolved an astonishing amount. The tanks originally used in the mid 2000’s were a far cry from what we see today. As with any technology, a competitive market has driven substantial developments.


Originally, tanks were much smaller, often pre-filled (although many users would open them and replace liquid/coils), and were called “cartomizers.” These tanks were more often than not made with plastic components and meant to be disposable.


Clearomizers came along as the industry started to take off. These refillable tanks were still often made with plastic components, but provided a much more user-friendly experience, relative to cartomizers. Although filling these tanks could still be quite messy and tedious.


Over the next few years tanks and their respective coils became more and more refined. Regardless of the tank, at this point they were only designed for extremely restricted mouth-to-lung (MTL) styles of inhale. Eventually, plastic shells were traded for Pyrex and stainless steel. Silica fiber wicks were traded for organic cotton. Tips, threads, and tank sizes were somewhat standardized.


Eventually the biggest innovation in tanks happened – the vertical coil. We touched upon this in our “What is a Coil” article, but to go even further; vertical coils completely changed the world of vaping. Sub-ohm tanks became commonplace and users were now capable of vaping at wattages before thought to be impossible. This led to the age of sub-ohm tanks. These are tanks that utilize coils that are below 1.0 Ohm in resistance, making them perfect for higher wattage vaping. And here we are today! An unending list of tanks that suit any vaping preference – from the super tight MTL to direct to lung (DTL) tanks with wide open airflow.


Sub-ohm DTL tanks allowed for ample vapor and flavor production with a similar level of effort/complexity to that of MTL tanks. With many vapers, as you slow down your nicotine consumption/move to a DTL tank, flavors start to increase and with that so does the incentive to continue to vape. A part of what makes vaping such an apt alternative to consume nicotine is that it can taste quite pleasurable. 


Now that we know a rough history of tanks, lets dive in a little deeper into what a tank actually is!


Most current tanks are made with stainless steel, Pyrex, and silicone.



The stainless steel provides the skeletal structure for the tank. Stainless steel components are usually threaded for disassembly, but sometimes are simply press-fit and are not meant to be taken apart. This is usually the case when it comes to the adjustable airflow rings on most tanks. Stainless steel is quite resistant to rust, but it can still oxidize. This means it is important to perform regular maintenance on your tanks, and if you rinse them in water – be sure to dry all components thoroughly before reassembling. If you are retiring a tank or putting it away for an extended period of time – make sure it is completely dry.


The glass section on tanks is most often Pyrex, but other transparent materials are also used. We’ve seen quartz glass, borosilicate glass, Ultem (polyetherimide), and polycarbonate. Pyrex is a common culprit due to its resilience (as far as glass can be resilient), heat resistance, and availability.


Manufacturers have seemingly mastered the production of small glass cylinders. This has led to further refinements such as the popular “bubble glass” that many tanks utilize to increase capacity without drastically increasing the form factor of the tank.


Most, if not all, tanks do have replacement glass. So, don’t just chuck your tank in the garbage if you break your glass – chances are you can find new glass for a fraction of the cost of a new tank.


The story is much the same when talking about the Pyrex glass alternatives. Borosilicate glass and quartz glass have similar characteristics to Pyrex and are utilized by manufacturers for various reasons.


When it comes to the plastic “glass” things get a little more complex. Plastic offers more resilience when it comes to dropping/shattering, but with a trade-off. Most plastics are susceptible to cracking when in contact with certain flavorings. There are naturally occurring acids in these flavorings which effectively dissolve the plastic. Anise (black licorice), banana, cinnamon, and menthol flavorings tend to be the common culprits. Some plastics are more likely to crack than others, but to be safe avoid using these flavors in tanks with plastic “glass.”


Silicone, or sometimes simply rubber, is the silent savior of all tanks. This material makes up the vast majority of seals found in current tanks. Without seals/gasket your tank would be a leaky mess. It is very important to make sure all the seals in your tank are in the correct positions and intact in order to minimize the risk of leaking. Most tanks come with spare seals, so be sure to keep them somewhere you will remember. The seals in tanks can be susceptible to swelling when in contact with those same flavors that can crack plastic (anise (black licorice), banana, cinnamon, and menthol). This is a much less dramatic issue than the plastic glass cracking, but can definitely be an annoyance. The seal in some top-fill mechanisms (usually a large white seal) is the most likely to swell. If you ever encounter a swollen seal – remove and replace it with a spare, rinse it out thoroughly, and let it sit for a few days. They will often shrink back down to a usable size.


Although tank designs are all quite similar, there are some features that are


If you recall, we mentioned mouth-to-lung and direct-to-lung tanks earlier. Without delving too deep into the various types of tanks, these are the two primary types you will encounter:


Mouth-to-lung, or MTL, is the style of tank most commonly recognized as “the place to start.” These types of tanks have a restricted airflow, which conversely means we use them at much lower wattages. This style of tank emulates the feeling of sucking on a cigarette, making it the optimal choice for people freshly transitioning to vaping. Restricted airflow and high resistance coils allow for the use of higher nicotine strengths. Not all MTL tanks are created equal. The degree of airflow restriction will vary from tank to tank, with many being adjustable.


It is worth mentioning that most pod systems utilize a MTL style of inhale, and if you'd like to know more about pod systems please see our blog post "What is a Pod System."


Direct-to-lung, or DTL, is the style of tank that many vapers tend to utilize when flavor and vapor production start to become a primary concern. These tanks have a much more airy airflow mechanism. Although airflow is still quite often adjustable, these tanks are not designed to be vaped like a MTL tank. The coils in these tanks are much lower in resistance, physically larger, and will therefore require exponentially higher wattage to properly operate.


A good analogy is that MTL tanks are like sucking through a coffee stirrer, whereas DTL tanks are like sucking through a milkshake straw.


Tanks are an integral part of any vape and will offer users the most drastic change in experience. As most of us who vape can attest, personal preference plays a major role in which device one may prefer. This is why it is worthwhile to have a reasonable understanding of what tanks are available, and potentially where your current tank sits in the spectrum. Dialing in your device to suit your preference is key to a successful vaping experience. This is why it is also important to take advice in regards to which setup is "best" with a grain of salt. It's tricky because vaping can be an extremely subjective experience; what device one person may deem is the "best" could be the next person's least favorite. Look up reviews, watch videos, and most importantly talk to a professional.


At River City Vapes we pride ourselves in being as knowledgeable as possible, and we're always willing to answer questions. 

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