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How to Use a Curling Iron: Tips, Tricks, and a Step-by-Step Guide

Being born with pin-straight hair may sound like an absolute dream for some but not when you try holding up a curly hairstyle for longer than an hour. I was convinced that I had some rare uncurlable hair type and was just forced to live with it. For years, I abandoned my dream of achieving the perfect beach wave.

It wasn’t until I decided to visit a hairstyling professional that everything changed. I found out I had been curling my hair wrong all this time. There are a few things the stylist pointed out to me that completely changed my hairstyling routine and transformed my hair. Today, I plan to share every one of these unique tips and tricks with you!

Grab your curling iron, and follow my steps and advice closely. By the time we’re done, you’ll learn the following:

  • How to use a curling iron on yourself
  • How to use a triple barrel curling iron
  • How to make beach waves with a curling iron
  • The right curling iron temperature for your hair type
  • How to use a curling iron on short hair
  • How to use a curling iron on long hair
  • How important hairsprays are

Before We Start Curling …

Achieving the perfect curl is extremely easy, but there are some things you need to know before you press the “on” button. For starters, you need to find the perfect curling iron for your specific hair type. 

You should be looking at a few things: hair length, hair type, and hair damage. 

If you have hair damage after doing a lot of treatments, like bleaching, for example, you need to look for specific plate materials when buying a hair curler. You don’t want to add to your damage when using a hair curler.  

Your best bet would be a ceramic tourmaline hair curler. Tourmaline is a unique material, crushed into powder and mixed with ceramic, and it has some unique properties that protect your hair from damage. Tourmaline battles the negative ions that cause static and frizz in your hair and won’t create additional frizz.

Depending on your hair type, it’s essential to find a curling iron that can heat up accordingly. Always curl your hair to the correct heat setting. Let’s start throwing in some numbers.

Do you have fine, super damaged hair? Look for a curling iron with adjustable temperature, and choose a setting between 250° and 300° Fahrenheit. The 250° and 280° won’t do much for fine hair but can work wonders if your hair is thin and damaged. Otherwise, try staying closer to the 300° mark for best results. 

If you’re one with normal hair, not too thick, not too thin, choose a setting along the 350° range. For natural hair, also referred to as “virgin” hair, you can crank it up to 375° and not worry about any hair damage. 

Finally, if you’re on the other side of the spectrum and you have thick and coarse hair, you might need to crank up your curling iron. Anywhere between 400° and 425° should be fine for you, but bear in mind that most hairstyling professionals will frown at the thought of going over 410°, as this may do some irreversible damage to your locks. 

When it comes to finding the perfect curling iron, hair length is also a crucial detail to consider. There are different curling iron sizes you should browse if you want to achieve specific hairstyles. We have a fantastic guide on the different curling iron sizes according to your hair length, which is worth checking out if you need some details. 

The general rule of thumb is to use small barrel sizes for short hair (¾,” ½,” ⅜,” ⅝,” etc.) and larger barrel sizes for medium and long hair (e.g., 1.25,” 1.5,” 1.75,” 2,” and others). Depending on your curling iron sizes, what results to expect are summed up in the article, so this should be a great starting point when buying a curling iron. 

Okay, so far, you’ve got the suitable curling iron. What else do you need to create the perfect curl? You need a reasonable amount of time. If you’re in a rush and running late for something important, the sad truth is you won’t be able to achieve the best curls in ten minutes.

Make sure to give yourself 30–40 minutes if you have a lot of hair. For all the gals out there with thin hair, you should be listening! Fine hair doesn’t mean less hair; in fact, women with fine hair tend to have more individual hairs than those with thick tresses. It just often doesn’t seem that way because your hair is so fine. Leave yourself with plenty of time to give each strand the time of day. 

Be sure to use the same curling time for each strand as well; otherwise, the tightness of your curls will vary. If you’re using a thin-barreled curling iron on long hair, expect your curling to take even longer. 

I can’t help but talk a bit about budgeting as well. Investing in a good hair curler is essential. Typically, you can find great curlers for less than $100, which will provide the right temperature and quality heating plates that won’t damage your hair. Bear in mind that the more extras you have, the more expensive it can get. 

People rarely talk about additional costs. Curling your hair becomes more expensive once you start doing it every day. Why? You’ll begin damaging your locks if you expose them to an insane amount of heat every day. So, it’s essential to equip yourself with some heat protectant and fixating spray. There’s tons of information on this in our Tips and Tricks section at the end of the article!

Now that you’re prepared and have had enough time and the right tool for the job, we can jump onto the next section – the detailed guide on using a curling iron. 

How to Use a Curling Iron – A Detailed Guide

Follow this step-by-step guide to achieve the perfect curl. I recommend you read the manual first, as well as the tips and tricks below, before you start curling. 

Step 1 

Make sure your beautiful tresses are parched. No good will come out of curling your wet hair. I don’t care if you’re in a rush and you haven’t had enough time to dry, and I don’t want to hear it. You don’t want to know the damage you can create by curling wet hair. If you think I’m exaggerating, allow me to explain what happens inside damp hair when it’s curled.

You might not know this, but below the cuticle of a particular hair strand lies the cortex (the filling, if you will) and the medulla (the core of the hair). The cortex holds moisture, which keeps the hair healthy and hydrated. When your hair is wet, the cuticle walls allow easy access to the cortex. So, imagine yourself burning at the cortex and medulla when your hair is wet. You’re essentially boiling your hair inside out, which results in the breakage of your cuticles. Once your hair is dry, you’ll notice it has become frizzy and dry, and all the shine it used to hold is now burned away. 

That’s why you should always blow dry your hair or, even better, wait for it to naturally dry, so it remains healthy and shiny. 

Step 2

Use the right-sized barrel when curling your hair. Do you want to achieve tight curls a-la Gilmore Girls? A small barrel is your thing. Wrap the hair around the barrel only for an old-school curl. It helps if you have a curling iron with a clip, which will help keep your ends fixed.

Do you want fabulous and lush mermaid hair? The larger the barrel, the better. Leave the end of your hair strand, and start lowering your head. Curling wands are great for achieving a beach wave curl. If you want to find out the difference between a curling wand and a curling iron, have a look at our article!

Step 3

Angles matter. Are you after more volume? Start at the root of your hair, heating it nicely, and continue holding your curling iron perpendicular to your hair section. If you don’t want any volume, you can control the curling iron vertically. 

Step 4

Timing is everything. Avoid overheating your hair. Once you have separated your hair and you’re holding a 2-inch hair strand curled up around the barrel of your curling iron, you should wait up to 10 seconds and release your hair from the grip. You’re doing it wrong if you’re staying anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds. You need to hold each curl for about the same time if you want even results. 

Step 5

The way you hold your curling iron is also essential. This can vary depending on what you use for curling – curling wands or curling irons. Having it horizontally creates more volume, as we already established. The main thing you should think about is bringing the curling iron as close to your roots as possible without burning your scalp. 

Hold the iron clip open while curling your hair around the barrel, and close the clamp when you’re near the roots. If you were doing the opposite – clamping your hair near the end of your hair strand and rolling upward toward your roots – you probably noticed a clamp mark on your curl. 

Step 6

Think about hair direction. When curling, try to alternate hair directions. If you direct all your hair strands the same way, your curls will stand blending. For the best voluminous hair results, try switching between opposing hair directions. I used to make this mistake, and it was one of the main things my hairdresser pointed out. 

Step 7 (Optional)

Are you wondering how to use a triple-barrel curling iron? If you’re a big fan of curls like me, you probably know this is one of the secrets to achieving mermaid’s hair. Thai intimidating curling hot tool is made of three barrels sandwiched together. If you want to get consistent waves and cut down on hairstyling time, then a triple barrel is the way to go. 

Start by splitting your hair into sections (more on that in the section below, ironically). Hold the curler horizontally, and press the clamp to open it up. Feed the top of your hair strand between the barrel and the clamp. 

Hold the hair in place for several seconds. Refer to Step 4 of our guide if you’re unsure how long you should leave it in for. Open up the clamp when you’re done, and move along the hair strand. Repeat the process until the entire strand is waved. 

See? It was a lot easier (and quicker) than you might think!

Step 8 

Once you’re done curling a hair strand with a curling iron, it’s recommended that you cup it with your hand until it’s cool and then release the curl. You want to avoid yanking out the curling iron or letting the curl drop when it’s still hot. This will stretch your curls and make them lose shape before you’ve even had the chance to go out and show off your hairstyle!

What about hair products? Don’t worry; I am no fool, and I’ve left the best for last. The absolute game changers that made straight hair like mine hold up a curl for two days deserve a special place in the article! You’ll find essential tips and tricks to hair curling in the section below.  

Tips and Tricks When Using a Curling Iron

I wouldn’t dare leave you without the most crucial hairstyling tips and tricks. That is to say, the steps described above are essential, and you should combine them with the additional advice in this section if you want a curly hairstyle that lasts!

Using a Heat Protectant

It is essential to those of you who plan on implementing hot curling into your everyday routines. It won’t be long before your hair starts rebelling against it. Frizz pops up here and there, and treated hair now looks more like a witch’s broomstick than ever before. Spraying your hair with heat protectant pre-curling will act as a shield or barrier between your hot curling iron and the hair. 

Before you buy a heat protectant, make sure you know what temperature you’re curling your hair at. Some heat-protective sprays may go up to 300°, for example, so if you’re curling at 375°, you won’t be providing your hair with enough heat protection. Always read the fine print!

Sectioning Your Hair

Sectioning your hair will help create specific hairstyles. It seems like it’s no biggie, but parting your hair is extremely important. Grab a hair clip, and brush your hair thoroughly. With the pointy end of a comb or a pencil, you can start detangling your hair. Separate your natural parting. Then consider if you want voluminous curls or wavy curls. Start sectioning your hair. A horizontal parting will give you root volume, while a vertical parting will be better for a trendy beach wave. 


Brushing your hair is just as important at the start and the end of your curling. It’s important to have tidy curls so you can easily separate your hair and take out individual 2-inch strands when curling. Did you know it’s equally important to brush your hair after curling? 

Depending on the style you want, if you're going to move further away from the Victorian curl, brush your hair once it’s cooled down (extremely important!). This will create a consistent look, and your hairstyle will look a lot more natural. You can brush your hair with a hairbrush, or you can run your fingers through your hair if you prefer. 

Hair Spray

Last but not least important is hair spray. I mean, an entire musical was named after it, so that should be a sign of how important it is! Hair spray is what made my curls last, and it’s essential to use it last after you have brushed your hair. That way, your hair strands won’t stick together and will help maintain soft and bouncy curls. 

Some hairstylists argue that hair spraying should be done before curling with a light-setting spray. This is important for people with stubborn pin-straight hair (like mine!) and will help prep your hair. Make sure to mist your hair instead of saturating each curl lightly. Repeat the process at the end, even if your hair isn’t resistant to curling. It’s essential to steer clear of moisturizing hair oils like argan oil or coconut oils, as those may weigh down your locks. 

Maintaining a Clean Curling Iron

Using a lot of product will leave residue on your curling iron, whether you like it or not. Even if you don’t use a curling iron, some shampoos and conditioners are so strong that they don’t wash off and remain in your hair, creating steam when you curl your hair. This residue product can build up, mainly if you use a lot of setting spray. You’ll know it’s there if you notice a black substance on your curling iron. 

How do you clean a curling iron? Grab yourself a few round cotton pads and some white spirits. Add a few drops onto a pad, and start rubbing the residue away. I don’t need to tell you to wait for the curling iron to cool down before doing this, right?

Another method you can use is mixing three parts baking soda and one part water and rubbing the cool unplugged curling iron. This should get rid of the unpleasant stains, and it’s essential to do this every so often if you want your curling iron to function normally. 

Before You Go

I hope you find this article helpful! Trust me; I know the pain of dreaming for curly waves and struggling to achieve your desired hairstyle. I have been trying to ace my hairstyle for years, so it gives me great pleasure to share some advice with you. 

If you’re having trouble finding the proper hair curler, allow me to suggest a couple of articles on the subject. Here is a review of the best curling irons for short hair, where you’ll be able to find a fantastic curling tool no matter your budget. 

In case you want to protect your hair thoroughly and you’re looking for some safe and heat-free curling methods, why not take a look at some no-heat curlers? They are the ideal way of creating lasting locks without worrying about permanent heat damage!

Do you know any more tips and tricks on curling with a curling iron? Let us know in the comment section below. I wish you a happy-go-curly day!

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Last update on 2024-04-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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