The Definitive Guide To Curling Your Hair

Beautiful, luxurious curls can instantly elevate your look from drab to fab in just a few minutes. A few turns with a heat tool and you can instantly look like you spent all day in the salon. Another benefit of curling your hair is that it can give flat hair extra volume. Curling your hair is one of the easiest ways you can glam up your look and just about anyone can do it with any hair type.

Curling your hair isn’t hard to do if you have the right tools. Just about anyone can make a curl whether they have experience with hair styling or not. However there are ways to do it, then there are the right ways to do it so that you get salon-quality results that last throughout your event or your day.

In this guide, we’ll tell you the best methods on how to curl your hair using different tools. We’ll cover how to curl your hair with a straightener that uses heat. We’ll even cover how to curl your hair without heat. By the end of the guide, you’ll have the hair curling basics down and be on your way to having fabulous, bouncy curls!

Using a Curling Iron to Curl Your Hair

Curling irons are the most popular way to curl your hair. This is probably due to the fact that it’s the oldest tool used to curl hair. While curled hair has been a popular style dating back as early as 2000 B.C., the first curling iron patent was given to Sir Hiram Maxim in 1866[1]. Some of the earliest curling irons would often get so hot that they would burn hair, so trying to figure out how to curl your hair with a curling iron safely became very important. Since then there have been huge advances and now curling irons make some of the best, healthiest curls that you can get.

Curling Iron vs. Curling Wand

Curling irons and curling wands almost look the same. Many people use the names interchangeably or even get the two hair tools confused. However, they are very different tools although they generally produce the same results.

Learning how to curl your hair with a curling iron isn’t quite the same as learning how to curl your hair with a curling wand. Learning how to curl your hair with a curling wand takes a lot more patience and practice than using a curling iron. This is due to a few factors.

The biggest factor is that curling wands don’t have the clip that holds hair in place like curling irons do. This means that you have to wind the hair around the wand with your hand and hold it until your hair is curled. This can be dangerous and lead to a lot of burns when you are first learning how to curl your hair with a curling wand.

Another factor is that curling wands tend to get hotter than curling irons and they do it faster as well. You have to remember this and take it into account as you’re winding your hair. You also want to be careful not to burn your hair.

Besides the clip and heat difference between the two tools, there are a few other differences. Here is a quick view chart that highlights some pros and cons of curling irons and curling wands.




Curling Iron

  • Has a clip to hold hair in place.

  • Easier to use.

  • Curls are smoother and shinier.
  • Doesn’t heat as fast as the wand.
  • Clip can leave an imprint in your hair.
  • Takes more time than the wand.

Curling Wand

  • Gets hotter faster than iron.
  • Barrel tapers at the end allowing for different curl diameters.
  • No imprint left from a clip.
  • Quickly curls hair.
  • Curls last longer than they would with an iron.
  • More difficult to use than an iron.
  • Curls don’t look as sharp as the ones with an iron.
  • Easier to burn yourself with a wand.

While the curling wand has slightly more advantages than a curling iron, we want to play it safe while teaching you how to curl your hair. For this reason, we’ll tell you how to curl your hair using a curling iron rather than a curling wand. Keep reading to find out.

Using a Curling Iron

It’s important to note that different hair types may need different or additional instructions when curling your hair. We’ll try to cover as much as possible. Here are a few tips to start with:

Always use a heat protectant on your hair.

It doesn’t matter what hair type you have, a heat protectant will protect the integrity and health of your hair.

Cap the heat at ~390° F

If your hair has been colored, you’ll probably want to cap the temperature at around 390° F. This can protect your color and keep it looking fresh and shiny.

Never straighten dry hair

Especially for African-American hair, never straighten dry hair. If you use protectant, make sure it isn’t alcohol-based as this will dry out the hair. You can also use moisturizers such as olive oil or some leave-in conditioners.

Keeping these tips in mind will keep your hair healthy as you learn how to curl your hair with a straightener of any type that uses heat.

Something else you need to know when curling your hair is barrel sizes. Curling irons come with different-sized barrels. The most popular sizes are 1/2 inch, one inch, and two inches, but they can be smaller or larger. If your hair is really short (for example, a pixie cut), and you insist on curling it, use a half inch barrel or smaller. If you have short hair to shoulder length hair, stick with one and half inch barrels or smaller. For hair longer than shoulder length, you should use one inch barrels and larger.

Our instructions below will teach you how to curl your hair with a curling iron on a basic level, then after we’ll include some different styling techniques.

Curling Your Hair With a Curling Iron – The Basics

When curling your hair, you want to always make sure that your hair is clean and dry. We’ll start with classic curls.

Step 1

While the curling iron is heating up, divide your hair into manageable sections. This makes it easy to curl all your hair neatly without missing areas. This is especially helpful if you have very long hair. Remember that the smaller your sections are, the more curls you’ll have.

Step 2

Start with the first section. Make sure you use a moisturizer or spray it with a heat protectant if you have African American hair. Brush the section thoroughly, making sure there are no hair tangles and the hair is straight and flat as possible.

Step 3

This can be a bit tricky to get used to, but you’ll need to insert your section of hair into the clip of the curling iron. You can start high up on the section or lower depending on where you want your curls to start.

You can also choose to do underhand or overhand curls–that’s a matter of personal preference. Underhand curls will make your hair curl towards the back of your head. Overhand curls will make your hair curl towards the front of your head. Begin wrapping your hair around the barrel, making sure to go under the clip each time. You’ll need to keep the hair straight and flat as you wrap it, being sure not to twist the hair as you go. Hold for an average of 10 seconds.

Step 4

Let up on the clip and allow the curl to fall out into your hand. You should have a bouncy, classic curl. Repeat steps one through four for all sections of your head (or however many sections you want to be curled).

Classic curls are the easiest curls to do and are great for beginners.

You can do little things to change up the type of curls you do. One example is spiral curls. You do this by twisting the section of hair before inserting it into the clip rather than keeping it flat. This will give you bouncy, flirty curls that spiral downward

Here is a great tutorial video for beginners on how to curl your hair with a curling iron:

The next section will teach you how to curl your hair with a flat iron.

Using a Flat Iron to Curl Your Hair

The preparation for curling your hair with a flat iron is basically the same as with a curling iron. You’ll still need to use heat protectant and you’ll still need to watch the temperatures so you won’t damage your hair[3] (African American hair can generally withstand slightly higher temperatures than other hair and will actually curl better with slightly higher temperatures, especially if it isn’t relaxed). Because the preparation is basically the same as it is with a curling iron, we won’t go into detail about preparation.

Basic Curls With a Flat Iron

After preparation, doing basic curls with a flat iron is simple. You can learn how to curl your hair with a flat iron with just a little bit of practice. A flat iron can also be a bit more forgiving with mistakes than a curling iron.

Step 1

You’ll create your curls section by section. We recommend small sections because the flat iron won’t work as well for large sections.

Step 2

Make sure the hair is flat. Slide your hair through the two panels of the flat iron. Wrap it around the flat iron once and begin pulling the flat iron tautly down the length of your hair at a steady, even pace. Think of your hair as curling ribbon that you run scissors across.

Step 3

After you pull the flat iron all the way through the section of hair, your hair will act just like a curling ribbon, bouncing into fun, round curls. Complete each section until you’re done. Then you can either run your fingers through the curls to keep them tight and bouncy or you can lightly brush them out to make them loose and wavy.

Step 4

Use a good hair spray to set your style. Viola! You’ve good a head full of beautiful curls.

This should probably be the first way you learn when learning how to curl your hair with a flat iron because it’s simple, easy, and quick. There are a few other flat iron curling tricks that can make your curls look fabulous. Check out this video to see how to get a red-carpet worthy curled hairstyle with a flat iron:

Straight with Slightly Curled Ends

You may want straight hair, but maybe not bone-straight. Slightly curling your ends can add a little personality to a straight hairstyle. African American women often achieve this look by wrapping their hair overnight (we’ll talk about similar tricks when we discuss how to curl your hair overnight). Using a flat iron to do this can save a lot of time if you aren’t able to wrap your hair at night.

It’s so simple that it doesn’t need to be broken down into steps. Simply brush your hair out as straight as possible. Flat iron just like you would if you wanted to straighten your hair, but at the end, simply rotate your wrist slightly inward as you pull the flat iron off of the ends of your hair. Your hair will be tucked ever-so-slightly at the ends. You can also rotate your wrist outward to achieve flipped hair on the ends.

A Few Common Flat Iron Mistakes To Avoid

While using a flat iron can give you some of the most beautiful curls that you can create at home, there are some common mistakes that may damage your hair. One mistake is flat ironing wet hair. This is a big NO-NO. Flat ironing wet hair is almost like boiling your hair. You’re going to kill it fast. Make sure that your hair is 100% dry before you flat iron it. It’s okay if you’ve misted your hair with some protectant, but if it’s wet from washing, make sure you’ve blow dried it thoroughly.

Another mistake is flat ironing the same section repeatedly. Doing this is basically cooking your hair. If you have to continuously flat iron the same section, either your flat iron isn’t very good or you aren’t applying enough pressure. You should only have to flat iron a section of hair once to get the desired results.

Finally, another common mistake is using a really hot flat iron on colored hair. When you have color-treated hair of any kind, including bleached hair, you must do a lot of things differently. This includes changing the temperature of your flat iron–you need much less heat or else you’ll fade your color job.

Learning how to curl your hair with a straightener is very handy, but sometimes using rollers can be more beneficial. Learn how to curl your hair with rollers in the next section.

Using Rollers to Curl Your Hair

Using rollers to curl your hair is one of the most classic ways to curl hair. There is evidence of people using some type of rollers to curl their hair dating all the way back to ancient Egypt, ancient Rome, and ancient Greece[4]. They’ve come a long way and although they essentially work the same, there are many types to choose from that can do different “things” with your curls. Keep reading to learn how to curl your hair with rollers.

Types of Hair Rollers

Part of what makes hair rolling complicated is the number of different hair rollers available. It can be confusing figuring out which rollers do what and which ones are better for you, so we’ve provided a short list that may clear this up.

Heated rollers

Heated rollers come with a container that heats them up. You roll the heated rollers in your hair, let them cool, and unroll to reveal beautiful curls. They are available in many sizes

Steam rollers

Steam rollers are basically heated rollers. The difference is that instead of using a container to heat them, you heat them individually using a steamer. After that, use them the same as you would heated rollers.

Foam rollers

Foam rollers are a great way to roll your hair without using heat. They can be considered “old fashioned”, but they are still some of the most effective hair rollers available. They work best in slightly damp hair.

Cold wave rods

Cold wave rods are small, hard, rod-shaped rollers used for creating tight spiral curls in short to medium length natural hair. These work with dry hair and may require some type of curling cream and the aid of a blow dryer if you don’t want to wait all night.

Velcro rollers

Velcro rollers are big, plastic rollers with a velcro lining on the outside. You roll your hair, blow dry it, and let it cool to set. The result is longer lasting curls with a lots of body.

Soft rollers

Soft rollers are exactly what they sound like. They are extremely comfortable to sleep in and will curly your hair overnight. However, they may not work as well as other types of hair rollers.


Flexi-rods are bendable rollers that create beautiful, tight, bouncy spiral curls. The fact that they bend means that you don’t have to use clips to keep them in place. Simply roll small sections of wet hair, let it dry, then unroll. Use detangler for best results. These are great for natural hair.

Magnetic rollers

Magnetic rollers work by attracting wet hair to it like a magnet. They have a magnetic snap closure that holds your hair, making it very easy to use these hair rollers. These only work on wet hair.

How to Curl Your Hair With Rollers

Despite the number of different roller types, you basically use them the same way–roll your hair around the roller and let it sit. However, there are a few steps you’ll want to take to make the process go a bit more smoothly.

Step 1

No matter whether you are rolling wet or dry hair, spray your hair with a light mist of setting spray. This helps to set your curls more so that they hold longer.

Step 2

For loose curls, divide your hair into large sections and use large rollers. For tighter curls, use smaller sections and smaller rollers. Make sure you brush hair so it’s smooth going around the roller.

Step 3

Roll your hair making sure to keep your hair flat and smooth against the hair roller. After you’re done rolling, this is where you’ll do roller-specific actions like blow dry your hair or sleep on it.

Step 4
When your hair has set, unroll it. Use your fingers or a brush to separate and style your curls and enjoy!

Some rollers require heat while others may not. Sometimes you may not want to use heat to curl your hair. The next section will tell you how to curl your hair overnight and how to curl your hair without heat.

Curling Your Hair Overnight Without Heat

There are probably some instances in which you don’t want to use heat on your hair. For example, if you have damaged hair you’ll want to limit your hair’s heat exposure as much as possible. Learning how to curl your hair without heat can be very beneficial in situations like this.

The downside to curling your hair without heat is that it can take a long time for the curls to set. In fact, the curls will probably need to set overnight, so you’ll essentially be learning how to curl your hair overnight at the same time. It requires a lot of patience and possibly learning how to sleep with giant tools in your hair.

We’ll discuss three of the most popular ways that you can use to curl your hair without heat. The first one is using braids.

Using Braids to Curl Your Hair

Using braids to curl your hair is simple and easy! Different types of braids produce different types of waves and curls. The general rule of thumb is the bigger the braid, the looser the curl. If you want tight curls or waves, make lots of small braids. We’ll give you a few examples of braids and what they produce.

Loose “Beach Waves”

If you like flirty, subtle waves, like in this video, then this is for you.

These loose waves make you look beach-ready. It’s an easy-going style that is easy to do and doesn’t take a lot of preparation. We have made a definitive list of the best curling iron for beach waves.

Step 1

Wash your hair. Allow it to partially dry.

Step 2

Part your hair down the middle and braid two large braids on both sides. If you want your hair to only be wavy at the bottom, then only braid the bottom of your hair. If you want waves all throughout your hair, then make french braids.

Step 3

Let your braided hair dry all the way, preferably overnight.

Step 4

Undo your braids. Use your fingers to separate your waves and use some hairspray to set the style.

Very Wavy Curls

This is for people who want super curly/wavy hair. It takes a bit more effort than the “beach waves”, especially if you have long hair, but the results are definitely worth it.

Step 1

Wash your hair or use a spray bottle to dampen your hair.

Step 2

Part your hair down the middle. You’ll be doing a lace twist, which is basically a braid that uses only two sections instead of three. You interlock each section just as you would a three-part braid, excepted you are basically lacing one section over the other. Secure each lace twist at the ends and secure them to the top of your hair so they don’t unravel while you sleep.

Step 3

Let your hair completely dry (overnight if needed). Unravel the lace twists. Use your fingers to separate and fluff your curls.

Check out this amazing lace twist hairstyle here:

The Hair Scrunchie/Sock Bun Method

Using this method can give you beautiful flowing curls like in this video, especially if you have long hair.

It’s fairly easy to implement and you can either use a large scrunchie or a sock with the toes cut off.

Step 1

Start with clean, damp hair. Brush your hair up into a ponytail on the top of your head. Use the scrunchie or the sock to hold your ponytail.

Step 2

Split your ponytail into two sections. Brush them to make sure they stay straight.

Step 3

Begin threading one section of your ponytail under and through the scrunchie/sock band. Continue doing this all the way around until you’ve threaded the whole section. Do the same thing with the second section.

Step 4

Let your hair completely dry, preferably overnight so it has enough time to set. When it’s dry, unthread your hair and remove the scrunchie/sock bun. Your hair should drape around your head with beautiful curls.

Step 5

Use your fingers to separate the curls. You can use a brush to lightly separate them if you’d rather have light, whimsical curls. Now you should have a stunning head of curls.

Twisting Your Hair to Make Curls

Twisting hair is a very popular method of creating curls. It can be time consuming depending on how small the twists are, but it’s highly effective. One example is Bantu knots. These knots are popular among African Americans but can create luxurious curls for anyone. Here are steps to create curls from bantu knots.

Bantu Knots

Step 1

First you want to do a little preparation. You always want to start from clean, detangled hair so shampoo your hair. Although you can start from wet hair, bantu knots take forever to dry, so you could just start from dry hair and use a good amount of moisturizing products. Make sure you apply leave-in conditioner.

Step 2

Bantu knots work better on straightened (or at least semi-straightened) hair, so you may want to do them after a good blowout, relaxer, keratin treatment, etc. You get the picture.

Step 3

You should decide how large you want your curls to be. Smaller bantu knots will yield smaller curls. This also means you’ll have to make more bantu knots which could take up more time. However, if you have the spare time and patience, extra bantu knots could yield amazing results.

Step 4

After you’ve decided on your sections, it’s time to begin twisting. Twist the section of hair a few times until it’s like a taut rope. Don’t overtwist–this could cause breakage. Once you’ve twisted it, you’re going to fold it over and wrap it around itself until it resembles a stack of tires. Secure it with a bobby pin and do all the rest of your sections like this.

Step 5

Let your Bantu knots sit overnight. The next day, remove all the pins and let your knots out. Use your fingers to separate the curls and style to your liking.

Check out how your Bantu knots should look here:

Final Thoughts

Just about everyone wants to have beautiful curls to elevate their hairstyle. This guide points you in the right direction of creating fabulous curls at home. From using hair straightening tools, to curling irons, to hair rollers, the options for curling your hair are unlimited.

One thing is for certain when curling your hair – protect it. Always use protectant for the times you use heat to curl your hair. If you don’t use heat, be sure to use a good moisturizer or conditioner so you don’t damage your hair.

We know you can’t wait to get started on your fabulous curls. Use the information we’ve presented to try many different curling techniques until you find your favorites. Before you know it, your bouncy curls will make you the center of attention.