Hot rollers and curling irons are both hair styling and curling devices which use heat to create curls in one’s hair. The hot rollers vs curling iron debate has been an ongoing one, but the choice depends on each individual and there can be no objective consensus. The following, however, is an attempt to describe both in ample detail so you can make an informed choice:

Hot Rollers vs Curling Irons — A History

Hot rollers and curling irons have both been used for a long time, but hot rollers, certainly, have been around for longer. If you think of a period film or a show set in the ‘60 or ‘70s, the visual of a woman sitting in her kitchen, drinking her morning coffee with hot rollers in her hair may have been a common image. The voluminous and large curls that women wore, whether they had a short bob or had longer hair, is a result of keeping hot rollers in their hair for an hour at least. These are not just women in film but is a depiction of the styles that were popular in real life too. After all, films are only a depiction of what is happening in the real world.

Until the 90s, hot rollers were still the rage when it comes to women’s hair styles. Remember “The Rachel” – the famous hairstyle that actress Jennifer Aniston sported in the American sitcom Friends? That voluminous hairstyle, which became an all-American sensation (and which makes a comeback every now and then), was a result of hot rollers. But with the start of the millennium, the bouncy, layered hair gave way to more demure and relaxed beach waves. These beach waves, especially suited for long, flowy hair, require a curling iron to get right (though a proper blowout is ultimately the best way to achieve beachy waves or any look really, but I digress). While hot rollers are still around, curling irons have surely taken precedence on the fashion front.

[See Also: Best Curling Iron]

Hot Rollers vs Curling Iron: What Is the Big Difference?

But what is the main difference between hot rollers and curling irons? There are quite a few differences and people pick either one depending on the style of curls they prefer. The following is a description of some of the key differences the two have:

Types of Curls

Depending on the type of curl you want, some looks are easier to achieve with one tool over the other. While with hot rollers, you will generally get big, loose curls, a curling iron will give you tighter and smaller curls. If you want your hair to be like the old Hollywood stars, hot rollers are the way to go.

If you are looking for tighter ringlets, (like Nicole Kidman’s look in the ‘90s?), a curling iron is likely to serve you better. And while not technically a curl, you can achieve beachy waves much more easily with a curling iron.

Method of Use

Curling irons will need to be plugged to a source of electricity. The plates heat up within a few minutes and you can wrap your hair around the hot curling rod. Depending on how tight you want the curls to be, you will have to wrap the hair accordingly. It may take a few attempts to get the right density of curls.

With hot rollers, you need to first plug in the case so the rollers can heat up. The rollers are meant to be warm enough so they can work on your hair but also not too hot that you cannot handle them with your hands. Once the rollers are warm enough, you roll your hair around the rollers a few strands at a time and then clip them near the scalp. Leave the rollers on for about 20 minutes — you can do your makeup in the meantime. Once you take off the rollers, run your hand through your hair to give the curls a more natural bounce.

Ease of Use

Both devices can be tricky to use if you are not used to it. It takes some practice to get the desired results from both devices. For example, with a curling iron, you will have to figure out which temperature setting is the right one for you. Even the tightness of the curls will come trial and errors. The biggest drawback, perhaps, is that you cannot do anything else while you are using a curling iron.

With hot rollers, once the rollers are in place, you can go about doing other chores and let the rollers do their job. But getting the rollers on is what most first timers find tricky. Where should you put the rollers? How should you position them? This can be a bit tedious at first but once you get used to it, hot rollers can be quite easy to use.

[See Also: Best Hot Rollers]

Which Is Better? Hot Rollers or Curling Iron

Now comes the question of which is a better choice — hot rollers or curling iron? There is no true answer here, because the factors you consider important for you are going to determine your final decision. So, here are some more factors you’re going to want to consider here when making a decision on which tool is best for you.


In terms of safety, hot rollers may actually be the safer bet. The rollers are only warm, never too hot that your scalp gets burnt while wearing them or your hands get charred while handling them. The edges are typically also made of plastic so you can hold the roller from the edge, if the roller is warmer than you expected. 

The plates in a curling iron can get hot enough to burn your skin quite severely. You need to handle curling irons with a lot of care. If the temperature is not right and the curling iron is not smart enough to regulate temperature, the heat could damage your hair too. They do make heat resistant gloves for hair styling which can protect you if you’re prone to burning your fingers while styling your hair.

Temperature and Potential Damage

As you know, using too much heat too often can damage your hair. This can be mitigated with heat protective hair products, but the potential for damage is always there. Curling irons get extremely hot, and maintain that heat the entire time the iron is in contact with your hair.  If used properly, infrequently, and with the appropriate heat protecting products, this isn’t much of a problem. But if you need to curl your hair frequently, the potential for damage can be a problem.

On the other hand, hot rollers are heated, but never get quite as hot as a curling iron and they cool down as they sit in your hair. If heat-related damage is a concern and you have the time to let your hair sit and set in rollers, hot rollers are much safer when it comes to potential heat-related damage in your hair.

Speed and Timing

With the high heat of a curling iron, you’re going to get the job done much quicker. Hot rollers take time for your hair to set, so if time is a factor for you, you’re probably going to want to go with a curling iron.


In terms of styling, you can achieve very different types of styles with the two devices. As described earlier, hot rollers generally give you bigger and looser curls. Curling irons will give you tighter curls. And you can’t really achieve wavy looks with hot rollers, but beach waves are a breeze with a curling iron.  And of course, with different curling iron sizes or hot roller sizes, you can achieve different styles depending on your hair length and what size curls you want.

Affordability and Quality

Both curling irons and hot rollers can be inexpensive depending on the brand you are investing in so they stand on an equal measure if you are talking about affordability. However, a cheaper hot roller set is expected to serve you better than a cheaper curling iron might, in terms of quality. For a quality curling iron, you should expect to spend at least twice as much as you would spend on a good set of hot curlers, and sometimes even more.

Final Thoughts

The various aspects of of hot rollers vs curling irons have been thoroughly discussed. When making a decision, you have to take into account things like how much time you have, potential for damage, safety, ease of use, and cost of the tool and how much you want to spend. In the end, both tools with allow you to achieve many different looks, so neither one has an edge in that respect since it’s up to your personal style, and they’re both perfectly fine tools to get the job done. It all just depends on the above factors to determine which will work best for you.

If speed, convenience and versatility are important, and you have the money to spend, then invest in a high quality curling iron (this is my preference, personally and professionally). If you’re concerned about damage from heat, or price is factor, and you mainly want big bouncy curls, go with hot rollers.