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 tea or smoking a cigarette with hot rollers in her hair may be 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 fashion. 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, 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. 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

The two devices create very different styles of curls. While with hot rollers, you will 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, (remember Nicole Kidman in the ‘90s?), a curling iron is likely to serve you better. You can achieve beachy waves with both hot rollers and curling irons but the process might be different.

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 2o 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?

Now comes the question of which is a better choice — hot rollers or the curling iron? Which you choose to use depends entirely on the kind of curls you want to achieve. Here is an assessment of which one fares better in different departments:


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.


In terms of styling, you can achieve very different types of styles with the two devices. As described earlier, hot rollers give you bigger and looser curls. Curling irons will give you tighter curls. With both, you can get beachy waves, but it might be easier to do with hot rollers as the waves will fall more naturally.

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.

Final Thoughts

The various aspects of both curling irons and hot rollers have been amply discussed. Which one is better depends on the perspective of the user and the main question to be asked is “what are the type of curls you want?”. Once this question has been answered, you can make your decision accordingly based on how the devices fare against each other in each aspect.