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What are Hot Rollers?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Hot rollers are a hair styling tool used to create curls. There are a number of different types, but they all work in the same basic way, setting curls that can range from gentle waves to tight ringlets. Many stores which carry beauty supplies and hair accessories stock rollers in a variety of sizes, and they are relatively easy to use, although it can take some trial and error at home before a person achieves the look she wants.

To use hot rollers, they must be heated first — this is where they get their name. Most fit into an electric tray with heating elements that is plugged in shortly before use. To use them, hair is prepared and then carefully segmented into sections that are rolled around individual rollers. The rollers are left in until completely cool, and then carefully removed; for a firmer curl, some people put the rollers in at night and sleep on them.

There are a number of ways to vary the look achieved with these curlers. Long thin rollers, for example, can be applied vertically to create corkscrew curls, while extremely large rollers can be used horizontally to create a soft curl that will turn into a wave. Many people like to use them in graduated sizes for a more natural look, as uniform curls can look somewhat artificial. People can also change the effects by brushing the hair immediately after taking the rollers out, or applying products to the hair before they are put in.

When preparing hair for hot rollers, the most important thing an individual should remember is that the hair needs to be totally dry, or the curls will not set. Some people like to wash their hair and apply a moisturizing mousse the night before they use curlers to get around this problem. Others simply use a hair dryer, applying a light mousse and sometimes a cream to enhance shine while they prepare the hair.

In addition to traditional hard rollers, soft ones are also available. This type is more comfortable to sleep in, but the end hairstyle will be a little messier, with larger, looser curls, rather than sleek and uniform. Some people like the slightly tousled look, feeling that it looks more natural and casual, and the look also increases the volume of the hair, which can be useful for those who feel like their hair is a little thin or flat.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon340359 — On Jul 02, 2013

I would love it if you could buy them all one size. I have short to medium length thin hair and the large ones don't hold. Does anyone know where you can buy a set of all medium or small rollers?

By minthybear19 — On Jul 02, 2011

I actually prefer jumbo hot rollers. I love it when my hair is just soft with loose curls -- tight curls look to prissy for my taste. I want something comfortable.

I use both Conair and BaBybliss hot rollers -- both of them make awesome soft curls and I can use them without having to prepare my hair the day before. Since I like to change my hair style daily -- hot rollers are perfect for me. The only problem I ever have it fitting all of the rollers onto my head.

By StarJo — On Jul 01, 2011

Okay, I may be the only person who has this problem, but I can't use hot rollers because they burn my fingers. I'm sure there are different kinds out there, but the type I am familiar with, I cannot get a grip on without scalding my fingers.

I used the Conair hot rollers with a rubbery surface. They look like hot dogs, and you have to bend both ends under to lock them in place. They are very old, as they belonged to my sister, who got them in the early 90s. Even if you manage to somehow bend the ends under without burning your fingers, the ends touching your scalp will burn it.

I've never tried any other type of hot rollers, but there has to be a setup better than this. The curling iron is the only heat I am not afraid to expose my head to at this point.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 01, 2011

@Monika - When I first started using hot rollers it used to take me a long time as well. However after using hot rollers all the time for awhile I can roll my hair really quickly. I normally roll my hair and do my makeup while it's setting. Then I take the rollers out and I'm ready to face the world!

By Monika — On Jul 01, 2011

I am a big fan of rollers! I really prefer the look I get with rollers versus the look I get with a curling iron. I actually like to use both hot rollers or steam rollers depending on my mood.

Although I do like my velcro hot rollers I actually prefer using the steam rollers. I bought a set of Caruso steam rollers from Sally's awhile back and I just love them! I feel like the steam is a little bit better for your hair and for some reason my hair holds the style better with the steam rollers.

My only complaint about hot rollers or steam rollers is it takes me a lot longer to do than to just curl my hair.

By ddljohn — On Jul 01, 2011

Large hot rollers might work for long hair but I think that small sized hot rollers work better if you have short or medium length hair. Large hot rollers do create a nice wave for my medium length hair, but it only seems to last for a couple of hours, and even less if it is humid outside.

I don't like tight and artificial curls either. So I use small hot rollers and after I have removed all of them, I move my hands through my hair several times. This loosens up the curls and makes them look more natural. Sometimes, when I have time, I let the curls relax on their own for about half and hour and only apply hair spray or mousse after it's taken a looser shape.

I don't ever run a hair brush through them though, becomes it makes my hair too messy and static. Maybe, I don't have the right brush for it. But I find that using my hands as a brush and running my fingers through the curls work well.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 30, 2011

I have really straight hair and I always wish that it could be wavy. I don't want to use curling irons because it damages my hair a lot. If I curl my hair everyday for a week, I will have split ends all over.

I love hot rollers because after I put them on, I can do whatever I want and mind my own business while they cool down. Unlike with hot irons where you have to stand with it in your hand while your arms start to ache.

I do dry my hair before I put the rollers on of course, but I also like to keep it a little damp. I apply a wax hair cream before rolling which makes it work much faster. I don't like hair that is hard to the touch so I only use soft hair spray.

This works like a charm and I have soft wavy hair all day! I love it!

By discographer — On Jun 30, 2011

They say that using rollers the day after you've washed your hair also helps it set better. They especially recommend this if you are planning to attend an event like a graduation night or a wedding.

If you immediately use hot rollers on washed and dry hair, your hair will be very dry. The natural oils in our hair apparently help keep curls, so it's better to wait for a day.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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