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How to Choose the Right Curling Iron Size for You

Choosing the right curling iron size is key to getting your dream curls. With the right size, you can achieve tight curls, loose waves or a classic vintage look.

In this guide, I’ll dive into different sizes, what hair lengths and types they work best for, and how they can help you create a variety of styles. From ringlets to beach waves, you’ll be a hair styling pro in no time, adding that extra flair to your look and getting the perfect curls!

woman with wavy fine hair

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What Each Size Barrel Is Used For

Small Barrels

Small barrel curling irons (usually 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter) are perfect for short hair and creating tighter curls. They’re also great for creating beachy waves in medium length hair that needs more texture.

If you want to create a vintage-inspired look with lots of curls, a small barrel is the ideal choice.

Medium Barrels

Medium barrel curling irons (usually 1.5 inches in diameter) are for those who want medium-sized curls and waves. This size is perfect for shoulder-length hair as it creates a full curl that still looks natural. It’s also great for creating loose curls and waves on longer hair.

Large Barrels

Large barrel curling irons (usually 2 inches in diameter) are for those who want voluminous curls and waves. This size is perfect for adding volume to long hair as it creates a big, full curl. It’s also great for creating beachy waves on shorter hair that need more texture.

t3 curling iron trio

Which Curling Iron Size Do You Need?

Deciding on the right curling iron size can depend on several factors.

Hair Length

The length of your hair matters when it comes to the size of the barrel that you need. Typically, small barrels are suitable for short to medium hair, while medium and large barrels work well for medium to longer locks.

However, for shorter hair lengths, if you want loose curls or waves, a large barrel can achieve that look.

Desired Curl Style

The curl style you want plays a big role in picking the right curling iron size. If you’re going for tight, bouncy curls, a smaller barrel curling iron (1/2 inch to 1 inch curling iron size) is your best choice.

That’s because these barrels create perfectly defined curls that match their smaller size. So, you’ll get those precise, well-defined curls you’re after!

If you prefer a more relaxed style with loose waves or big, bouncy curls, then a medium (1.5 inches) to large barrel (2 inches) would be the perfect size for you.

These curling irons apply less tension to your hair because of their larger size, creating loose and flowing curls or waves. Plus, larger barrels are great for adding volume to your hair, giving it a fuller and more glamorous look.

Curling iron options

Hair Texture

If you have coarse or thick hair, it might hold larger curls better than fine hair so you can use bigger iron sizes. On the other hand, if you have fine or thin hair, using a smaller barrel might be more effective in maintaining the curl throughout the day.


Larger barrels cover more ground and can curl your hair faster. If you’re always in a rush, you might want to consider a larger curling iron.

Remember, the right size largely depends on your personal preference and the style you’re aiming to achieve. It might take some experimenting to discover which size works best for your hair type and desired look — you may even want to invest in a curling iron with interchangeable barrels if you like different styles or aren’t sure which is best.

Woman curling hair

Curling Iron vs. Curling Wand

While both the curling iron and curling wand are designed to produce curls, there are key differences between these two hot tools.

Curling Iron

curling iron is a classic and widely used tool equipped with a clamp to hold the hair in place while you roll it up around the barrel. Having a clamp allows for a uniform and longer-lasting curl. This is especially helpful for those with hard-to-curl hair or those who want a more polished, classic look.

woman using a t3 curling iron

Typically, curls from a curling iron are uniform and consistent, and since the clamp holds the hair securely in place, heat can penetrate each strand fully and help create longer-lasting curls.

They are very useful for all hair types but are limited to creating one type of curl. The clamp can also leave creases in the hair and requires a little more skill to avoid crimping or overheating hair.

Curling Wand

On the other hand, a curling wand is a newer tool that lacks a clamp. Instead, you manually wrap a section of hair around the barrel. This gives you more freedom to create more natural, tousled waves, and different curl sizes with one tool.

Wands are often tapered, allowing for variations in curl size and are easier and faster to use. However, curling wands might present more of a burn risk since you have to manually wrap hair around with your fingers, and curls may not last as long without the clamp to apply consistent heat.

woman using a t3 curling wand

When selecting the best curling iron or wand for your specific needs and preferences, consider factors such as your hair length, texture, desired curl style and even your skill level.

If you prefer a traditional, uniform curl or have hair that’s tough to curl, a curling iron may be your best bet due to its clamping feature. Alternatively, if you’re aiming for a more natural-looking curl with variation in curl size, a curling wand could be a more suitable choice.

Best Curling Irons


What Size Curling Iron is Best for Naturally Curly Hair?

The ideal curling iron size for naturally curly hair can greatly depend on the style you’re aiming for. If you want to enhance your natural curl pattern or corkscrew curls, smaller barrels (1/2 inch to 1.5 inches) could work best. These sizes can define and tighten your natural curls. Conversely, if you prefer to create loose waves or a more relaxed curl style, larger barrels (1.5 to 2 inches) might be more suitable. These larger sizes can gently shape naturally curly hair into softer waves, adding a different kind of volume and bounce.

What Is the Most Common Curling Iron Size?

The most common curling iron size is the 1-inch barrel. The one-inch curling iron is known for its versatility, creating an array of curls from tight ringlets to loose, beachy waves. It’s a favorite among hairstylists and beginners alike due to its ability to adapt to various hair lengths and textures while producing consistently beautiful results.

Are 3 Barrel Curling Irons Good?

Three-barrel curling irons, also known as triple barrel wavers, represent a unique and innovative approach to hair curling. Unlike traditional curling irons that utilize a single barrel, these specialty tools feature three adjacent barrels to create distinctive, deep waves in your hair. They function by crimping large sections of hair between the barrels, producing an effect that resembles the natural waves of beachy, sea-tossed hair. The resulting style has lots of body and  a certain depth that’s hard to achieve with traditional curling tools.

Pick the Right One for You

Choosing the right curling tool is an essential step toward achieving your desired hairstyle. Whether it’s a curling iron or a curling wand, each tool has its unique strengths and can cater to different hair types, textures, and curl preferences.

Always consider factors like your hair’s length, the curl style you want, and the size of the curling barrel when making your decision. Experimentation might be needed to find the perfect tool for you, but with knowledge and a bit of trial and error, the ideal curls you aspire for are within your reach.

Want to know some sprays that will help your curls last? I have a whole post on it!

Need more curls in your life? Check out my posts on the best automatic curling irons, flat irons for curling your hair, and the best curling irons for long hair!

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