What Curling Iron Size is Best for the Perfect Curls?


What curling iron size is best? It all depends on the length your hair and the type of curls you hope to create.

You’d think that choosing and buying a curling iron would be simple. But many people find themselves staring at the wide range of sizes available, unsure which one is best for them.

Understanding why wand sizes are different and what each one does can help you understand what curling iron size is best for you.

What Curling Iron Sizes Are Available?

When it comes to knowing what curling iron size is best, it helps to understand that even a small difference in diameter — like 1/4 inch or less — can make a difference in the shape and size of the curls you can produce.

While you might find other options out there, especially if you’re looking at a specialty hair care store, here are the most commonly available curling iron sizes:

  • 2-inch barrel
  • 1 1/2-inch barrel
  • 1 1/4-inch barrel
  • 1-inch barrel
  • 3/4-inch barrel
  • 5/8-inch barrel
  • 1/2-inch barrel
  • 3/8-inch barrel

How Do You Choose the Right Curling Iron Size?

So, what curling iron size is best? You want to consider a few features when picking out the best curling iron size.

What’s Your Hair Length?

How long or short your hair is influences how it responds to certain sizes of curling iron. For example, the blogger at Advice From a 20-Something found that a 1 1/2-inch barrel was great for creating waves when she had longer hair.

But once she went shorter, she just couldn’t get the curls to stay in when she used a 1 1/2-inch curling iron. After lots of trial and error, she came to the conclusion that size does matter based on your hair length.

Generally speaking, you can expect the following results with certain hair lengths and curling iron sizes:

  • Short hair (above the shoulders) – 3/4 inch barrel for springy curls, 1-inch barrel for waves.
  • Shoulder length hair – 1-inch barrel for springy curls, 1 1/4-inch barrel for waves.
  • Long hair (below the shoulders) – 1 1/4-inch barrel for springy curls, 1 1/2-inch barrel for waves.


How you use the curling iron will also influence the type of curl you can create. For example, if you have shoulder length or longer hair and you want to create “beachy waves,” or waves that look more tousled and relaxed, use the appropriate size curling iron but curl smaller sections of hair at a time.

What Your Hair Type?

Another thing to consider when choosing the best curling iron size is the type of hair you have naturally.

For example, straight hair is going to respond to the heat of a curling iron slightly differently from hair that’s naturally got a bit of curl or wave to it.

Know what curling iron size is best based on your hair type can help you avoid an outdated, 1980s style permed hair look or the springy ringlets popular at high school proms throughout the 1990s.

  • Straight Hair – Straight hair often needs a bit more finesse when curling because it doesn’t naturally have any spring to it. For that reason, clamp irons are often the best pick for straight hair. If you’re going to use a wand style curling iron with straight hair, wider is usually better, such as 1-inch in diameter and above.
  • Naturally curly hair – Hair that’s naturally got some curl to it often works best with a smaller barrel size, such as 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch. The smaller diameter can help you tame natural curls that might be a bit unruly on their own.

What Types of Curls Do You Want to Make?

The last thing to consider when deciding what curling iron size is best is the type of curls you hope to produce. Here’s a run-down of what you can expect from each type of curling iron:

  • 2-inch barrel – 2-inch diameter curling irons typically create gentle bends in hair, rather than full-on curls. They’re often best for creating a “blow out” look, where hair gently curls but is still mostly straight. If you don’t have time to head to the dry bar, this is the size for you.
  • 1 1/2-inch barrel – A 1 1/2-inch curling iron creates loose, gentle waves or voluminous curls that aren’t very tight.
  • 1 1/4-inch barrel – Can 1/4 inch make much of a difference? Yes, it can. A 1 1/4 inch barrel is ideal for either tight or loose curls. It’s the most popular size, according to Byrdie.
  • 1-inch barrel – The three curling irons above are all ideal for long hair. A 1-inch barrel works for long, shoulder-length or short hair. Use it to make soft waves on long hair or soft waves or tighter curls on short or medium-length hair.
  • 3/4-inch barrel – A 3/4-inch barrel is ideal for more sophisticated curls and formal updos. If you’re channeling your inner-1920s starlet (or Taylor Swift), this is the curling iron to choose.
  • 5/8-inch barrel – A 5/8-inch barrel will produce curls that are very similar to a 3/4-inch barrel (there’s only 1/8-inch difference, after all). It’s often best for creating more uniform curls on hair that’s naturally curly.
  • 1/2-inch barrel – A 1/2-inch barrel is perfect if you’re going for springy ringlets.
  • 3/8-inch barrel – If you’re going for extra-tight curls, you’ll want to work with this smallest of curling irons.

Do You Need a Selection of Curling Irons?

Now the million-dollar question, do you need to buy a bunch of different curling irons? The answer all depends on your style and preferences.

If you like to mix it up and want long, flowy, beachy waves one day and springy, boingy ringlets the next, then you’ll need at least two sizes of curling iron.

But if you’re looking for some gentle waves from time to time, you’re probably fine sticking with one type of a curling iron.

Another option is to buy a curling iron that can create more than one type of curl. For that, your best bet might be a 1-inch or 1 1/4-inch size barrel. A 1-inch barrel is also a good pick if you change up your hairstyle and length regularly since it works for long, short or shoulder-length hair.

Can You Skip the Curling Iron and Use a Flat Iron?

Some people find that they get the curls they want using a flat iron. If that works for you, then, by all means, stick with it. The benefit of a flat iron is that you can also use it to straighten hair when you wish.

Final Thoughts on Curling Iron Sizes

So, which curling iron size is best for you? It all depends on your style and hair goals.

Go with a wider size barrel if you’ve got long hair and want loose, relaxed waves. If your hair is shoulder length or shorter, stick with a small size barrel or your curls won’t hang around.

What curling iron size is best? The answer to that can change based on the day of the week or how you feel like wearing your hair.