How to Clean a Curling Iron – Complete Guide

| Last Updated: January 2, 2021

When using a curling iron, you will find that often it ends up with a build-up of sticky, brown gunk on the outside of the metal or ceramic barrel. While it doesn’t damage the curler so much, it does damage your hair. This extra layer can contribute to burning the cuticle of your hair, causing it to frizz and dry out.

Making sure you keep your curler clean and gunk-free will give you a smoother finish when curling your hair and prevent that unsightly mess from causing extra unnecessary damage to your hair.

Why’s My Curling Iron So Dirty?

When you curl your hair, you’ll find that your curler ends up with a brown, singed layer on the column. This build-up comes from a variety of different things including hair products, grime, and your own hair oils.

Firstly, when you curl your hair without washing it first, although it may seem clean, small particles of dirt, grime, and dust cling to the hair. When a hot implement is applied to the hair, it attracts these particles toward the curler. Those particles heat up and effectively melt onto the curling iron where the high heat then crusts them to the shaft creating that crisp, brown effect.

Equally, hair products do the same. If you consider hair spray or mousse, these products are liquid at room temperature. Although they create a solid effect on your hair, when you apply heat to them, it causes them to melt away from the hair. This melting effect means that these products get smeared on the outside of your hair curler.

Hair curlers operate at such high heat, that when these products form a thin film on the outside of the column, the extreme temperature burns them to the curler. This causes a course, brown substance to form.

One of the other issues is your own hair oils. This is especially true if you are using your hair curler without washing your hair first. A build-up of natural hair oils protects the hair and locks in moisture, but oil is extremely sensitive to heat.

When high temperatures are applied to oils, they become more fluid, sliding off the hair and onto the curling iron. Again, the high heat causes the oil to crisp, similarly to frying food. Consider the crispness of French Fries; this is the same thing that happens on your curler.

The Thorough Cleaning Process

While it isn’t integral to clean your curling iron thoroughly every time you use it, frequent deep cleaning will help to keep it in tip-top condition. Try to do this once every two weeks or whenever you see a large build-up of gunk. If you use a lot of products, this will happen more regularly than if you don’t.

First you will need some rags, steel wool, lemon juice, baking soda, nail varnish remover and rubbing alcohol.

  1. Unplug you curling iron and make sure it is completely cool. While it might seem like it’s easier to clean when it’s hot, this will just cause the cleaning product to stick to it.

  2. Soak an old rag in lemon juice and wrap this around your curling iron for 15 minutes. The high acidity helps to break down the gunk that forms on the outside.

  3. After 15 minutes, use a clean, damp rag to wipe the barrel clean.

  4. Next, mix together three parts baking soda and one part water. This will make a paste.

  5. Smear this paste on the barrel of your curling iron. You can rub quite a thick layer on. The fizziness of this paste will cause the dirt and grime to lift off the barrel.

  6. After 10 minutes, use a damp rag to wash off the paste. The dirt and grime stick to the paste and comes off as you wipe it clean.

  7. Alternatively to baking soda, you can use nail polish remover. The acetone in the nail polish remover breaks down the grime. Wipe the blade with a soft cloth soaked in nail polish remover and it will clean the mess off in about ten minutes.

  8. When using nail polish remover, make sure you wipe with a clean rag as leaving the substance on for more than 20 minutes could damage your curling iron.

  9. If the residue is particularly thick, you can use steel wool to scrub the barrel. Do not do this if it is coated with Teflon as this will remove the Teflon layer.

  10. Finally, wiping your curling iron down with rubbing alcohol will help to stop hairspray and other products build up on your curling iron so quickly.

Regular Cleaning Regimen

While thorough cleaning is needed occasionally, should get into a routine of giving it a quick clean after every use of your curling iron. While the curling iron is still a little warm, you can run a damp cloth over the barrel, as this will remove residue while it is still liquid.

Once cool, wipe your curling iron down with rubbing alcohol. This will clean off any last residue as well as protecting it the next time you use it. If you rub it with alcohol while it is still hot, this will not work as the alcohol will evaporate. Try to store your curling iron inside a dust-proof bag to keep it from getting dirty in between uses.

How to Clean Hairspray Off a Curling Iron

Hairspray can be a real pain to get off of your curling iron. Watch the video below to learn how to remove it.


Keeping your curling iron clean will help to preserve its life while also preventing your hair from further damage. While the deep clean may seem to take quite a bit of time, it only needs to be done occasionally especially if you make sure to give it a quick wipe on a regular basis.

When you stick to a frequent cleaning routine, you will see a remarkable difference in performance and effect on your hair.

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Hi I'm Emilia! I like to think of myself as the "crash-test-dummy" of the hair world. Whether that means testing out the newest curling iron or going with fresh hair styles. I like to mix it up. I share my thoughts on Caffe Hair based on my first hand experience!

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