All You Need to Know About Heatless curlers

If heat is bad for your hair, how do we get luscious curls without an iron? Read on to learn more!

Woman placing colorful curlers in her hair.

Everyone wants to achieve effortless beachy waves in the morning. Oftentimes that process involves using a curling iron and applying heat to your hair. Unfortunately, heat can be dangerous to your hair if the temperature is too hot or if you overuse it. But that won’t stop us from curling our hair to get beautiful curls.

Heatless waves are the current big thing in the hair community on TikTok. People are using straws, socks, and soda cans to achieve their desired curls without heat. This article will cover:

  • Why is heat bad?
  • How to curl your hair without an iron
  • Products you can buy to make heatless curls more convenient
Woman holding dry, brittle hair.
Too much exposure to heat can cause damage to the cuticle and cortex layers of your hair. It is important to only use heat occasionally, to prevent breakage. Image courtesy of StyleCraze.

How heat damages your hair

Your hair is made of three components, the cuticle, cortex, and medulla. Each serves a different purpose in the appearance and strength of your hair. The cuticle is the outermost layer. Made of overlapping cells, it protects the inner layers and gives your hair shine. The cortex is the bulk of your hair and pigments the color. When the cuticle is damaged, the cortex is as well. Finally is the medulla. Only present in thicker hair, it is made of soft, thin, transparent cells and air.

When you use heat on your hair (blow dryers, hot showers, straighteners, etc.), the hydrogen bonds are altered, meaning your hair changes its shape. This is not a permanent alteration, explaining why your hair switches back to its initial appearance after a few hours.

Too much heat from blow dryers and curlers can cause the moisture in your hair to evaporate. While this is most likely to affect the cuticle, if you are overexposing your hair to heat, the inner cortex can be damaged as well. This means your hair will look dry and brittle. Adding on to that, using straighteners and heated tools on your hair can harm the proteins of the cuticles. Losing proteins is equivalent to losing a layer of protection for your cortex.

Woman holding on to her split ends.
Heat can dry out your hair, cause breakage, loss of pigment, and strip your scalp of healthy oils. Shutterstock.

Effects of heat damaged hair

One of the biggest downfalls of overusing heat on your hair is the lack of moisture. Hair is made up of 4% fats, oils, and pigments, 17% water, and 79% keratin proteins. When heat is used, the oils are stripped and the water evaporates. This sudden drought in your scalp can crack the cuticles, making your hair super susceptible to split ends and tangles.

When the cuticle is broken and the cortex is damaged, your hair becomes highly porous. When this happens, your hair becomes far more prone to breakage and can cause the pigments in your hair to fade away. If you color your hair, this means you’d have to frequently reapply dye, further damaging the cuticle.

If you’re still not convinced to set aside the curling wand or straightener every now and then, allow me to bring up the surprisingly large environmental cost of using blow dryers and heat products. In one hour, a hair dryer uses approximately 1,200 watts of energy. For perspective, an electric range burner uses 1,000 watts in that same time period. Using a blow dryer or straightener is not going to kill the planet, but the planet needs all the good you can do.

So at this point, you understand how heat damages your hair. But how do you get natural-looking curls without a curling iron? That’s where heatless curlers and at-home solutions come in.

Woman with curly hair standing in a field.
Achieving luscious curls without an iron is not impossible– wrapping damp hair around household objects can result in beautiful beachy waves or tight, bouncy curls.

How to get curly hair at home

Alas, there is no immediate curl without using a curling iron. All heatless curl options have a similar process. Take wet hair (from a shower or mist), wrap it around something or braid it, sleep with it in, remove the twists, and voila! Heatless curls are all the rage on social media at the moment. People are using household objects to find the perfect curls. I’ve seen people use items as bizarre as straws which result in extremely tight curls, but that probably isn’t the most convenient (or time saving) method.

Here are some ways you can curl your hair without fear of heat damage:

Woman trying bathrobe belt curls.
Wrapping your hair around a bathrobe belt or scarf as though it’s a French braid is the current trend on social media. It may feel silly, but it’s a tried and true method to get effortless curls! Image courtesy of MammaMia.

Robe Strings

Grab the belt from your bathrobe for some easy curls! Place the sash on top of your head and wrap damp strands of hair around it. Like a French braid, add more as you work your way down the length of your hair. Go to sleep and let it dry. Then wake up and remove the belt to discover your gorgeous curls!

This style of curling is absolutely not new– it has been around for at least a century under a less-aesthetic name. Often called rag curls and used with scarves or other scraps of fabric, it is a simple process that has proven successful time and time again. No product for your hair is even needed!


If you don’t have a belt from a robe or a scarf you can use, grab a pair of leggings. I’m serious. Leggings are a great way to achieve heatless curls.

Part your damp hair and place the leggings on top of your head. Like with the robe strings, wrap your hair around, adding more sections as you continue. Tie the strands to the leggings with a hair tie at the bottom, go to sleep, and wake up with (literally) effortless curls.

Developed in South Africa, Bantu Knots are twists of hair pinned close to the top of your head. It is commonly used as a hot-weather hairstyle, but the heaps of tight coils can be used as a curling method. Image courtesy of 4CHairstyles.

Bantu Knots

Originating in South Africa, Bantu Knots are a protective style that leaves you with tight, bouncy curls, when released. Despite it traditionally being used on curly, thick hair, anyone with any hair texture can use this method to curl/style their hair. Even fine, straight hair. This approach will take longer than the previous ones discussed, but will result in tighter curls.

After dampening your hair (or drying your hair to the point where it’s only damp), part your hair into sections. If you have longer hair, you may want to use larger sections to save time. Otherwise, the sections can technically be as small as you like. Use a setting product or curl cream if desired before twisting the section. Then, wrap your hair around itself into a coil and tie into a knot. Repeat this process until your entire head is finished. Then, go to sleep and carefully unwrap each coil in the morning.

Heatless Curl Products

If you’re looking to buy something for your hair, there are practically infinite products to help you achieve heatless curls. Here are some notable options:

Woman with pink rollers in her hair.
Rollers are kind of old-school, but they are a great, relatively inexpensive product to achieve curly hair. Look for soft rollers if you’d like more comfort at night.


Not just for your grandma, rollers are a classic way to get bouncy curls to last all day. You can even wrap them with a scarf and go out in them. Depending on the length of your hair and the desired curl tightness, there are different sizes of rollers you can purchase. Larger rollers create looser curls. Smaller rollers result in tight coils.

Willbond heatless curlers cover a woman's hair. Colorful tubes contain damp hair.
Willbond Heatless Hair Curlers look completely absurd, but result in surprisingly beautiful curls. Image courtesy of Today.

Willbond Heatless Hair Curlers Styling KIt

These may be the most ridiculous looking method of everything mentioned today, but they are an effective way to curl your hair. The Willbond Heatless Hair Curlers are brightly colored coils that you slide your hair into with an included hook. Then, pinch the bottom and remove the tubes when your hair is dry.

Woman wearing heatless curls headband.
Heatless curls headbands are the fancier version of using a bathrobe tie or rags. The satin fabric adds for additional hair protection at night. Image courtesy of Ulta.

Heatless Curling Rod Headband

Going back to the rag-curl method, heatless curling rod headbands are the Tiktok approved product. Instead of using a bathrobe belt, this headband is a soft tube designed for sleeping in with attached scrunchies to secure your hair. It is by no means necessary, especially if you’re familiar with using scarves. However, it may help you feel glamorous with a silk curling headband.

That’s it for our guide to heatless curls!

If you’re feeling daunted by learning a whole new hair technique, don’t! There are infinite instructional videos and articles where you can learn exactly how to curl your hair without risk of heat damage. It’s important to take care of yourself, and your hair is no exception. Set down the hot curling wand and try out some different heatless curl methods to see what works for you!

Lydia Rosenstock

Lydia Rosenstock is a writer, fashion-lover, and theater nerd based in Pittsburgh, PA.
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