How To Dry Curly Hair: 5 Curly Hair-Drying Techniques

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Curly hair is resplendent, glorious, and mesmerizing — until it dries.

Left unmanaged, it can turn into a frizzy, knotty, and tangled mess.

But did you know that there are ways to dry curls so that they retain their texture and still look amazing?

A young woman with wet hair posing for a photo on a grey background

If you’re wondering how to dry curly hair the right way, here are five of the best methods that you can try.

How To Dry Curly Hair: The Challenge

First things first: why is it so difficult to dry curls without somehow damaging them?

Let’s step back a bit and consider how water impacts your hair.

Hair is made up of a two-part structure of keratins, found in the middle layer and along the protective outer layer. When hair is wet, these keratin bonds are looser, which essentially makes your hair weaker.

Curly hair may thrive on moisture (especially that which comes from essential oils), but just like other hair types, it is also at its weakest when it’s wet. 

Too much water can even bog down your hair strands and make them brittle.

Now, when it comes to drying their hair, curlies have to contend with the specific characteristics of their hair that those with straight hair don’t need to worry about.

For one, curls follow a curved shape that makes it difficult for the natural oils produced by the scalp to smoothly travel down each strand and coat it with its needed moisture, hence the frizz.

And when you add improper drying techniques to that, you get… well, a bad hair day.

Luckily, there are five ways to manage that. Let’s discuss them one by one.

Air-Drying

Air-drying hair is one of the most popular methods for those who are wondering how to dry curly hair without heat. 

And it’s pretty self-explanatory: you take a shower, walk out, and wait for your hair to dry.

Pros of Air-Drying Curly Hair

As a trusty technique for drying curly hair, it offers a lot of benefits. These include the following.

  • Doesn’t cost anything; you don’t need to invest in any gadget or accessory as it only requires your time.
  • Convenient as it can be done anywhere. You just let your tresses hang loose, and let air do its magic.
  • Saves you from the potentially serious damage that happens when you frequently apply heat to your hair.

Heat expands the hair cuticle, which significantly impacts the shape of keratin strands in your hair and leaves it looking and feeling dry. 

Heat also causes a loss of elasticity in your hair, which weakens its structure. This has multiple negative effects: breakage, frizziness, and split ends.

Air-drying, on the other hand, helps your hair retain moisture. As a result, your curls can look and feel better, and you, more confident and sexier.

Cons of Air-Drying Curly Hair

That is not to say, however, that air-drying curly hair is a foolproof, perfect method. Quite the contrary, in fact.

  • Damages the hair’s cell membrane complex, according to a study
  • Weakens the hair and eventually leads to breakage over time
  • Triggers scalp problems
  • Contributes to product buildup
  • Takes up a lot of time, depending on your hair porosity
  • Causes your hair strands to stretch, impacting its texture

How To Air-Dry Curly Hair Properly

To make sure that you get the optimal benefits from air-drying curly hair, experts recommend doing the following:

  • Ensure that you thoroughly clean your hair. This is an important preparatory step to working in the necessary moisture you need for air-drying hair.
  • Don’t skimp on the conditioner. Apply a conditioner while you’re in the shower, and then apply a leave-in conditioner after.
  • Avoid brushing your hair while it’s air-drying. Even more important: don’t run your hands through your hair while it’s damp. Doing either of these can disrupt the natural curl pattern of your hair and cause frizz.
  • Work styling products carefully into your hair without disturbing your hair too much.
  • Twist some sections gently to prevent frizz.

Using a Diffuser

If you want to use less heat to dry your hair but don’t have the luxury of time that air-drying demands, using a diffuser is the way to go.

A diffuser is an attachment found in many blow dryers that diffuses air around your curls. It’s a lot like air drying, except it offers more control and speed.

Pros of Using a Diffuser to Dry Curly Hair

Like air-drying, a diffuser allows your tresses to dry without disrupting the natural curl pattern of your hair. 

  • Doesn’t take up as much time as air-drying, so your curls dry in place fast
  • Helps prevent frizz
  • Enhances the way your curls look, especially since it allows flexibility as far as styling your curls goes
  • Offers more lift at the roots, which adds volume to your hair
  • Boosts shine

Cons of Using a Diffuser to Dry Curly Hair

Using a diffuser, however, still carries some cons. 

  • Heat damage, especially if you jack up the heat settings.
  • Not as convenient as other methods used for drying hair. 

How To Dry Curly Hair With a Diffuser Safely

To avoid heat damage when diffusing your curls to dry them, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Stick to a low to medium heat setting.
  2. Use a heat protection spray to further protect your hair.
  3. Prep your hair with all the styling products that you need before you diffuse it. Work the products gently but surely into your hair.
  4. Then diffuse your curls from a safe distance.

Tip: When drying your hair, work in sections. And as with air-drying, avoid touching your hair while it’s still not 100% dry.

Using a Hooded Dryer

If you want to dry curly hair and leave your hands free for styling, you’ll want to go with a hooded dryer.

A young woman under hooded dryer machine in a hair salon

Much like a blow dryer, this device blows air onto your curls to dry them. It comes in various types: tabletop, standalone, and as an attachment.

Pros of Using a Hooded Dryer to Dry Your Curls

There are many benefits to using a hooded dryer to dry your curly hair, chief of which is its ability to.

  • Provides quick drying
  • Hassle-free by drying your hair off in one go
  • No need to set off your hair into sections 
  • Dries hair evenly
  • Convenient, as you won’t need to hold the dryer

As such, your hands are free to try more complex hairstyles for more curl definition and volume. The hooded dryer then sets whatever hairstyle in place quickly.

Cons of Using a Hooded Dryer To Dry Your Curls

However, using a hooded dryer also comes with some drawbacks, such as the following:

  • Requires quite a sizable budget
  • Can lead to heat damage
  • Can be uncomfortable if you don’t like noise
  • Not as portable as other tools used for drying hair

How To Dry Your Curly Hair With a Hooded Dryer

So how do you dry curly hair with a hooded dryer safely and effectively?

Follow these steps:

  1. Start by carefully working your styling products into your hair.
  2. Once you’re ready to dry your hair, choose the lowest possible setting that would still do the job. This is critical to avoiding heat damage. 
  3. If you want, use a heat protectant to safeguard hair strands from potential damage.
  4. Finally, sit under the dryer until your hair is completely dry.

Plopping

Don’t have a lot of time and can’t get any of the two tools mentioned above?

Your next best bet on how to dry curly hair without a diffuser and heat is plopping.

Plopping involves using a cotton piece of fabric (a shirt, a towel, a pillowcase, etc.) to gather your curls and place them on top of your head in an accordion style to dry them. 

Afterward, you can air-dry or diffuse your hair, as you see fit.

And as a low-cost, low-risk technique, it’s hailed by many to be one of the best.

Pros of Plopping Your Curls To Dry Them

Hair-drying curly hair with a cotton shirt, towel, or pillowcase offers the following benefits:

  • Prevents the frizz caused by twisting your hair into a knot with a towel or rubbing your hair with a rough fabric
  • Adds volume to your locks
  • Keeps your curls to stay intact while wet 
  • Provides more lifting at the roots and less damage to your cuticles
  • Works for various hair types, even rare hair types
  • Reduces the amount of time it takes to totally dry your hair

Cons of Plopping Your Curls To Dry Them

What you need to be mindful of when plopping are the following:

  • Might not really soak up the water from your hair
  • Will usually need to be followed up with air-drying or diffusing
  • Can make your roots more greasy with hair buildup

How To Plop Your Curls To Dry Them

With all of that said, if your answer to the issue of what to dry your hair with is plopping, you may find that the results can still be more rewarding rather than disappointing.

Here’s how to dry natural curly hair with plopping:

  1. Get all your styling products into your hair. 
  2. Then lay out your cotton shirt, towel, or pillowcase on a flat surface. 
  3. Stand in front of it, bend down from the waist, and let the ends of your hair touch the fabric.
  4. Move your head closer, taking care to plop down your tresses on top of each other, until the middle of your head touches your piece of fabric. 
  5. Finally, wrap your fabric around your head. 
  6. Take some more of the fabric and fold the ends over your forehead. 
  7. Finally, tuck them along your neck or the base of your head.

Watch the process here:

Using a Microfiber Towel

If you want the most basic method on how to dry curls that does not involve tools or special techniques and doesn’t take up too much time, going with the trusty towel is recommended.

However, you can’t use just any towel.

To successfully towel-dry curly hair and retain its definition, bounce, and volume, you need a microfiber towel.

Pros of Using a Microfiber Towel to Dry Your Curly Hair

With a microfiber towel, your hair strands won’t be bogged down with water weight that can stretch them and make them dull. But they will have enough hydration for shine. 

Plus, add these other benefits:

  • Convenient, portable, and easy to use, anytime, anywhere
  • Inexpensive
  • Doesn’t take as long as air-drying
  • Doesn’t rub against your hair strands, compared to a regular towel 
  • Helps eliminate dryness and frizz 
  • Also great for those with hair that is prone to breakage
  • Effective at absorbing water while retaining moisture

Cons of Using a Microfiber Towel To Dry Your Curly Hair

The only issue you might have with a microfiber towel as a way to dry your curls is that it might still require a diffuser, a hooded dryer, or air-drying.

How To Towel-Dry Curly Hair

But if you’re adamant about sticking to a microfiber towel to dry your curls, here’s how to do it successfully and safely.

  1. First, clean and condition your hair. 
  2. Next, apply your hair products. 
  3. Then with your towel, gently scrunch up your hair section by section to wick off moisture.
  4. Squeeze water away from your hair from the ends or the mid-shafts and toward your roots. Also, rotate your towel so that you’re always left with a dry section.
  5. Finger-coil your curls as you’re drying them. This will give you more definition and bounce. 
  6. Finish by air-drying your hair or using a diffuser or hooded dryer.
An infographic featuring 5 curly hair drying techniques such as air drying, using a diffuser, using a hooded dryer, plopping, and using a microfiber towel and their instructions

FAQs

What’s the Fastest Way To Dry My Curly Hair?

The amount of time it takes to dry your curly hair depends on your hair density and porosity. The thicker your hair and the less porous it is, the longer it will take.

For most people, using a diffuser or a hooded dryer tends to be faster than other types of drying methods.

What’s the Healthiest Way To Dry Naturally Curly Hair?

Each of the methods we’ve covered comes with its own set of pros and cons. 

How each of these methods impacts your hair health depends on a lot of factors, such as your lifestyle habits, your diet, the type of styling products that you use, and more.

How Long Should I Dry My Curls?

It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to hours. The important thing to remember is to give your hair time to absorb your styling products. 

Also, if you can, follow up one technique with another to speed up drying.

Will Touching My Curly Hair Make It Frizzy?

Touching your hair while it’s still drying will mess up its curl definition and make it frizzy.

The Best Way To Dry Naturally Curly Hair

At the end of the day, the best way to dry your curls depends on what you find doable, convenient, cost-effective, and sustainable.

A young woman with curly hair is drying her hair with a hair dryer.

The critical thing to remember on top of all these curly dry hair tips is to clean and prep your hair with high-quality styling products to keep it looking its best. 

Also, reinforce this with good habits to ensure holistic hair health and have great hair days!

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Authors

  • Kat

    Kat brings a seasoned voice to our beauty blog with 13 years of dedicated writing experience. Her deep-seated passion isn't just limited to words; she's always on the pulse of emerging makeup trends. Beyond her articles, Kat crafts hand-made crochet swimwear and sundresses, and effortlessly steps in as a muse for beauty photoshoots. Kat holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology.

  • Jessica Hoelscher

    With thirteen years in cosmetology, Jessica Hoelscher is a seasoned stylist recognized for her modern techniques. A graduate of Paul Mitchell the School in St. Louis, her expertise has been showcased on Fox Two News and in People Magazine. Self-employed at Salon Lofts, her work has graced TV screens, styling for renowned events and Ole Miss cheerleaders.

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