Yep, you’re supposed to give flat irons a proper washing.

By Wendy Rose Gould
July 15, 2021
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While cleaning your hair tools isn't as urgent a matter as washing your makeup brushes, keeping them sparkling can help improve their function and your styling game, and can even help prolong their lifespan. Curling irons and flat irons are prone to getting gunked up—sometimes even to the point of being a sticky mess—thanks to all the hair products we use to perfect our 'do.

"Leave-in treatments, oils, heat protectants, and hairsprays are often left on the plates from the heat—almost as if you are baking the product residue onto the plates," explains Nick Stenson, celebrity hair stylist and artistic director for L'Oréal-Matrix. "After time, they can also build up and you can visibly see the discoloration on the plates."

When you use a dirty flat iron or hair straightener, this icky residue can transfer onto your hair. It can even cause corrosion on the plates, which will inevitably impact the hot tool's glide. All the above can lead to hair snagging and breakage, or force you to do repetitive strokes or touch-ups, which adds unnecessary heat to your hair.

"There is also a risk of burning the hair due to the product or residue heating to possibly a higher temperature than the plates," adds Brandyn Deason, a licensed hairstylist and product development coordinator for CHI Haircare. In some cases, product residue on your flat iron can even harbor bacteria.  

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Credit: Getty Images

When and How to Clean Your Flat Iron

If you use your flat iron daily, Stenson recommends cleaning it with a soft cloth (ideally microfiber cloth) at least once a week. Generally speaking, no soaps, sprays, or other products are required if you're routinely cleaning your flat iron.

"While the plates are still warm to the touch, swipe down along the edge of the plates to get the residue," says Deason. "Once that is complete, check the tool for any remaining residue. If any remains, use a microfiber cloth dampened with warm water to remove buildup."

If you're feeling extra ambitious, you could even aim to wipe it down every time you use your hot tool. (And by the way, this advice applies to curling irons, curling wands, crimpers, hot combs, and other heat styling tools).  

The Right Way to Deep Clean Flat Irons

So you've got yourself a sticky flat iron? In many cases, the tool is still salvageable and just needs a more thorough washing. The process is almost the same, but you'll want to introduce slightly more moisture (remember, you cannot immerse electrical tools in water), a cleaning product, and in some cases a very mild scrubbing tool like a toothbrush. Alternatively, you can just use your microfiber cloth.  

"Carefully, put a drop of shampoo on the toothbrush [or cloth] and rub the build up to break it down," advises Maria McCool, hairstylist and founder of Calista Tools. "Repeat lightly until the plates or barrel are as good as new."

Instead of shampoo, you could also try a mild facial cleanser, alcohol, or barbicide. When you are not using your hot tools, store them in a clean, dry, safe place to avoid any external damage or moisture. 

When to Toss Your Flat Iron

If after much gusto your flat iron is still covered in stubborn product residue, it's time to say goodbye. We also recommend discarding any hot tool if it smokes or smells when you turn it on. Finally, if you've removed visible residue but notice that the plates look corroded—or experience hair snagging when using the tool—it's also ready to toss. A la Marie Kondo, thank it for everything it's done for you and start researching a new tool.