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Cleaning Your Flat Iron Is More Important Than You Think: Hair Experts Explain Why

Product buildup and residue can wreak havoc on this hot tool.

What would we do without our flat irons? The devices are made with ceramic plates that evenly distribute heat and lock in moisture, and they’re one of the most widely used hot tools in modern times. After all, flat irons deliver sleek, smooth strands in seconds. And while a quarter of women reportedly own one, many don’t know that how to clean a flat iron, or how often to do so. No worries: We talked to hair stylists and other beauty pros to find out the best ways to clean a flat iron. Read on for their top tips.

how to clean a flat iron: Unrecognizable woman using hair straightener.

Why it’s important to clean a flat iron

“Clean irons are essential for even heat distribution, whether flat or curling. Product buildup will block the heat and prevent it from heating your hair evenly, affecting the overall outcome of the styling,” says commercial makeup artist and hair stylist Genn Shaughnessy, who has worked with Carrie Underwood and Judy Greer. “You also want to kill any germs and bacteria living on them.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Germs and bacteria can live on your flat irons, wreaking havoc on your hair and scalp. Besides gunking the iron up with product residue that remains on your hair the next time you use it, they can also damage your locks and affect the device’s life span. “Hairspray, oils, conditioning treatments and other products can build up on the plates and, combined with the heating element, essentially get ‘baked in’ to it,” warns Shaughnessy. You’ll know this is happening because you may see some discoloration on the plates. They can even start to corrode over time. 

“If you don’t clean it, it will be less effective. You will have to run it through your hair multiple times versus once or twice to get the look you want. This could cause damage to the hair shaft because you’re overexposing your hair to heat,” explains Cody Renegar, who has worked with Gwyneth Paltrow. Not to mention, all that gunk transfers back onto your hair, making it look dull and lifeless. 

Now that you know why it’s key to clean your flat iron, read on to find out all the stylist-approved hacks for keeping your flat irons residue and germ-free. 

Related: How To Curl Hair With a Straightener: It Sounds Crazy But It Works Like a Charm

How often should I clean my flat iron?

Have no fear if you’re strapped for time and worried about adding yet another step to your day. “Cleaning frequency depends on usage,” advises Unite stylist MJ Snyder. “I tend to clean my tools between clients, but I aim for monthly cleaning for personal use. Similar methods apply to curling irons and other hot tools,” she adds. 

Related: Study: The Average Reusable Water Bottle Is Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat — How to Get Yours Clean

How to clean a flat iron

Several hacks make it easy to clean your flat iron, so choose the best one for you. Tip: Before you start, unplug the iron and make sure it’s completely cool for all these methods, so you don’t burn yourself! 

Hack #1: Alcohol rubdown

how to clean a flat iron: Surface cleaning home kitchen All purpose cleaner disinfectant spray bottle with towel to clean high touch surfaces from COVID-19 virus contagion.

All three stylists said an alcohol wipe-down was the best method for tackling this clean-up job. “I usually keep a microfiber towel in my styling kit with a travel-size spray bottle of 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol to sanitize any hot tools on the go,” says Snyder. Individually wrapped alcohol wipes can also do the trick. 

To clean with alcohol, follow these steps, advises Renegar:

  1. Unplug the iron and make sure it’s cooled completely.
  2.  Apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol onto a rag or cloth.
  3. Wipe down the plates several times until they are clean and residue-free. 
  4. Give it a few minutes to dry, and it’s ready for use.  Wipe it down with a dry towel if you want it to dry faster.

Related: 10 Brilliant Uses for Rubbing Alcohol

Hack #2: Toothbrush trick 

An old toothbrush can be handy for stubborn areas around the house like grout — but you can also use it to clean your flat iron. The easy how-to: “Apply a few drops of baby shampoo to a wet toothbrush (be sure it’s been thoroughly cleaned with hot water first) and gently rub the plates. Wipe down with a wet cloth and let it dry,” advises Shaughnessy. 

Related: Your Toothbrush Is Teeming With Bacteria: Dentists Share How to Clean It

Hack #3: Magic eraser

We love the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser for a multitude of uses, and one of them is cleaning your flat iron! It contains a combination of melamine, formaldehyde, sodium bisulfite and water, which makes residue removal easy. You simply wet it before use and gently rub your flat iron until the residue is gone. 

Hack #4: Make a baking soda paste 

Another multipurpose product, baking soda, can de-gunk your flat iron. Pour about ¼ cup into a bowl and slowly squirt in hydrogen peroxide until the mixture looks like a paste. Scoop up a small amount of the paste and rub into the plates using your fingers until you see the residue lift away, says Shaughnessy. Afterward, wipe down with a wet cloth and let dry. 

Related: 7 Genius Baking Soda Hacks Guaranteed to Save You Time and Money

Here’s a TikTok tutorial that shows how it’s done! 

Don’t forget the handles and cord 

While the ceramic plates are the most important part, the handles and cord can also be harbingers of dirt and bacteria. The fix? Shaughnessy advises wiping those down with a disinfectant wipe. 

How do I know when it’s time to replace my flat iron?

Sometimes, you’ve diligently cared for your flat iron, but it’s past the point of no return. How do I know it’s time to replace it? The good news is no matter how much junk our flat irons accumulate on the plates, the appliance will still last about five years, says Shaughnessy. “They usually eventually just die on their own, and then you can replace [it],” she says. Of course, if it’s starting to rust or break apart, snags on your hair or fails to heat up, it’s time to look for a new one.

For more fashion and beauty hacks click through the links below!

How to Untangle a Necklace + the Binder Clip Hack to Keep Jewelry Tangle-Free

How to Fix Scratched Glasses: 4 Hacks Get Them Back to Brand New + Save You Money

How to Remove Lint and Pet Hair From Clothes — No Lint Roller Needed!

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