Towel Dry vs. Air Drying Hair

Deciding between towel drying or air drying your hair is an age-old debate among beauty enthusiasts.

Towel Dry vs. Air Drying Hair

Both techniques come with pros and cons regarding hair health, styling, and convenience.

How Towel Drying Works

Towel drying involves gently blotting wet hair with a towel to absorb excess moisture after washing. The goal is to soak up dripping wetness quickly without causing damage by rubbing.

You start by washing and conditioning as usual. After turning off the shower or stepping away from the sink, follow these basic towel drying steps:

  • Apply any desired leave-in treatments before drying.
  • Gently squeeze out excess moisture with your hands first.
  • Wrap hair up in a soft microfiber hair towel or old cotton T-shirt.
  • Let it sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the fabric to absorb water.
  • Unwrap and style as desired before air drying the rest of the way.

Many people towel dry for a few minutes before allowing their hair to finish air drying. Others rely solely on towel drying if they have short styles that don’t take long to dry.

Proper towel drying is extremely gentle to prevent breakage. You should never roughly rub the towel over your hair like drying your body. The fabric absorbs moisture through contact rather than friction.

Key Takeaway: Towel drying helps speed up drying time compared to air drying alone.

How Air Drying Works

Air drying, as the name suggests, involves allowing your wet hair to dry naturally without any assisted heat or towels.

After washing, you simply shake out excess water, comb through, apply products, and let your hair be. Air drying can take anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour depending on hair type and length.

The appeal is avoiding heat damage from blow drying as well as the friction that towels can cause. However, air drying offers less control over shaping precise styles.

Depending on your goals, air drying from soaking wet may result in:

  • Longer dry times
  • Unpredictable texture/waves
  • Flatter roots from water weighing hair down

Many people find the best approach is to towel dry initially before finishing with air drying.

Towel Drying vs. Air Drying: Key Differences

Below is a comparison of the core differences between towel drying and air drying your hair:

Towel DryingAir Drying
Speeds up drying process significantlyRelies fully on natural evaporation
Absorbs moisture gentlyDoesn’t remove excess water
Can smooth down cuticlesAllows cuticles to pop up as hair dries
Gives some initial stylingOffers little control over style
Can create frizz if rubbed aggressivelyWon’t disturb cuticles if handled properly
Works for all hair typesVery long/thick hair may take hours to fully dry

As you can see, the perks of towel drying involve shorter dry times and more styling influence. Air drying offers a truly hands-off approach if you prefer to embrace your hair’s natural pattern.

The Pros and Cons of Towel Drying Hair


  • Speeds up drying time substantially
  • Gently absorbs dripping wetness
  • Smooths down cuticles initially
  • Offers light styling control
  • Less overall time spent heat styling


  • Can create frizz if rubbed too hard
  • Requires finding a very soft, non-abrasive towel
  • Wet hair still fragile to rough handling
  • Roots may not dry as quickly as length

The effectiveness of towel drying relies heavily on your technique. Using a soft microfiber towel and gently blotting without rubbing prevents almost all cons of towel drying.

As you can see, the pros outweigh the potential cons when towel drying carefully. For many people, the faster dry time and initial smoothing make towel drying worthwhile.

The Pros and Cons of Air Drying Hair


  • Zero heat damage from drying
  • Embraces hair’s natural texture
  • No risk of abrasion from towels
  • Very hands-off technique


  • Very slow without removing excess moisture
  • Can accentuate frizz as hair dries
  • Little control over style/shaping
  • Difficult for thick or long hair to dry fully

Air drying offers clear benefits for hair health by skipping heat styling and towel friction altogether. However, the extended dry time and lack of styling influence are deal breakers for some.

As you’ll read below, many people find the best solution is to combine towel drying and air drying for optimal results.

Is Towel or Air Drying Better for These Hair Types?

Whether air drying or towel drying suits your hair best depends largely on your hair type and texture. Here’s a breakdown for different kinds of locks:

Curly Hair

For defined curls, air drying is better to allow ringlets to set without interference. Towel drying can disrupt curl formation leading to frizz.

However, leaving very thick or long curly hair dripping wet to air dry can take ages. Blotting with a T-shirt or microfiber towel to soak up excess moisture helps speed up the process.

Straight Hair

Towel drying works excellently for straight hair, especially finer textures. The gentle blotting helps smooth down cuticles without adding volume.

Letting straight hair air dry from fully wet leaves it limp and flat. But towel drying first gives it a lift.

Damaged Hair

If your hair is fragile from overprocessing, air drying is safest. The zero friction minimizes the chances of exacerbating damage. The lack of heat also prevents further drying out parched strands.

However, very porous damaged hair sopping wet for an hour risks hygral fatigue. Gently blotting excess water first helps prevent cuticles from swelling and breaking.

Thick Hair

Towel drying is almost a must for thick hair to cut down dry time. Leaving dense, waterlogged hair wet for ages leads to endless frizz. Blotting thick locks with a towel first makes air drying the rest of the way manageable.

Fine Hair

Fine hair can benefit from both air and towel drying, depending on your preferences. Towel drying adds volume at the roots for otherwise flat hair. Air drying won’t disrupt delicate strands but may not add body.

Key Takeaway: There’s no universally “better” method. But towel drying tends to work well for straight, damaged, thick, and fine hair. Air drying suits curly locks best.

How to Towel Dry Hair Correctly

Follow these steps for smooth, frizz-free results towel drying your hair:

  1. Wash and Condition
    Shampoo and condition as usual. Comb through knots and rinse out products thoroughly.
  2. Apply Leave-In Treatments
    Work any desired leave-in treatments, oils, creams, or gels through sections. Start applying these before drying so they absorb well.
  3. Gently Squeeze Out Moisture
    Flip your head upside down and gently squeeze water out of your hair. Avoid violently twisting or wringing.
  4. Wrap Hair in a Towel Turban
    Wrap your hair gently in a microfiber towel or old cotton T-shirt. Twist your hair at the nape of your neck to secure.
  5. Let Sit 5-10 Minutes
    Keep the towel wrapped like a turban for 5-10 minutes allowing it to absorb dripping moisture.
  6. Unwrap and Style
    Unwrap hair and comb through. Apply any additional styling products and let air dry the rest of the way.

The key is keeping towel drying gentle. Never rub the towel back and forth over your hair to dry it faster. Let the fabric make contact with your hair without friction to absorb water.

If towel drying alone doesn’t dry your hair quickly enough, aim to get it 50-80% of the way there. Then allow natural evaporation to finish air drying locks for best results.

Key Takeaway: The combo approach of towel drying initially plus air drying offers the pros of both techniques.

How to Air Dry Hair Perfectly

Follow these simple tips for flawless air dried locks:

  1. Wash, Condition, and Detangle Shampoo, condition, rinse thoroughly, and comb out knots.
  2. Apply Desired Products
    Work any leave-ins, oils, gels, etc. through sections evenly.
  3. Gently Squeeze Out Wetness Flip hair over and gently squeeze out excess dripping moisture.
  4. Section Hair as Desired Part hair where you want and section it however works best for your style.
  5. Scrunch and Twist Strands Gently scrunch sections or twist larger pieces. This encourages waves/curls to form nicely as hair dries.
  6. Let Air Dry Fully Allow hair to dry the rest of the way without touching or distruping it. Expect at least 20-40 minutes even for short hair.
  7. Style and Finish Once completely dry, shake out hair and style as desired. Add any final smoothing or volumizing products.

Air drying requires time and patience but rewards you with bouncy, touchable texture and zero damage. Sectioning clean hair while wet gives some styling influence as waves and curls set.

Be sure to preserve the part and shape you want from the start. Air drying cleanly parts hair where you section it off. For volume at the crown, flip your head over and part your hair upside down initially.


Does towel drying damage hair?

No, towel drying does not damage hair when done gently. Vigorously rubbing towels over hair can cause mechanical damage over time leading to splits and breakage.

But blotting wet hair with a very soft towel specifically made for hair is perfectly safe. Just be sure to use a smooth microfiber hair towel and avoid terrycloth towels. Gently squeeze moisture rather than friction drying.

Is air drying really better than blow drying?

Yes, air drying is healthier than blow drying in terms of heat exposure. The hot air from blow dryers can degrade hair proteins over time and dry out strands. Chemical damage from color treating also penetrates deeper under heat.

However, air drying clean wet hair often takes over an hour. The moisture swelling hair for that long can still cause hygral fatigue damage.

Towel drying hair gently first removes excess water so locks don’t endure extended wetness. Then allow hair to finish air drying for healthiest results.

Does soaking wet hair overnight damage it?

Leaving hair soaking wet overnight absolutely causes damage. As covered above, wet hair swells, stretches, and loses elasticity until it dries. Leaving it saturated for hour after hour keeps hair under pressure.

Overnight allows moisture to wreak havoc on the inner bonds keeping your hair intact. Air drying during the day is fine. But allowing hair wetness to seep deeply overnight inevitably causes splits and breakage.

Does air drying frizz hair?

Air drying alone often creates some frizz, yes. The lengthy dry time coupled with lack of smoothing allows hair cuticles to lift and tangle. Plus without initially drying hair straight, air drying locks into texture.

You can minimize air dried frizz by evenly applying products, keeping hair stretched straight, and not touching it as it dries. But some frizz is unavoidable with zero heat or towel drying.

The best defense against air dried frizz is gently towel blotting first. This smoothes down cuticles initially before the longer air dry time.


The healthiest and most versatile drying method involves gently towel drying first to absorb moisture then air drying the rest of the way.

This balances the benefits of faster dry time and smoothed cuticles from towel drying with the perks of no heat damage from air drying. You skip roughly drying hair with towels for too long but still cut down overall wet time.

Towels Edition
Towels Edition