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Buying a new hair dryer: Everything you need to know

A woman drying her hair with a Dyson hair dryer
(Image credit: Future)

Long before we started blow-drying, we researched best-selling, high-performing products. 

We were wowed by popular hair dryers like the innovative Dyson Supersonic and the posh Harry Josh Pro. In this test, however, we chose to focus on more affordable models.

“I can’t imagine paying more than $100 for a hair dryer,” we heard repeatedly from consumers. “What’s the best blower in my price range?” 

We researched hair dryers online, spoke with stylists and interviewed customer support specialists. Through this, we learned how to choose versatile, affordable hair dryers with advanced heating technologies and accessories comparable to more expensive devices. 

What makes a good hair dryer?

Hair stylists from Modern Salon taught us the differences between ceramic, ionic and tourmaline heating technologies. We also learned how an ALCI safety device makes a plug inoperable if you happen to drop your hair dryer in the bathtub. During this process, we noted whether the instructional markings on each hair dryer made sense, and we tried every button and switch. As we pressed each cool shot button and tried every accessory, we took detailed notes, some of which were more subjective than others.

“The Instyler BLU feels evenly weighted from top to bottom, and the arc of its handle is nice,” our lab manager said.

“Its volume sounds weird at first, but it grew on me,” said a tester, “and I love the pretty blue light!”

We learned more about design styles, heating technologies and accessories to evaluate in our tests. Then, we invited volunteers to conduct hands-on testing. We provided them with spray bottles and heat-protectant spray and asked them to wet their hair and use each hair dryer. We asked them to consider factors such as each blower’s design, quality, ease of use, noise level, instructional markings and price. After we analyzed their input, we were able to rate each hair dryer, list its pros and cons and choose the best overall. We also identified the best value and the best blower for curly hair. 

A hairdresser drying long dark hair

(Image credit: Future)

There are hundreds of brands out there. How do I choose the best hair dryer for me?

Choosing the best hair dryer depends on factors such as your hair type, your hairstyle and your budget. Quality is also important, of course, but picking the right hair dryer is a personal, sometimes complicated decision.

“My mom still has the same hair dryer she had in college, but mine always break,” said one of our testers. “When it starts to spark, it’s time to get a new one!”

To help you find the best blower before sparks start to fly, below are some things to consider...

How much does a good hair dryer cost?

You can find hair dryers intended for home use ranging in price from $7 to $700, though most people plan to spend between $20 and $100. Researching high-quality, affordable options, we selected hair dryers priced between $17.99 and $155. If spending closer to $200 is in your budget, the Drybar Buttercup Blow Dryer and the Elchim 3900 Healthy Ionic Hair Dryer are excellent options.

Whatever their listed price, you can often find blowers for less at retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon.com. If you do some price shopping, you can almost always get a better deal. However, several experts we talked to told us you can justify splurging on a hair dryer because more expensive models will help your hair stay healthier. 

You can also expect a more expensive model to last longer. While a hair dryer priced under $30 may burn out after just a couple of years, a hair dryer priced above $100 should last at least five to ten years.

A lineup of hair dryers

(Image credit: Future)

Does the power of a hair dryer matter?

A hair dryer’s power is determined by its wattage. We tested blowers ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 watts. Experts recommend choosing a device with 1,800 watts or more for the best results, especially if you have thick hair. Salon models often have 3,600-watt models. 

This higher power comes with a much higher price tag, but it can cut drying time in half. This is important because less exposure to heat results in less damage to your hair. Also, higher-wattage dryers tend to last longer.

A woman drying curly hair with a hair dryer

(Image credit: Future)

Finding a hair dryer for my curly hair is hard!

Heating technology plays a role in protecting your hair, and you’ll want to choose the technology that works best for your hair type. Ceramic and tourmaline technologies are good for controlling and distributing heat and work well on curly or fine hair. However, tourmaline is not recommended for thin hair. Ionic hair dryers speed drying time and combat frizz. 

They suit damaged and thick hair well, but aren’t as effective if you’re looking for volume, lift and movement. Nanotechnology infuses hair with moisture and provides far-infrared heat. It dries hair faster with minimal damage by penetrating the hair shaft from within. Thermal technology provides constant heat, even heat at every setting. While titanium heat works well on thick, heavy hair, it’s not recommended if your hair is prone to damage.

What features should a good hair dryer have?

Most hair dryers we test have multiple heat and air speed settings, along with the following accessories and features:

Concentrators direct air to a focused section of your hair to provide faster drying times and help with straightening.

Diffusers are used to distribute airflow and can reduce frizz and define curl. Cool shot buttons provide a blast of unheated air to help seal the hair cuticle and set your style.

Some hair dryers come with extra accessories like straightening combs, quick-dry nozzles and sectioning clips. Other things to look for include removable end caps and air filters for easy cleaning, longer cords for more mobility and a good weight balance for comfortable handling. We also recommend considering the placement of control switches and buttons and getting a feel for your preferred grip type.

A woman holding a hair dryer

(Image credit: Future)

Does the temperature of my hair dryer matter?

Some hair dryers have multiple heat settings. You should pick the temperature you use based on your hair type and the style you're trying to achieve. It's important to use the correct temperature to limit damage to your locks. You should use the lowest heat setting possible if you have fine hair, as it's more prone to breaking. 

Breakage becomes even more of an issue when fine hair is heated up. Even if you have really thick hair, you most likely shouldn't use the highest heat setting available. When drying your hair, slow and steady is the best way to go.

HAI Beauty Concepts recommends using heat up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for fine hair. You can use a hair dryer with temperature up to 400°F on average hair. If you have particularly textured or thick hair, you can up it to 450°F. If you’re unsure how hot your hair dryer gets, check the instructions or packaging. 

You should also be careful about how hot your hair dryer is when storing it. Give the dryer a minute or two to cool down before letting it come in contact with any sensitive or flammable surfaces.

Most hair dryers also come with a button that shoots a blast of cold air when pressed. According to the Huffington Post, this button should be used once your hair is about 80 percent dry. Using the cold air seals the hair cuticle and makes the final look appear shinier and last longer. That way, you can get your hair completely dry without frying it. 

What warranty can I expect for my hair dryer?

The hair dryers in our reviews and our best-of guide have warranties ranging in length from one to four years, with two years being average. If you need customer service, most companies offer email and telephone support, and some offer live chat as well.

What's the best hair dryer I can get right now?

We’ve tested dozens of hair dryers since 2013, and our reviews involve much more than blowing hot air. In our most recent testing, we spent more than 40 hours examining and using 10 hair dryers, and our testing panel included volunteers with a variety of hair types, including fine, straight, thick and curly hair.

Whether you prefer a sleek, smooth blowout or want to showcase your curls, we can help you choose a hair dryer that meets your needs. 

Also check out these hairtastic buying guides:
Best electric hair clippers
Best curling irons
Best electric head shavers