How to Plop Your Curls, According to a Pro

Some hair techniques are universal. For example, no matter if your hair is straight, curly, wavy or coily, applying shampoo and conditioner is pretty much the same across the board. But when it comes to washing, drying and styling our tresses, those of us with curly hair know there’s a whole lot of effort, planning and preparation that goes into getting bouncy, flawless spirals. No, we don’t just wake up like this (most days, at least).

One of the most popular drying techniques for curly hair right now is plopping. While the name may be strange, it really is like magic for wavy, curly and coily strands, and it works no matter if you have a short or long hairstyle. The trend took TikTok by storm, with videos amassing up to millions of views.

If you’re not familiar with plopping or you just need some help on where to start, look no further. We tapped a curly hair expert to get the ins and outs of how to plop hair.

First, what is plopping?

Plopping is a drying method used to keep curls intact before or after styling curly hair, says Mia Emilio, hairstylist at Rezo Salon in New York City. “Plopping uses a T-shirt or microfiber towel to keep curls defined while removing excess water from the hair before air-drying or diffusing.” Bonus: It’s also a great way to get sopping wet hair off of your neck and shoulders while you’re getting dressed or working around the house.

When is the best time to plop hair?

Emilio recommends plopping after product application, whether it be hair gel, mousse or any other leave-in product. But those with fine hair may want to plop before applying products to remove excess water that’s weighing the hair down. Like most things with curly hair, you’ll have to experiment to see what gives you the result you love most.

Okay, so how do you plop curly hair?

  1. Wash and condition hair. The first step to proper plopping is the standard shampoo and conditioning session. Choose your favorite formulas and try leaving in a small amount of the conditioner, just enough for a smooth, slippery feel to the hair, Emilio suggests. This will add moisture and help act as a primer to your styling products.

  2. Carefully start to dry your curls after showering. When you step out of the shower, your hair will feel extremely wet, but don’t start wringing the water out yet, she says. Instead, flip your head upside down and gently shake your head from side to side without touching your curls. This will get rid of excess water without manipulating the curl pattern. "Hair should be damp, not soaking wet, before plopping," explains Cristina Bosque, a hairstylist at Rita Hazan Salon in New York City.

  3. Grab your styling products. Dispense a blob of your favorite gel, curl cream and/or leave-in conditioner into your hands and glide them over the curls, dispersing evenly. “Next, scrunch the ends up to your roots, squeezing out all that extra water at the same time,” Emilio advises. The gentle scrunching will help tighten your curl pattern, Bosque adds. At this point, you should start to see your spirals becoming really defined.

  4. Plop hair with a microfiber towel or T-shirt. Place a short sleeve T-shirt or microfiber towel on your bed or countertop and gently rest your hair on top of it. “Then, pull the shirt or towel over the nape of your neck, criss cross it towards the front of your head and flip it up gently,” Emilio says, and violà! You’ve plopped your hair.

  5. Leave hair plopped between 15 and 45 minutes, Emilio says. And yes, "some people even sleep with their hair plopped overnight,” she adds. It may require some trial and error to find out what works best for you, and it also depends on your curl type. You’ll want to choose the timeframe that gives you bouncy, strong curls, not flat, smashed ones. Those with "very curly, frizzy textures may not want to plop their hair for as long so that there is less shrinkage," Bosque adds.

Pro tip: For best results, make sure to keep the plop loose enough that your curls aren’t crushed, but tight enough that it doesn’t fall off your head, Emilio notes.

Can I plop wavy hair?

Wavy hair can be plopped just like curly hair. Follow the same steps as above to embrace your natural wave.

Can I plop 3C or 4C hair?

You can definitely try it and see if it works for your tighter curls, but Bosque doesn't advise it. "I would instead diffuse on low heat for maximum results," she explains. No matter how you decide to dry your hair, she recommends using a microfiber towel to help manage frizz.

Can I plop straight hair?

In general, plopping only applies to curly hair, but the process "is good for people who need a little added curl or more texture," explains Bosque, which means that people with straight hair that want more texture can certainly try plopping.

Emilio says plopping your hair is similar in method to using a towel turban after getting out of the shower. A T-shirt or microfiber towel is recommended for plopping rather than a terrycloth or cotton towel because traditional towels are too thick and rough on fragile curls. “They create too much friction which leads to frizz,” Emilio says.

How often should I plop my hair?

The point of plopping is to speed up the drying process of the hair and to keep the curl shape as defined and frizz-free as possible. So, hair pros agree it's totally fine to plop every time you wash and style your hair.

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