The Ultimate Guide to Perm Rods

By: | Last Updated: June 30, 2021

Achieving a great perm can seem daunting. 

Thankfully, perm rods exist and make the task a lot easier. 

The trick is knowing which style you want and choosing the right rods to achieve it. 

Finally, determine which chemical is most appropriate for your hair type, so you can avoid damage while prolonging the life of your curls.

Learning about different perm rods and results can seem overwhelming, so we’ve compiled a list just for you. 

You can experiment at home or get your perm done at a salon without worries, because this guide will help you understand what you’re getting into before taking the plunge. 

Things to Consider

Perm rod sizes

Different perm rod sizes will yield different results. 

There are long and short ones — both of which range from diameters of ⅛ inches to 1 and ½ inches. 

To make them easier to choose from, they’ve been categorized into small, medium, large and, jumbo rods. They’ve also been color-coded for our convenience.

1. Small rods

These rods create the tightest perms and are most flattering for hair that’s about three to four inches in length. 

This category includes the red, blue, and pink rods which measure ⅛, ¼, and ⅜  inches respectively.

2. Medium and large rods

These rods create looser perms than the previous ones. The gray rods are a popular choice as they measure ½ inches and give you medium-sized curls. 

They’re best used for hair lengths of three to five inches. 

The white ones measure 9/16 inches and create controlled curls for medium to long hair lengths. The purple rods are the largest and measure 11/16 inches.

These are perfect for creating casual, everyday waves for shoulder-length hair or longer.

3. Jumbo rods

Jumbo rods range from  peach ¾ -inch rods to tan 1 and ½ inch rods. They’re great for long hair as they provide a bigger area to wrap your hair around. 

They also help create very natural and effortless looking waves given their huge diameters.

4. Spiral rods

Spiral rods are special types of perm rods which give you corkscrew curls. 

They come in varied diameters too, but their spiraled bodies provide you with beautiful wispy ringlets which look strikingly different from the curls imparted by the usual perm rod.


It’s best to get acquainted with different looks to be able to describe what you want to your stylist or to be able to follow the right instructions if you choose to try a DIY perm at home. 

After all, accidentally sabotaging ourselves would be tragic

1. Casual waves

If you’ve only begun easing yourself into the idea of curls, waves are the way to start! They give your hair some form and volume without the presence of loud and elaborate ringlets. 

Waves also soften angular jaw lines, so they’d make for a very flattering look on square and rectangular faces. Just use large or jumbo rods to achieve this look.

2. Beach waves

If romantic ringlets aren’t your thing, you can go for beach waves. They don’t look like fully-formed curls and can be achieved by using a combination of small red, blue, and pink rods. Just wrap them in loose, downward spirals for a more elongated look.

3. Partial perm

Perms don’t always have to begin at your roots. If you’d like them to start or end at a different section, you can get a partial perm! They’re also called “spot perms” as they can either add volume for specific areas or cover thin spots. You can also use any rod, depending on the size you want to achieve.

4. Pin curl perm

Short hair would look great with the tight pin curl perm. You can combine red and blue rods for this look to create tight, bouncy curls. However, if you’d like a wavier pin curl, you can opt for the pink rod as well. 

5. Spiral perm

Spiral perms look like corkscrew curls and are made with the spiral rod. They look great on short and long hair and are most commonly started on the roots. 

Spiral rods come in different sizes too, so you can choose a diameter based on the length of your hair or the style you’d like to go with.

6. Stack perm

The stack perm is much like the partial perm, except it focuses on the middle and lower sections of your hair. You may combine differently sized rods to make the transition from your natural hair to your curls or waves as seamless as possible.

Begin with smaller diameters first and end with bigger rods as you reach the lower parts of your hair. This creates a stack of layers and adds wonderful volumes to your hair.

7. Root perm

The root perm seems a bit like the opposite of the stack perm as it focuses on your roots. 

This adds lift at the scalp while allowing you to maintain your natural locks if you’d like to. You can opt for small rods to large rods, depending on your natural hair.


The word “perm” is short for permanent, which implies long-lasting and irreversible curls. 

This is made possible by the chemicals applied to your hair during the process. They may either contain acidic glyceryl monothioglycolate or alkaline ammonium thioglycolate

These chemicals are applied over your rolled locks to restructure your hair and to allow them to mold into the rods you’ve chosen.

Acid perms are milder, so they’re best used for delicate or fragile hair types. 

Alkaline perms, on the other hand, may be used for rough or thicker hair types. 

However, if you’ve recently bleached your hair, dyed it, or recently underwent other treatments, we suggest waiting awhile first.

We’d like to give your hair a breather before exposing it to more chemicals. It might already be too fragile to withstand a perm, so it’s best to consult with a hair technician before proceeding.

DIY Perms and Salon Perms

It’s possible to perm your hair at home using a DIY kit. They come with a waving solution and a neutralizer to lock in your curls. 

Just remember to use gloves and to follow the instructions to a T, so that you end up with great results or, at the very least, avoid damaging your hair.

Perming at home has its fair share of risks, but it saves you a lot of money. 

If you’d like to avoid experimenting though, you can always visit a salon. Skilled hair technicians can help you achieve your desired look and advise you later about aftercare. 

Some salons don’t rely on wet styling methods though. Instead, they utilize high temperatures to lock in your curls. 

Digital perms, sometimes dubbed “hot perms”, combine the precision of digitally-controlled heat and chemical treatments to give you the look you want. The procedure may come at a high price, but it’s well worth it.

Do schedule a consultation with your chosen salon if you decide to get a digital perm

It’s nice to get acquainted with the procedure and the chemicals they’ll be using on your hair before you go through with it. It is, after all, quite the commitment and the investment.


Chemically treated perms can last six months or more if taken care of properly. 

This will involve switching to sulfate-free shampoo and using only wide-toothed combs when trying to untangle your hair. 

Always condition your curls too to keep them from drying and frizzing. Serums or leave-in conditioners will work wonders.

If you decide not to use waving solutions and fixatives, however, your perm rod curls may only last up to five days. 

Avoid fine-toothed combs or finger combing when you do this, so that you don’t dismantle your curls.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Perm rods are very versatile styling tools. You can use them on literally any hair type and length to achieve the curls you want. They do, however, still have some disadvantages. 

Perm rods are easy to pick up, but they do take some time to use. They also tend to feel heavy and uncomfortable after a couple of hours of waiting for your curls to set. 

However, a little sacrifice goes a long way, because your curls could end up lasting for six months or more if you’re able to take care of them properly.

Can be used on all hair types and lengthsUses the wet hair methodEasy to learnWaves, curls, and perms last for months if taken care of properlyRods can be heavy and uncomfortable during the long waitChemicals could potentially damage your hair if left too longTakes a few hours to set

How to Use Perm Rods

1. Wash your hair and comb off the tangles.

It’s important to start the process with clean and damp hair. Shampoo thoroughly and comb off all tangles, so you can style your hair and achieve shiny curls with ease.

2. Massage your chosen hair product onto your scalp and strands.

Foam and mousse are popular choices because they add volume and bounce while hydrating each curl. I wouldn’t say they’re a necessity, but they do help ensure better looking perms or curls.

3. Section your damp hair into locks and wrap them around your chosen rods.

Start from the bottom of your scalp and roll a lock from its end to your roots. Secure it by clamping the rod shut. 

Work your way to the top and keep going until all of your sections have been rolled. Finally, keep the rods in place and avoid frizzing by tying a scarf around your head.

4. Decide if you’re going the chemical route or the non-chemical route.

Non-chemical route

Just wait for your hair to dry. This could take some hours, so I suggest grabbing a drink and relaxing while waiting. 

To check if your hair is dry, you can try releasing an inconspicuous lock. If it’s still a bit damp, put the clamp back. 

If you’re really pressed for time, you can speed the process up with a blow dryer or a hooded dryer.

Chemical route

Put a cotton strip on your hairline and a towel over your shoulders to avoid any skin irritations. 

Next, apply the waving solution on each lock. There’s no need to drench each curl, but make sure to saturate them enough. Leave the solution until the specified time and not a minute longer. Activate it with heat if necessary.

If time is not specified on the instructions, do not wait a full 15 minutes before checking your hair. Slightly unravel a curl every 2 to 5 minutes to see if your lock has formed a limp S-shape. Once it does, you’re ready for a rinse.

Rinse your hair free of the solution, but do not remove the perm rods. Allow your hair to air dry before applying the next solution. If you’re in a hurry, you can use a blow dryer.

Finally, apply the neutralizer like you did the waving solution. Do not leave it longer than necessary, and wash it all off once the indicated time has passed.

5. Allow your hair to dry and remove the perm rods.

Carefully unclasp the perm rods and release your curls once your hair is dry. 

Run a serum through your hair to increase shine. If you went down the chemical route, wait at least three days before washing your hair and avoid swimming for a week.


If perm rods aren’t quite your style, here are some alternatives you can check out:

Flexi rods vs Perm rods

Flexi rods are made of soft, flexible foam, hence their names. They look fairly simple to use, but they can have a bit of a learning curve. 

Unlike perm rods, they don’t have clasps. So, you have to manually twist a rod as you wrap your hair around it. Depending on your styling preferences, this could be a boon or a curse.

However, flexi rods give you lots of versatility. You can achieve both loose waves and tight curls with them, no matter a rod’s length or diameter.

Round brush vs Perm rods

If you don’t have any perm rods with you, you can actually create decent curls with the help of a round brush and a blow dryer. 

Granted, you won’t be able to make tight curls, unless you have an extremely small one (and unlimited time and patience!)

Perm rods definitely give you tighter, bouncier curls, but if you don’t have a set at the moment, experimenting with a round brush would be a neat save and a great work around.

Curling irons vs Perm rods

Creating perms with a curling iron is a different experience from perm rods entirely, because you’ll have to start with dry hair and rely on heat to style it.

They come in many diameters too, so you can choose a model with the barrel size that best suits your needs. 

If you want to try other styles, however, you can get an iron with assorted barrel attachments! That’s definitely one advantage they have over rods and rollers — they’re more compact.

Just remember to use the right temperature for your hair profile. You wouldn’t want to damage your mane with intense heat. 

Roller sets vs Perm rods

There are many types of roller sets — some of which allow wet styling methods and some which are better coupled with heat. 

Velcro rollers, for example, can be used whether your hair is damp or dry. They’re even easier to pick up than perm rods, because they come with tiny hooked “teeth” to grip your hair in place. 

I wouldn’t recommend them so much for short or long hair though, as they could easily fall off or get tangled. 

Hot rollers, on the other hand, use heat to style your hair. Unlike curling irons, however, they require less heat and less time for your curls to set. This makes them a healthier alternative if you prefer using heat when styling.


What size perm rods should I use?

The size you should use will depend on the length of your hair and the style you want to achieve. Long locks will need longer rods, but bobs can be styled with short rods.

If you want big waves, us ¾ inch to 1-inch rods. 

Tight perms will require ⅛ inch to 316-inch rods, and medium-sized curls will need ¼ inch to 1116-inch rods. To make the sizes easier to identify, perm rods are actually color-coded. Just refer to this section for a more in-depth summary.

Are perm rods better than flexi rods?

Not necessarily. 

Flexi rods allow you to wrap your locks vertically downward for looser, elongated curls. They’re also comfier to sleep on, if you ever decide to catch some Z’s while waiting for your waves to set.

Perm rods, on the other hand, are great if you prefer tighter, bouncier curls. They’re also beginner-friendly, because they come with clasps which help secure your locks into place.

Can a perm rod give you big curls?


Just make sure you use ¾ -inch to 1-inch perm rods. For even bigger curls, you can use jumbo rods that have 1 ¼ inch to 1 ½ inch rods.

How many perm rods do I need?

This will depend on the style you’d like to achieve and how long and thick your mane is. Medium-length hair will usually require between 24 to 36 rods. 

If you want small, tight curls, you’ll need about 36 to 46 rods.  Loose beach waves will need only 15 to 27. If you have shorter or longer hair, however, you can adjust the numbers accordingly.

What can I use instead of perm rods?

Achieving perms and curls with a perm rod means going with the wet hair method. 

If you prefer styling with heat, you can use a curling iron or hot rollers. Check out the full list of alternatives in the list above.

What are the best perm rods for long hair?

Definitely long rods, no matter the diameter you choose. 

They give you a bigger area to wrap your long locks around. If you buy short ones, you might have to do twice the work, as you’ll need more rods to finish styling your hair.


Perm rods are great tools for achieving complex looks without breaking the bank. 

You just have to know the basics about perm rod sizes and curls to be able to try it on your own. 

Different types of perm rods also exist for the styles you’re dying to try. So you’ve no excuse not to, because they’re appropriate for all hair types, too! 

Reinventing yourself isn’t limited to dying your hair. Begin experimenting with perm rods now, so you can rock a new look this weekend!

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