What Volume Developer Should I Use?

Did you ever wonder why there are two parts to your hair color and why they only start working when you mix them together? Well, one of the tubes contains the actual color, and the other is a hair color developer.

And one doesn’t work without the other.

But what is hair developer? Why do you need to mix it with your color? Can it damage your hair?

There are several different volumes of developer, and each of them has a different function.

Some of them can be more damaging than others. Some lift your hair lighter while others are made for deposit. Oh… and some are better for grey coverage than others…

This ultimate guide to the different volumes of developer will answer all of your questions…

What volume of developer should I use with my hair dye? Find out what all the different volumes of developer are typically used for...

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what Does Developer Do?

The hair dye developer lifts the cuticle of your hair just enough for color to get in or out of the hair. If you didn’t mix developer with your hair dye, the color molecules would not be able to penetrate the hair and would just wash right off.

Hair 101 is what I link to think of as an interesting compilation of hair facts you would learn in beauty school. Did you know that...

The volumes of developer refer to how much peroxide that developer contains. Furthermore, the amount of peroxide determines how much the hair cuticle will open during the process.

Hair Levels:

First things first, we should talk about the levels of hair. This will make it easier to understand how the different volumes of developer work.

The levels of hair color

As you can see, hair color levels are measured on a scale from 1-10.

Level 1 is black, and level 10 is a very light blonde. As the hair gets lighter, it will have a higher level number. For instance, medium brown is a level 4.

Just to clarify, this does not explain the hue of the color; it’s just a method used to measure how light or dark the color is.

When coloring your hair, you’ll need to determine your current level along with the target level.

Hint: You can usually find the target level by looking at the number on the hair color you’re using. For instance, 5N means your end result should be a level 5 with the right volume of developer.

Find out more with my guide to reading hair color numbers/labels.

Hair color bowl, brush, developer, powder bleach and supplies.

Lift vs. Deposit

It’s also essential to determine if you want to lift or deposit.

Lift means that we are “lifting” the hair color to a lighter level. For instance, if your hair is brown and you want to go blonde, you’ll have to lift it.

Deposit means that we are depositing hair color molecules into the hair to make it darker.

You’ll also need to determine how many levels of lift or deposit you want to achieve. If you’re going from a level 5 brown to a level 8 blonde, you’ll need to lift your hair three levels higher.

Keep in mind that virgin hair color (hair that has never been colored) reacts much differently than hair that has been colored. Read more about the golden rule of lifting hair color.

The Different Volumes of Developer:

10 Volume Developer (10V / 3% peroxide) developer will deposit color and make the hair darker that is was. It works by just barely opening the cuticle enough to deposit pigment. Therefore, if you’re doing any type of color in which you only need to deposit color without lift (including most hair toners), this is what you need to use.

20 Volume Developer(20V / 6% peroxide) is the most commonly used. First off, it is optimal for covering grey hair. Also, you’d use it to stay anywhere around the level your hair already is, or to lift 1-2 levels.

30 Volume Developer (30V / 9% peroxide) will lift the hair up to 3 levels higher and is commonly used with lightener.

40 Volume Developer (40V / 12% peroxide) will lift the hair up to 4 levels. It is often used with lightener or high-lift blondes. Some high-lift colors even require double-40V for extra lift. Do keep in mind that 40V used with lightener can be tragically damaging if misused.

Clairol Professional Pure White 10 Gentle Lift Creme Developer, 16 ozClairol Professional Pure White 10 Gentle Lift Creme Developer, 16 ozClairol Professional Pure White 10 Gentle Lift Creme Developer, 16 ozClairol Pure White 20 Creme Developer Standard Lift 16ozClairol Pure White 20 Creme Developer Standard Lift 16ozClairol Pure White 20 Creme Developer Standard Lift 16ozClairol Professional Soy4plex Pure White Creme Hair Color Developer, 30 VolumeClairol Professional Soy4plex Pure White Creme Hair Color Developer, 30 VolumeClairol Professional Soy4plex Pure White Creme Hair Color Developer, 30 Volume

Less Commonly Used developer types:

There are some other less commonly used volumes of developer such as 5V, 15V, 50V, 60V, etc. Based on what you just learned, you should be able to figure out what each of them does.

Disclaimer: I would never ever recommend using anything higher than a 40V. However, there is a 120-volume developer, in which you can make any other strength by diluting it. This sounds pretty awesome, but do keep in mind that it’s hard to obtain as most shipping companies cannot transport it.

Sounds like something you’d wanna put on your head, right?

Surprised woman looking at her hair.

General FAQ

FAQ Icon
What Are The Different Volumes of Developer?

10 volume developer is meant to deposit pigment into the hair without lift. 20 volume developer is intended to lift the hair 1-2 levels. 30 volume developer lifts the hair three levels, and 40 volume developer lifts four levels.

What Volume Developer Should I Use?

It depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you’re going darker, you should use 10 developer. 20 – 40 developer can be used to lift 1-4 levels. 20 developer is best for grey coverage.

Does 30 Developer Lighten Hair?

30v developer will lighten the hair up to 3 levels.

Do I Need To Use 40 Volume Developer On Dark Hair?

Depending on how many levels of lift you want to achieve, you can use 40 volume developer on dark hair.

Can I Use 10 Volume Developer to Lighten Hair?

10v developer is meant for deposit and will not lift the hair.

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts Icon

If you’re into DIY hair color, you must formulate your hair color correctly. One of the most important aspects of mixing your dye has to do with using the right volume of developer.

Some developers are meant to lift, while others only deposit color. If you have grey hair, it’s crucial that you use a 20 volume developer for optimal coverage. If you’re toning your hair, you’ll likely want to use a 10 volume developer for deposit.

Depending on what your hair currently looks like and what you’re trying to achieve, you can use this guide to formulate the perfect color for your hair!

Until next time,


Your Turn:  Did you learn something new about the different volumes of developer? Do you have any questions about how it works? Drop your thoughts in the comments section below! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼


Follow this guide to learn the different levels of developer and find out which volume of developer you should be using in your hair color! #HairColor #HairDye #HairTips #DIYHairColor #LevelsOfHairColor

58 thoughts on “What Volume Developer Should I Use?”

  1. Hi, i stumbled across your blog by chance. I had between level 2-3 dark brown hair originally, but i had a balayage done RECENTLY whCh lifted my hair to about a Level 6-7. Ive managed to tone down the orange slightly but I still want to get a lighter colour to a level 8/9. How can i do this mySelf?

    • I honestly wouldn’t try to do this yourself unless you absolutely know what you’re doing. It could mess up the balayage if you don’t follow the exact lines. To get to a lighter color, you’ll have to bleach it, which could really mess up the rest of your hair. It’s also good to give the previously bleached hair a bit of time to recover before you bleach it again. Sometimes, going lighter is a process that takes some time. Hope that helps!

  2. Hello, I’m looking for some advice on coloring my hair. I have recently had my roots touched up without adding highlights to my PREVIOUSLY highlighted hair and now my roots are very dark (dark brown), it looks like I have 2″ of new growth and the rest of my hair is getting really light with the highlights…..too light!
    Can I use a 20% developer with a wella 7a on the roots (which now there is some new growth) and a 10% with a toner for the lighter part to darken? and which toner shade would you recommend to darken the previous highlights?

    Thank you

    • I honestly wouldn’t recommend doing that because color correction can get really tricky. If you have color on your roots, it’s a really bad idea to try to lift them with color. You usually have to strip the color first or bleach it. Otherwise, it’s like trying to use a yellow marker over a brown marker… it doesn’t lift correctly.

      You can definitely tone down the lighter color… the shade is really up to your preference. If you like ashy colors, Wella T14/T18 are good. You can also go by what shade your highlights are. If they’re more brassy, the ash color would cancel that out… if they’re yellow, you can go with a purple-based toner to cancel it out. It really all depends on what they currently look like and what you want them to look like.

  3. Hi Hollee,

    i want to highlight my hair with a cap. I have LowlighTs so i will be highlighting the growth and any dark hair i pull out. Since i have grey hair i have dyed my roots medium brown (natural hair is Dark brOwn). ShoUld i use 20 vol or 30? Can i used 20 to be on the safe side? When i go to the salon they bleach my hair like three hours.

    • 20V is definitely best for grey coverage, so I’d make sure to use 20v for the base color. However, it might be better to go with 30v to bleach out the highlights since you’ll have to break through the color you already put on your hair. I would imagine that they may be a bit brassy, so I’d look into using a toner… but if you do fine highlights, they should blend perfectly 🙂

    • 20 volume developer is always best for grey coverage. Usually the blue or white depends on the type of bleach you use. Blue-based bleach is best if you hair pulls orange… otherwise, the white is good 🙂

  4. Hi
    I dye my hair darker brown and recently my roots wont take. They are lighter “hot roots” I dont understand why. help!
    I use matrix socolor 3n 1 oz. And 4n 1oz with 20 volume
    How can I fix this

  5. I have 3 bottles of color because I have very thick and long hair but I don’t have enough 30 volume developer left. I need almost 2 more oz. All the supply stores are closed right now so the only way to get developer is to go to Walmart and buy a box of dye but I don’t know what volume the box dyes use. Do any of them use 30? Or would it be ok to add a little water ? I already lifted my hair with bleach but now I am going to darken it and tone it down just a bit to a very light champagne blonde. The number code on it is a 40D if that helps.

    • I think most box colors use 20v but it could vary from color to color. The best bet would be to contact the manufacturer and ask them. Adding water would dilute the developer, which will make it less powerful (I’ve never done this though, so I can’t give any advice on how to do it). However, if you are trying to go darker, you’d probably be better off with a 10V or 20V anyways, which will deposit color into your hair. 30V is made to lift, not deposit.

      Hope that helps!

    • Hi Karry! Great question! There really isn’t a way to remove bleach… it doesn’t really stay in your hair, just removes the color molecules and washes out. You can definitely color over it, but you’ll want to look up how to put the color molecules back in your hair before coloring it. This is called a “color filler”… I don’t really have a quick article about doing a filler yet, but I go over it in my definitive guide to DIY hair color. Hope that helps!


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