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How to Dilute Developer? Process to Dilute 40/30/20 Volume Developers

aida turner

Published by Aida Turner

Fact checked by Annie

Coloring your hair is a complex process and involves not only deciding the shade but also choosing the right hair developer – one that suits your needs.

But what is a developer? Do we really need it?

The developer is basically a product containing hydrogen peroxide(1). If you buy a do-it-yourself box dye, you get two bottles – one is a developer which has a creamy base and the other is the hair color.

Often using the hair dye alone will not give any long-lasting color. This is where the developer comes in. 

Also known as activators, it is used to open up your hair cuticles so that the color deposit on your hair shaft is permanent. It is often mixed with bleach or hair color to either lighten or permanently color the hair.

Hair color and developer
Hair color and developer (Source: wikihow)

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Why dilute the developer?

Developers have different levels which indicates their strength or how much hydrogen peroxide it contains. Higher numbers will allow you to “lift” your hair color more. 

But what does “lifting your hair color” mean? 

Hair colors are classified by the levels system. Level 1 means Black and level 10 indicates the lightest of shades which is light blonde. 

Color shades

The more you lift your hair, the more you are lightening the shade. This is why a higher volume developer may be required in such cases.

Before and after using developer to lighten hair
Before and after using developer to lighten hair (Source:d3ewrnwdcmri66.cloudfront)

Now you must be wondering if you can buy developers of different strengths, why bother diluting them at all? Well, it’s more for flexibility and convenience.

You can dilute a higher-level developer to a lower level but not vice versa. 

This means that buying a 40 volume developer is sufficient to get the effects of a 40, 30 20, or 10 volume developer.

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Diluting a Developer: The Proportion

40 volume developer to 30

The best way to dilute a 40 volume developer is by using water (even tap water works) but in the right proportion. 

To get a 30 volume developer, combine 3 parts of 40 volume developer with 1 part of water – in a 3:1 ratio 

40 volume developer to 20

Combine 1 part of 40 volume developer with 1 part of water to get a 20 volume one. The ratio followed is 1:1.

We are basically diluting half part 40 volume developer with half part water to get a 20 volume developer.

40 volume developer to 10

To get a 10 volume developer from a 40 volume one, we need to significantly dilute the 40 volume developer.

The ratio followed here is 1:3 – that is mixing one part of water with 3 parts of 40 volume developer.

30 volume developer to 20

The ratio for getting a 20 volume developer from a 30 volume one is 2:1. This means mix 2 parts of 30 volume developer with 1 part water.

30 volume developer to 10

Mix 1 part of 30 volume developer with 2 parts water to get the 10 volume developer from a 30 volume one.

The ratio is 1:2.

It is recommended to use the 30 volume developer only if you have a dark hair tone. In case, you have previously bleached or your hair is relatively brittle, it is best to use a low-volume developer. 

20 volume developer to 10

To dilute a 20 volume developer to 10, follow a ratio similar to the above ones. Combine 1 part of 20 volume developers with one part water. The ratio is 1:1.

This means mixing equal parts of a 20 volume developer with equal parts of water will give you a 10 volume one.

Which Developer Volume is Right for You?

10-volume developer

A 10 volume developer contains only 3% hydrogen peroxide. It does not lift your base hair color and only works if you want to darken your hair.

You can’t remove your hair color with this strength as it is considered the weakest amongst all the developers. 

However, it is ideal for those who have fine or thin hair. It is used to add a shine or tint to the hair.

If you don’t have a lot of grey hair, using a 10 volume developer will make them look like highlights. A good way to cover those grey hair without damaging them

20-volume developer

Containing 6% peroxide, this developer is stronger than 10 and can lift your hair by max two levels.

This is a popular developer as it contains enough amount of hydrogen peroxide and can be used to cover all your grey hair.

It is ideally suited for a thicker, stronger hair as this developer is harsher compared to the 10 volume one.

Check out: How Much 20 Volume Developer to Mix with Hair Color?

30-volume developer

If you want to lighten hair by 2 or 3 levels, a 30 volume developer is the right choice. It contains 9% hydrogen peroxide and if you find that your hair is coarse or more resistant to hair color, this would be the developer to use.

Using this on fine hair might cause some damage as this is a much stronger developer.

40-volume developer

An extremely strong developer, it contains 12% of hydrogen peroxide and hence can only be used for lightening your hair. It can lift your hair color by 4 shades. 

If you have dark hair and want to achieve a very light, platinum color, use bleach mixed with this developer.

However, it is recommended to not use a developer of this strength at home as it can dry and damage your hair. It can even cause burns on sensitive scalps so this developer is not recommended for non-professional use.

DeveloperDesired LiftProcessing Time
Demi-lotionNo lift20 minutes
10 volume (3%)Tone-on-tone30 minutes
20 volume (6%)1 to 2 levels35 minutes
30 volume (9%)2 to 3 levels40 minutes
40 volume (12%)Up to 4 levels50 minutes

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Choosing the developer

Choosing the right developer really depends on the result you want to achieve. If you simply want to dye your hair, using a low-volume developer is sufficient.

However, if you want to lighten your hair or even bleach it, you will need a developer of higher strength.  This is because your natural hair color needs to be removed first before the new shade can be applied.

When choosing the developer, consider the below points:

Hair Quality

If you frequently change hair colors or have porous hair, low-volume developers are better to use as they won’t cause too much damage.

Normal hair or those resistant to colors would need to go for higher volume ones depending on other factors such as the shade needed.

Hair Type

If you have fine hair then it is sufficient to use a low-volume developer. This type of hair can be easily darkened or lightened and does not need a high-strength one.

If you have normal hair, the color is absorbed well and you can use a medium strength one. The dilute 20 volume developer is popular in this category and is generally provided with the do-it-yourself home dye kit.

If you have thick hair, it is difficult for the color to penetrate your hair. You will need a high-volume developer to open up the hair cuticle so that the right shade can be achieved.

Whatever your hair type is, it is important to choose a developer that suits your need as well as causing minimal damage to your hair.

See also: How long does hair developer last after opening?

Useful Tips for Buying a Developer 

Whenever possible look for products where the hair dye and developer are sold together.

This means that you will get a developer of the right strength to get the color on the package. But the color may not look the same on your hair so dilute the developer according to your needs.

If you bought only the color tube, get your own developer as per your needs. Try to match the hair color brand and developer so that you don’t have to worry if they will work well together or not.

Finally, remember to get enough developer and hair color according to your hair length. It goes without saying that the longer the hair the more product you need.


It is important to understand that using developers will cause some damage to the hair.

One way to minimize the effects is to always use a low volume developer on the hair rather one of high strength. You can apply a low-volume developer in several rounds with some breaks in between to reduce the chances of damage.

Diluting and getting a developer suited to your needs might seem difficult, but with some care and consideration, it can be done.

Hopefully, this article has given you a better picture of how to achieve this and what are the different ways in which this is possible.

aida turner


Founder & Hair Beauty Specialist

I’m Aida and this is my blog where I write mostly about beauty and make up related stuff, but I like to spice it up a bit with lifestyle and photography posts. Or with whatever that comes to my mind. Hope you will enjoy the reading enough that we will ‘see’ each other more often!