Shave With a Double-Edged Razor

Savings from a little thing, done repeatedly,  can add up to a large total over time.

Take shaving:  Most men shave at least 4 times a week, many every day.  Look at the money a man allocates to the daily shave and consider how it adds up over the course of decades.  Shaving is a big deal.  If you can adjust your shaving habits a bit and spend a little less, the savings can be significant.

How much can you save if you change the way you shave? It might not sound like much, but, like I said, a little each day, each week, … adds up to quite a lot considering the number of times you’re going to shave over the rest of your life.  Why give more of your $$$ to the shaving industrial complex than is necessary?

First, let’s define some terms we’ll be using.

It’s the razor that holds the blade.

Razor.  The device you hold in your hand that holds the blades that cut your whiskers.  Don’t confuse “razor” and “blade”.

Double-edged razor.  A type of safety razor that takes double-edged blades.  Double-edged razors were the way that most men shaved during most of the twentieth century.  Safety razors are so called because the blade is partially covered, making them safer to use than the straight razor used in the 1800s and earlier.

Double-edged razor blades.  The blades, with a sharp edge on two sides, that go into the double-edged razor.  (There is also a type of blade that is sharp on only one edge that is used with a different kind of safety razor.)

Multi-blade razor.  A razor that uses 2, 3, 4 or ??? blades.  These started becoming popular in the 1970s.  Some are cartridge razors, which use blades that come in a plastic cartridge, others are disposable razors.  These razors can also be classified as safety razors because the blades are partially recessed under a cover.

My Shaving Odyssey

After shaving for more than 30 years with cartridge razors — the Trac II, Mach3, Fusion, and other similar 2-blade and 3-blade contraptions that were becoming popular when I started shaving in the 1970s — I somehow got interested in shaving with a double-edged (DE) safety razor. (Maybe it was those ads on TV with Rick Harrison, the pawn shop guy.)

If you were born after the early 1970s, you might have never seen anyone shave with a double-edged razor.  I can remember my Dad using one when I was young, before he, along with most American men, switched to cartridge razors.  I did some research and found lots of websites where enthusiasts share information.  That got me interested.  I bought a razor and started shaving with it a couple years ago.

The truth is:  You don’t need 2, 3, 4, or 5 blades on one razor to shave your face.  That’s just advertising and marketing.  You don’t need to throw away a handful of plastic every month.  You don’t need to spend $5 to $10 per month on blades.  Look what’s happened:  Big razor company wants to make more money by selling patented razors that take only one kind of blade cartridges — the kind they make.  The company gets you started with their razor for which they are the only supplier of blades, the monopoly supplier.  And they get to charge you monopoly prices.  Of course, if you know any economics, then you know that those prices are going to be as high as possible.  Much higher than the prices in a competitive free market.

DE safety razors are a more economical and enjoyable way to shave.

A DE safety razor (remember, that’s the handle and mechanism that holds the blade) is made of metal.  It’s solid.  It’s heavy.  Not a piece of plastic.  A good DE safety razor, costing $25 to $50, will last a lifetime with normal use and basic care.  In fact, a good razor might last more than a lifetime.  You can use your father’s or grandfather’s if you can obtain it.  The DE razor I use most of the time belonged to my grandfather.  He probably bought it before the 1970s.  You can buy vintage DE razors on eBay.  Sterilize them with alcohol before you use them.

I will admit that using a safety razor requires developing a new set of skills.  That takes several days.  You don’t handle a DE razor the way you handle a cartridge razor.  There are lots of helpful websites and videos.  Study a few before you try a safety razor.  Now that I have learned, I am able to get a better, smoother, closer, and more enjoyable shave with a safety razor than I ever had with cartridge razors.  Yes, as weird as it may sound, it’s actually enjoyable to shave with a DE safety razor.

There are some other advantages to using DE razors.

Safety razor blades are more sanitary than cartridge blades.  And when you’re pulling a piece of sharpened steel across your skin, you want it to be clean!, don’t you?  The DE safety razor can be opened and cleaned with running water.  Compare that with cartridge razors; they’re difficult to clean and get gummed up with shave cream, whiskers, bits of exfoliated skin and whatnot.  Did you ever look closely at one after you’ve used it for a several days?  No matter how you rinse them, you can’t get them clean.  There they sit in your bathroom, damp and gunked up with scum: the perfect breeding ground for germs, bacteria and who knows what.  Multi-blade cartridge razors are more likely to irritate your face and leave you with razor bumps (ingrown hairs), irritation, and infections.

Safety razors better for the environment.  All I dispose of each week is small piece of steel (the blade itself) and a bit of paper (that the blade comes wrapped in).  All of that can be recycled.  Multi-blade cartridges consist of steel blades encased in plastic.  They can’t easily be taken apart, so they can’t easily be recycled.

[Note: I actually don’t throw the blades in the trash. That might be dangerous. I put them into a “blade bank” that I made from an empty chicken broth can.  I took a can of broth, cut a slit in the top (just big enough for a blade to slide thru), drained the broth into a pot of french onion soup I was making, and then rinsed the can a few times.  I put my used blades thru the slot into the can.  It will take years before the can is full.  Then I will put it into the recycling.  Fun fact: Bathroom medicine cabinets in older homes have small slots that allow used blades to be deposited between the walls of the house itself.  They accumulate there never to be seen, unless the house is torn down.]

But here’s the real deal:  It’s less expensive to use the double-edged blades and razor system.

DE blades are a commodity.  Many companies, located in many countries, make dozens of brands of blades, and they are all the same standard size.  Thus, any DE blade will fit in any DE razor.  Free market competition at its best.  If you buy them in bulk, enough blades for a year will cost less than $25.  I use one blade a week, and am currently working my way thru a pack of 100 that I bought from a big online retailer for about $17.00.  That’s 45 cents per blade … 45 cents per week!  Compare that to the cost of new cartridges for a plastic multi-blade razor.

How much can you save if you change the way you shave?  It might not sound like much, but a little each day, each week, … adds up to quite a lot considering the number of days you’re going to shave over the rest of your life.  Like I said: Why give more $$$ to the razor companies than you need to?

Like a lot of things, it takes some upfront cost to get started.  Spend a little more now, save a lot over the years to come.  The cartridge razor companies know this; that’s why they are careful to price their introductory package lower than the cost of a safety razor.  Once you’re using their system and have to buy their blade cartridges, … that’s where they make their profits.

Let’s compare.

Cartridge Razor

$31 for the plastic razor and 4 blade cartridges. Each cartridge lasts a month, according to the manufacturer.  (I doubt that, but we’ll take it as a given.)

After that, you buy 12-pack of cartridges for about $35 every year.

Total cost after 64 weeks (to use up the 4 cartridges that came with the razor and the 12-pack): about $65, which is about $1 per week.

Double-Edged Razor

This is a bit more complicated because you have a large choice of razors and blades. You will want to experiment with some different blades to see which one gives you the best shave. But you want to wait until you know what you’re doing, until you’ve learned the safety-razor basic technique, before you start experimenting with different blades.

Let’s say about $30 for a decent double-edged safety razor.

Buy a 100-pack of your favorite blades for $20 every year, assuming you use 2 blades per week.  (This price varies a bit, depending which brand you like, there are some blades that cost less).

Total cost after 50 weeks: about $45, which is about 90¢ per week.  To go 64 weeks (matching the cartridge razor example above) would cost about $58.

Continuing Savings with Continuing Shavings

In the second year, the multi-blade cartridges will be another $34.

Another pack of 100 DE blades, only $15.

And so the savings accumulate

Your metal safety razor should last for many years.  (And your plastic cartridge razor … do you think it will last decades?)

The longer you use your safety razor, the more you save.  Remember, the Gillette razor I currently use is as old or maybe older than I am — it belonged to my grandfather!

Furthermore, I find that I use DE blades at a slower rate than 2 per week.  And as I’ve already mentioned, I doubt that any plastic multi-blade cartridge will last an entire month.  If you use 2 cartridges per month, then your annual cost will be close to $70.

More Savings with Shaving Soap

Williams is an average quality shave soap at a modest price.

You can save even more by using shaving soap and a brush instead of canned shaving cream.  Shaving soap is usually sold in round pucks that fit into a bowl (or a cup, mug, or scuttle) that holds the soap so you can use a wet brush to whip up a good lather.

You don’t really need a special bowl or mug to put the soap in, thought one is nice to have.  To get started, you can use a bowl or mug from your kitchen.  I recommend something non-breakable: plastic, rubber, stainless steel, or wood.  (Some shaving soaps come packaged in a bowl, which you can save and re-use)

Arko (from Turkey) is quite good and a bargain.

Shaving soap also comes in sticks that you rub onto your face much the same way you apply stick deodorant, then you use a wet brush to whip up the lather right on your face.  Or you can smash the stick into your bowl.  Generally the pucks are larger than the sticks, by weight.  A puck of shaving soap costs more than a can of shaving cream, but it lasts far longer — so shaving soap is less expensive on a per-shave basis.

Proraso (from Italy) is higher quality and a bit more expensive, but still a good value.

Some luxury brands of shaving soap cost much more, so they might be good to receive as gifts (hint, hint).  Even modestly-priced shaving soap gives a better shaving experience than foam from a can.  It does take a little longer and requires handling a brush and bowl (getting them out, rising the brush, putting them away), but many men swear by it.

As with the razor and blades, some up front costs must be borne before the savings can be realized.  You definitely need a brush.  You can’t make lather with your hands.  Shaving brushes start at about $15.  Some are much more.  Some brushes are made with natural animal hair.  Badger and boar are commonly used.  Some brushes are made with synthetic bristles.  You should also get a stand that holds the brush, bristles down, and allows it to dry between uses.

My Advice

If you’re considering switching to a safety razor, here’s some advice.  Get yourself a safety razor and learn to use it.  If it comes with 5 or 10 blades, use those and learn the skills so that you can shave without getting any cuts or nicks.  Then, before you buy a box of 50 or 100 blades … get a blade sampler pack.  Most men find that some blades work better than others.  There is no one blade that works well for everyone.  It depends on your beard, your face, your technique, and your razor (different razors hold blades differently: slightly different angles, different amounts of blade exposure, etc.)  You’ll want to find which blade works best before you buy in bulk.

I shave right after I shower and wash my face. Gotta get the whiskers wet and well hydrated.  I use either shave cream from a tube, rubbed on with my fingers (no brush) or I do the whole shaving soap, bowl, and brush ritual.  (You get a lot more shaves from a tube of shave cream than from a can of foam.  Shaving soap is even more economical.)  After I get my face lathered, I rinse the brush and set it aside; this gives the lather a bit more time to soften my whiskers.  I adjust the shower to just a trickle; I can save water while I shave.  Then I shave with my safety razor!  It feels great.  I’ll never go back to cartridge razors.

So …

Do yourself a favor: Make the investment in a basic DE safety razor.

One Last Tip

It’s a good idea for your razor, blade, and brush to dry completely between uses.  Because I share a bathroom with other people who take long showers, I store my shaving equipment in my bedroom where the air is drier.  I also usually rinse my razor and blade by dripping rubbing alcohol over them to displace any water and sterilize everything before I put it away.

Here’s a video from “The Art of Manliness”,


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