Introduction
800 words 4 minutes
Disposable razor

Razor blades can cost a fortune. Stop being fleeced and make them last longer with these handy tips.

Overview

History

People used to shave using single-edge straight razors … you know, the cutthroat razors that strike fear into the boldest of men.

You couldn’t replace these blades so the owner would keep the blade sharp by stropping and honing.

Eventually, the double-edge safety razor was invented. It had replaceable blades and manufacturers would sell the razor handles cheaply and make lots of money selling the blades. Eventually the patents on the blades expired and many manufacturers could make blades. The price of double-edged blades now is very cheap at a few cents a blade.

cartridge razor and blades
Cartridge razor

Cartridge razor and blades

But this isn’t going to make a razor manufacturer much money. Disposable razors came to market but they weren’t of very good quality. Why would you make something that you’ll throw away to a high standard?

Cartridge razors were created to fill the gap between safety razors and disposables. The heads could be discarded and quickly changed out for a new head. They are designed in a way to ensure you are tied to the brand (and model) of razor, a practice called vendor lock-in; you can’t use another vendors blades on your cartridge razor. This creates a mini-monopoly that is a goldmine for the razor manufacturers.

To increase profits, lower quality steel is used in cartridge razors and after just a few short shaves, the blades are dull and grabby. You’re captured, stuck on a treadmill and getting poorer with every step.

Why do they go blunt?

The main reasons blades go blunt is corrosion. You may not see the corrosion (like you see rust on other surfaces) but the it’s there.

The edge of a blade is very thin and a small amount of corrosion can cause profound blunting of the edge.

The main culprit is moisture. We use a blade in wet conditions and we store it in a room that is constantly being filled with humid air from the bath and shower. It’s the perfect environment for corrosion to occur.

Also, our skin has salt on it, which is transferred to the blade when shaving, adding to the corrosive environment on the blade.

Apart from corrosion, the blade will become dull with use. Nothing lasts forever. Fortunately there are techniques to help keep blade dulling to a minimum.

Solutions

Keeping the blade clean

Wash your face and beard before shaving. This will ensure minimal amounts of salt and grit come into contact with the blade.

The salt will aid in corroding the edge. The grit will dull the blade. Clean face = longer lasting blades.

You can clean the blade after use, by swabbing it with cotton balls or scrubbing it with an old toothbrush.

Keeping the blade dry

Corrosion needs moisture. Dry your blade after use by using a towel, paper towel or even a hairdryer to remove excess moisture. If you are extremely lazy, at least shake your razor a few times before setting it down.

A thin layer of oil can be carefully applied to the blade to seal it against moisture. A glass or dish with a thin layer of machine oil can be kept in the bathroom and the razor stored head-first in the oil.

An alternative solution is to dry the blade and rinse it with rubbing alcohol. The alcohol envelops any remaining moisture and quickly evaporates, leaving a dry surface.

If it’s not too inconvenient, store your razor in a dry place (i.e. out of the bathroom). Some people keep their razors in the freezer!

Sharpening the blade

You can reinvigorate a dull blade by rubbing it against a surface in the opposite direction to shaving. Technically, this is called stropping and not sharpening.

Denim is a really good material for this. Place the face of the blade on your old jeans and push it in the opposite direction that you would use for shaving. Yes, like backwards shaving. The blade will have its edge realigned by this motion.

If you’re in a pinch and denim isn’t available, you can use your forearm. Make sure you go backwards or you may end up with silky smooth arms.

Unfortunately, this can’t be repeated forever and there comes a point when the blade just won’t take an edge any more.

Change razor types

Another, left-field option is to change from using cartridge razors to double-edge safety razors or even a cutthroat razor.

DE blades are cheap and effective. They give a killer close shave and have an old-world coolness about them.

Single-edge straight razors (cutthroat razors) may be a bit of a leap if you are still using cartridge razors, but you’ll never have to change a blade again.

We have a great article explaining the different types of razors and the pros and cons of each type.