The Razor Experiment: Smart Tactics for Razor Blades

safetyI’ve been clean shaven for almost my entire adult life (aside from a disastrous beard experiment in college). Over those years, I’ve tried a number of different solutions for keeping a clean shave and, over the last several years, I’ve focused on ways to keep my face cleared without breaking the bank.

These experiments have taught me several things about getting a great shave at a very low price. Here’s what I’ve learned.

A Safety Razor Is the Cheapest Option

In terms of inexpensive shaving, there really isn’t any comparison that I’ve found (aside from straight razor shaving, which I’ll be skipping on because the idea of holding a gigantic blade like that next to my neck doesn’t sound appealing in the least) that holds up to the cost-per-shave of a safety razor.

For me, a safety razor took some getting used to. They cut extremely close to the skin, which means you get a great shave, but it also means some nicks and cuts, especially at first if you’re transitioning from a safety razor. It can also mean your skin gets irritated at first, though it will get used to it pretty quickly.

The initial investment in a safety razor – assuming you can’t find one at a yard sale – can be expensive. A good safety razor, like the Merkur long-handled model, can cost you $30.

However, the blades are incredibly inexpensive, diving well under a dime per blade. These blades are double-edged, which means you can use each side for shaving, getting double use out of the blade.

As we’ll see, you can get much, much more than that out of a single blade.

A Bag of Cheap Disposables Is Also a Bargain

A jumbo package of disposable razors is also an inexpensive option. For example, this package of Dynarex razors has a cost of $0.09 per razor, which is incredibly cheap.

Pricewise, cheap disposable razors can be competitive with the cost of just buying the razor blades with a safety razor. They’re not double-sided, which means you’re not going to get quite as much use out of these, but they don’t require the initial investment in the safety razor.

If you’re going to try out some of the techniques below, this is a good place to start.

What Isn’t a Bargain? Cartridge Razors and Electric Razors

A good electric razor is a significant investment, although they become a much better value if received as a gift. The only cost here is recharging, which is minimal (perhaps a cent of electricity per charge), and for replacement blades, which are expensive but very irregular. If you receive a high quality electric razor as a gift, it’s well worth using, but buying one for yourself isn’t a great investment.

Cartridge razors (here’s an example) are just expensive. The cartridges can be as much as a dollar apiece (or even more) and last about as long as a cheap disposable razor. The only advantage they have is that they’re pretty much foolproof; it’s pretty hard to get a bad shave or to cut yourself very much with a cartridge razor.

Both of these have one thing in common – you’re paying for convenience. With the electric razor, you can shave pretty much anywhere. With the cartridge razor, you can shave as lazily as possible and still get a decent shave without really trying.

On the other hand, with a safety razor or a disposable razor, you have to pay attention to what you’re doing, especially the first several times you use them. Once you get past that “learning bump,” however, safety razors and disposable razors are really easy to use.

Extending the Life of a Blade

So, let’s get down to business. How do we extend the life of the blades? Here are the techniques I’ve figured out that work – and a few things that backfire badly.

All of these techniques work well for safety razors, disposable razors, and cartridge razors, but they don’t really apply to electric ones.

A Razor Blade Sharpener Extends the Life of Each Blade

As I noted a little more than a year ago, I’ve been using a RazorPit razor blade sharpener to sharpen my razors. Here’s what I wrote about it back then:

For the last several months, I’ve been using the Razorpit razor blade sharpener on a regular basis and you can’t even tell I’ve used the sharpener at all. At about every fourth shave, I put just a bit of soap on the Razorpit, run my razor blade on it a few times, and it’s pretty much like new. I’ve increased the use of each razor I use by about five times because of this thing.

Let’s say a new disposable razor blade costs me $0.50. They’re going to vary a lot, of course, depending on what exactly you’re getting, but we’ll use $0.50 as a baseline. Let’s assume that I shave every day and that the razor is getting rough after five normal shaves. That means, over the course of a year, I’m running through 73 blades, costing me a total of $36.50.

Now, if I run a blade on this thing every fourth or fifth shave, I can now get 25 uses out of a single blade. That means, over the course of a year, I’m running through about fifteen blades, costing me a total of $7.50. That’s a savings of $29 over the course of a year. I’ve been using the sharpener for several months and it’s basically identical to when it was new, so wearing out the sharpener isn’t a significant issue.

In this example, I was using a cartridge razor for comparison’s sake, which is where the $0.50 per blade cost came from.

Most of the ideas I put forth there are still quite true. I’ve found that doing it every other time tends to work better rather than using it every fourth time. I usually just use a bit of lather from my shower to sharpen the blade using the RazorPit as I tend to shave in the shower.

Using just the RazorPit, I was able to have periods where I was able to use a single blade daily for a month, but over time, they just became unusable just like other blades do. That’s when I discovered the other part of the equation.

A Quick Drying Routine Helps Even More

As I mentioned above, I tend to shave in the shower, as I can just use my soap lather and the running shower water for a rinse. It works really well and makes shaving pretty efficient, both in terms of time and cost. I haven’t used shaving cream in a very long time.

However, part of the equation when shaving in the shower is that your razor gets wet, on both the blade and the body. It turns out that this wetness was my big enemy when it comes to the life of my razor.

Adding a simple change to my routine helped a lot. Whenever I finished my shower, just before I dried off, I’d take the blade and pat it on my towel before drying off in order to get rid of any moisture.

It turns out that the moisture is very damaging to the blades and is the biggest reason why blades degrade (besides the wear of the cutting). So, now, after each shower, I take two seconds to pat my razor dry so that there’s no water sitting on it.

Using that technique in addition to the sharpening has allowed me to use the same razor (with virtually daily use) for almost six months straight. It still cuts like crazy; I’m just not throwing it away after a few uses. That’s money right in my pocket.

Never, Ever Leave Your Blade Sitting in a Wet Place

Obviously, the drying routine only helps if you leave your razor in a dry place afterwards. Don’t leave it in the shower if you can avoid it. If you can’t, absolutely don’t leave it in a place where water can collect.

I usually take my razor out of the shower with me, but sometimes I forget. If I forget to do it, I usually sharpen it immediately with the RazorPit at the start of my next shower. If I don’t do that, it’s likely that the shave is going to be rougher than I’d like.

The Best Cheap Solution

Here’s my recommended shaving routine if you want to minimize your cost per shave.

Use either a safety razor or a cheap disposable razor for your shaving purchases. In either case, buy the razor blades or the cheap razors in bulk. After each shave, pat your entire razor dry, particularly the blade. After every other shave or so, use a blade sharpener to touch up the blade a little bit. Keep the razor in a dry place when you’re not using it; if it isn’t dry, use the sharpener right before you shave again.

As I said earlier, I shave daily and this basically describes my routine. Once upon a time, I used a cartridge razor that I would toss after a second shave, costing me about $0.50 per shave for the razor. Using this routine, the cost per shave is far below $0.01 per shave for the razor. I do this every day, the changes add maybe five seconds to my shaving routine, and I’m saving $0.50 each time.

No matter how you currently shave, there’s probably an element or two you can pull out of this routine to help you get a longer life out of your blades or reduce the cost of your blades. You don’t have to adopt the full system – just pull out the pieces that work for you. If it reduces your cost per shave even a little, you’re going to end up saving quite a lot over time.