Safety Razor vs Cartridge: Which Razor is the Better Option?

Perhaps one of the most hotly debated topics in the world of shaving – whether to use a safety razor or your trusty Gillette cartridge razor.

For years now big brands like Gillette have dominated the shaving market with smart marketing.

This has resulted in a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow every year.

Another product making a comeback is the safety razor thanks to Vloggers like GeoFatBoy and Nick Shaves who educate their viewers on the right wet shaving techniques.

Despite the resurgent popularity a lot of people still don’t know about this product and its benefits.

What is the Best Safety Razor?

Have a Look At The Merkur 34C

If your choice is a safety razor, get a product like the Merkur 34C. The closed comb design has just the right aggressiveness and weight providing an excellent shave without irritating the skin. Sure you’ll need to learn the proper technique, but it’s worth the time investment to learn the skill of properly using a safety razor. Not only will you get a closer shave, you’ll also spend less in the long haul because doubled edge blades are cheap.

And we’ll talk about all these in this guide.

Now I’m not trying to dissuade you from buying a cartridge razor because I use them on my beard-less mug.

However, years of using them made me realize their deficiencies that I’ll discuss in detail below.

I’ll keep this as subjective as possible and focus on the numbers and science between these two products to give you as much factual information as possible to help you make the best choice for your needs.

Breaking down the basics of a safety razor vs. cartridge (plus a little history lesson)

To help educate you about the differences between these two, let’s first look at product design.

Cartridge razor is a shaver that uses two or more blades (up to six!). These products use cartridges that house the blades. Once dull or clogged, you throw it away.

What is the Best Cartridge Razor?

The Gillette MACH 3 Should Be On Top Of Your List

Men look at a cartridge razor should put the Gillette MACH 3 at the top of their list. This cartridge razor is a great option because it has only three blades. There is a bigger cap in between the blades that makes it easier to rinse off gunk and hair and prevent it from accumulating and clogging blades. It’s a great option if you want something that will be less irritating to your sensitive skin plus the refill are cheaper than the Fusion ProGlide which is always a good thing.

The photo below is a closeup of the Gillette Mach 3 and Fusion.

Most brands have a reusable handle where you slot in a fresh cartridge.

These products have been in the market for decades and the default choice of any man (or woman) when they hit puberty.

Now let’s look the safety razor, also called a double-edged razor (or DE in wet shaving circles). These shaving tools have actually been in a market for a longer time.

In fact, before Gillette shifted their focus on cartridges, they were actually the first to introduce it to the market when King Camp Gillette patented the world’s first doubled edged razor in 1901 to meet the demand of men looking for a safer option than a cut-throat razor.

And despite the odds, he and his business partner W.E. Nickerson were able to create the machinery needed to mass produce the first disposable blade.

This invention made Gillette a millionaire in just a few years after.

Gillette was able to thrive as an independent company for over a century before Procter and Gamble purchased it in 2005.

A safety razor made from various types of metal (stainless steel, brass, etc.) that houses a single double-edged blade. The innovative design makes it easy to replace the blade once it dulls.

Shave Quality – Are Five Blades Better Than One?

Watch any Gillette commercial, and you’ll notice one thing –they that 5 blades are actually better than one.

Most of these adverts say the same thing.

The first blade pulls the hair for the second blade to cut and so on. By the time the fifth blade comes, your face will be as smooth as a baby’s skin.

Here’s a microscope shot of a Gillette 5 blade razor shaving facial hair.

But scientific research has proven otherwise. Based on a study done by Donald Reim and Martin Reiger that they call the “Observations on the Cutting of Beard Hair” there is actually no hair pulling or bending when you slice facial hair with a sharp razor.

This study alone demystifies the claims of these large razor manufacturers that more blades are better.

More blades = more irritation

The more blades exposed to your skin, the more irritation you will get. Look at it this way, a single pass from a 5-blade cartridge is the same as 5 passes from a single blade safety razor.

Let me ask you a question, did you ever get a close baby butt smooth shave with a single pass on a cartridge? 9 times out of 10, I bet your answer would be a big no.

Quality of blades

One more thing that separates safety razors from cartridges is the quality of steel. I don’t hear manufacturers telling consumers the type of steel used in their products.

Even if these products use some sort of coating to protect blades from corrosion and make it smoother, more often than not disposable cartridges use inferior quality steel.

The reason is simple – using cheaper steel make it more affordable to mass produce and keep prices down. Double edged blades, on the other hand, use surgical quality stainless or carbon steel that resist corrosion better.

These blades are also sharper and have sharper edges that resist dulling longer. The beauty of a safety razor is you can pick and choose a blade that will suit your skin type the best in terms of sharpness and smoothness.

Shave Angle

Cartridge razors allow you to shave at different angles because of the play on the shaving head. This play allows some leeway in terms of not having to have a fixed angle when shaving.

It’s also this feature that makes a cartridge razor almost idiot proof.

A safety razor, on the other hand, has a fixed solid shaving head. This forces you to hold it at a fixed angle which is around 30 degrees.

Granted that lack of a learning curve is what makes a cartridge razor so popular when you compare it to a DE razor that forces you to lock your wrists to maintain that 30-degree angle.

In a way mastering, that skill would be a step closer in giving you a world-class shave without having to pay a lot of money for it in a barbershop.

The size difference of a safety razor vs. cartridge

Just to give you an idea of the size difference, check the image below.

On the left is the Merkur Classic Two-Piece razor (or the MK-34C) and on the right is the Gillette Fusion ProGlide cartridge razor.

Obviously, the Gillette Fusion is almost twice as long as the Merkur 34C. Merkur does have a version with a longer handle they call the Merkur 38C that has a longer handle and the barber pole knurling.

Having a longer handle gives better control if you have bigger hands.

It’s actually a preference thing, some men would prefer a razor with a short handle as it gives them more grip options. Others would want something with more length.

Material

The handle of the Gillette you see in the photos above is plastic with chrome coating and plastic for grip. One disadvantage of a plastic razor is durability.

The chrome finish will corrode if you don’t wipe it down after every use and chances are, you won’t be wiping it down.

It’s also light, so the tendency is to put more weight than what’s needed when shaving. Doing this will lead to irritation.

Most good quality safety razors have a metal frame. Some use nickel, more premium brands use stainless steel.

Buying a stainless steel safety razor would be more expensive, but it’ll be more resistant to corrosion – just don’t soak it in chlorine.

Metal is more durable than plastic and has good weight and balance compared to a cartridge razor.

Which is easier to clean?

One of the significant advantages of a safety razor is how easy it is to clean the blade.

Since you’re only dealing with a single blade, cleaning is as simple as disassembling the razor, removing the blade and disinfecting it with alcohol then storing it.

Cleaning a cartridge razor head is almost impossible. The gap between blades is so narrow that cleaning it will take too much time.

What most men would do is tap the head over a hard surface like a sink to remove any loose gunk, but that isn’t enough.

However, doing this isn’t advisable according to Dr. Kristina Vanoosthuyze who works for the Gillette Shaving Technology department.

Doing so can misalign the blades that have been aligned at a specific angle for the best shave possible.

See what I mean?

You will never totally clean a disposable no matter how hard you try.

And what happens when you introduce a dirty razor on your skin with pores wide open?

You can get irritation and possibly infection if you’re shaving over an open wound.

Based on my experience, a three blade razor like the Mach 3, is easier to clean because the gap between the blades is larger.

You don’t need to tap it on the sink, rinsing it under the faucet will dislodge gunk and hair.

This technique applies to me because I only shave my mustache and chin area, if you have more facial hair, it may not work.

Operating costs

A quick search on Amazon reveals that a Gillette cartridge razor will cost between $6 and $14 depending on the variant and number of blades which is pretty cheap.

On the other hand, a high-quality safety razor like a Merkur 34C or an Edwin Jagger DE89 will cost upwards of $30.

For an average Joe who doesn’t know squat about wet shaving, the choice is obvious. But don’t let the low upfront cost fool you. Adding up the cost of cartridges can run into four figures throughout 70 years.

And men are starting to take notice. Recently Razorpedia did a survey, and 50% of the 186 respondents say that the biggest reason why they are switching to safety or straight razors is cost.

Let’s do the math, assuming that you shave once a day for the next 70 years the price difference between a disposable, cartridge and a safety razor would be staggering.

Now I didn’t go through all that trouble doing the math because somebody already did.

Remember that the computation does not account for the cost of shaving creams, pre-shave oil, shaving soaps, aftershaves or any of the miscellaneous items that traditional wet shavers use. We’re strictly talking about the cost of replacement blades.

Topping the list would be a BIC disposable with a staggering $7,777 (or $0.30/shave) over 70 years followed closely by the Gillette Fusion ProGlide at $6,863 ($0.27/shave).

Dorco placed third at $2,752 ($0.11/shave).

The running cost of DE blades is around a thousand dollars cheaper than a Dorco, and the cost per shave goes all the way down to 0.07.

Remember these figures are fluid and there are other factors to consider. But this is a good baseline of what to expect in terms of expenses over your lifetime on a piece of metal that will keep your face stubble free.

Waste

Around 2 billion disposable razors end up in a dumpsite annually according to a report by the EPA.

DE blades can be recycled, but that would depend on how your local recycling plant is set up. The biggest issue would be properly disposing of these tiny sharp metal objects in a way that wouldn’t harm plant workers.

This is one of the cheapest and most creative ways I found online where you can dispose of your used blades.

If reducing your carbon footprint is a concern for you then the choice is obvious. Even though companies like BIC have developed a program that allows their customers to send back used razors to recycle. These products tend to be more expensive.

Should I buy a cartridge razor?

The only reason why you should buy a cartridge razor is convenience. Between the two, this razor is the easier one to use

The pivoting head makes it almost idiot proof. Thanks to clever marketing by companies, these razors are now the default choice of most individuals entering puberty and grown men.

However, using a multi-blade razor does have its risks such as irritation and ingrown hair.

To minimize these risk factors, you’ll have to use good shaving cream to add that layer of protection on the skin.

One of my favorites is the Cremo Cream latherless shave cream. You can actually use it without any shaving brush which saves a bit of time.

It is water activated so if you need more lubrication just add a few drops of water to keep the slickness.

With that said here are some reasons to buy a cartridge razor:

  • Convenience and availability: Cartridge razors are easier to use and available in just about every pharmacy. Buying one wouldn’t be difficult.
  • Need something to use on a business trip: Chances are you won’t be able to put a metal safety razor in your carryon luggage with the strict TSA regulations. An alternative would be using a cartridge razor.
  • Shallow learning curve: There isn’t a lot of skill required to use a cartridge razor. The pivoting head makes it quite forgiving.

Should you decide to go to the cartridge route, a few recommendations would be:

If you’re a Gillette fan, you definitely have to go with the Mach 3 Turbo.

Should I buy a safety razor?

A safety razor is a big step up over a cartridge razor in terms of shave quality and cost savings.

Purchasing a pack of refills will cost between $10 and $40 depending on brand and quantity.

As you’ve seen in the infographic above, the cost does add up over time!

Using a safety razor will save you thousands of dollars because the cost of double-edged blades is cheaper than a refill.

One thing holding back men from making the switch is the fear factor.

It does take some skill using a safety razor because of the fixed head and a sharp blade.

But once you hone that skill, the results are worth it! You don’t need to go to a barber just to experience a world-class shave.

You can have one in the comfort of your own home!

Let’s summarize the reasons to buy a safety razor:

  • Getting a close shave: Even with just a single blade, you can get a close shave. Wet shavers call this progressive shaving were you shave with the grain, across the grain and against the grain in separate passes. This technique is a lot of nuances, so please read the wet shaving guide for more info.
  • Cost savings: A good quality safety razor blade will cost around five cents. Compare that to a cartridge refill that can cost more than a buck.
  • Interchangeable blades: The beauty of using a safety razor is the ability to interchange blades. You have lots of options depending on your preference and facial hair type.

If you’ve decided to go to the safety razor route here are some recommendations:

The verdict

Based on research, cost and overall shave quality that it brings to the table, a safety razor wins hands down.

Don’t believe the marketing hype that having more blades will give you a better shave because it simply does not. The narrow gap between the blades of these cartridges clog up these razors quickly even after just a few uses.

Then there’s the cost, the cost of cartridge refills can add up rather quickly. And based on the infographic I shared, you can literally save thousands of dollars by switching to a safety razor.

The downside of a safety razor would be the learning curve involved. Another would be the time it takes to do a proper 2 or 3 pass shave – at least 10 minutes! But getting a world-class shave does take time!

The only reason I could think about where I would recommend a cartridge would be convenience and ease of use. These products are widely available in just about every pharmacy or supermarket you go to.

Out of the box, these products are almost idiot proof because of the pivoting head. You don’t need to worry about proper angle or grip which perhaps is its most significant advantage.

Also, these tools are probably the best option for you if you want to shave your privates, legs or even your head because shaving with a DE razor is all about angles and using the wrong technique could result in a bloody error.

But for the best results and the best bang for your buck, safety razors are the way to go. You’ll have to invest time learning the proper technique.

Lastly, if you want to know more about different types of razors, check out this article from ties.com to know more.

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