The Secrets to Using A Safety Razor: A Beginner's Guide

A safety razor is, by far, better for your skin, your budget, and the planet — but so many of us are completely daunted by making this one little zero waste swap.

You’ve seen a lot of people making the switch lately, but something is still holding you back. The thing is that the EPA estimates we throw away about 2 billion disposable plastic razors every year (in the US alone.) That’s a lot of unnecessary plastic going to sit in the landfill.

Not to mention that, if you continuously use moderately priced disposable razors with the plastic refill cartridges — you’ll end up spending $6,000 over your lifetime.

We thought that no one should be held back from this plastic-free, money-saving option just because we haven't ever been taught about it! We put together this guide to show you exactly how to buy, use, and maintain a safety razor — so that you can confidently make the zero waste switch.

You’re probably wondering:

All of those questions are answered right here.

So let’s get started.

What is a safety razor?

You’ve seen the pictures on Instagram of those beautiful rose-gold safety razors neatly displayed on someone’s bathtub rim. They look kind of familiar, but until you hold one in your hand, it’s hard to see how it all comes together.

To put it simply, the safety razor came about in the early 1900s. It was invented by the founder of Gillette to replace the straight razor (below).

(Remember the scary blade that Sweeny Todd used to do away with his victims on Fleet Street? Yeah, that’s the straight razor.)

The safety razor pretty much held the shaving market until the early 1970s when disposable plastic razor blade cartridges (and entirely disposable razors from Bic) hit the scene. And now, 50 years later, so many of us are scratching our heads wondering, “How does the safety razor even work??”

The safety razor is cool because one razor is designed to last you your
entire life.

All you have to do is replace the double-edged razor blade every so often (which costs about 15 to 45 cents). The blades are made from steel — and can be infinitely recycled.

(That's the end of the history lesson.)

Safety Razor Designs

One safety razor can last you for the rest of your life. With that in mind — it makes sense to choose wisely! To help you make your choice, we’ve described the different design options, plus their pros and cons, below:

The one-piece or “butterfly” — The butterfly safety razor is all one piece. When it’s time to replace your blade, you gently twist the handle and it opens up (looking kind of like a butterfly). Then you can fix the new blade in place and twist the handle back the other way to close it up again.

Pro: All one piece means you don’t have to worry about dropping pieces down the drain when you’re replacing your blade.

Con: The “butterfly” aspect means moving parts and delicate little metal hinges. If you are rough on the twisting handle, parts can eventually wear out and break.

The two-piece — You guessed it: the two-piece safety razor is made of two pieces. The handle has a base to hold the blade, and simply screws into the top covering.

Pro: Only two pieces makes it pretty easy to keep track of everything.

Con: Similar to the butterfly, you risk stripping the grooves where the handle screws in if you’re too rough. Also, there are some reports that a two-piece is a bit harder to clean.

The three-piece — Yep, the threepiece has three pieces. There is a top covering, a base where the blade sits, and a handle that screws them all together.

Pro: Super easy to clean. Plus handles are interchangeable this way and you could get different colors/styles in the future.

Con: You definitely shouldn’t go about changing your blade over the drain where you can lose any of the pieces.

Safety Razor Designs: Extras

Other things to consider:

You can buy razors with different handle lengths: a longer handle can be
better for bigger hands.

Consider the grip: if you’re looking for a solid grip, check for textured notches on the handle.

Things to research if you want to get advanced:

“Aggressiveness”. This is how beard-buffs talk about how powerful the shave quality is. A very close shave comes from a very aggressive razor. (And less aggressive is better for beginners.)

Open-comb vs. closed-comb. Check the pictures of the safety razor you’re thinking about buying. If there’s a little comb-looking thing beneath the blade, that’s an open-comb razor. These are more aggressive and are better for thick, coarse hair. (Like a lumberjack beard.)

And one final note: Pretty much every safety razor on the market today is called “double-edged”. (Sometimes companies will say “DE safety razor” where DE means “double-edged”.) This means exactly what it sounds like: both edges of the blade are exposed and able to be used.

Ok, enough with the nitty-gritty. Let’s move on to actually using your new safety razor.

How to Shave with a Safety Razor

Did you know that our modern-day, multi-blade, plastic razors create a worse shave than the age-old safety razor? We know, we were surprised too. After decades of “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire” commercials, we’ve all been led to believe that five blades are definitely better than one.

But it’s not. All those extra blades are actually designed to lift the hair and cut it just below the skin’s surface which leads to, you guessed it — all those painful ingrown hairs.

A safety razor cuts at the surface, producing less ingrown hairs. And if you use it properly, you can also avoid razor burn (which is caused by passing too many blades too many times over the skin).

Shaving Prep

No matter if you’re shaving your face, your underarms, your speedo area, or your legs — the prep is the same. You want to soften the hair with warm water and apply a nice shaving cream or soap.

You can have a lot of fun here by trying out different soaps and creams. Shaving creams designed to be used with a safety razor are made with all natural ingredients and often come in reusable metal tins.

If you want to get advanced with your zero waste bathroom game, you can also use a shaving brush to apply your shaving cream. These are traditionally made with badger hair, but there are synthetic options too. The good news is that, with proper care, a shaving brush can last you 10 to 15 years.

The shaving brush actually serves a purpose beyond making you look cool: As you brush on cream in circular motions it helps your hairs stand up to be trimmed by the razor. A bonus is that a shaving brush creates much more lather with less shaving cream — helping you make resources last longer.

Shaving with a Safety Razor

Modern disposable plastic razors are so easy to use that you can mindlessly shave away your hair, almost without thinking. Shaving with a safety razor is a bit different — but nothing you can’t handle. There are just a few things to remember:

1 — Do not apply pressure.

Safety razors are designed to be heavy enough to create their own pressure
for the perfect shave. If you put pressure when using a safety razor, you
increase your chances of razor burn or nicks.

2 — Shave with the grain, then across the grain, then against the grain — in that order.

Generally speaking, you should only need that first pass (the “with the grain” pass). If you are dealing with exceptionally thick hair or complicated areas, do the next passes as necessary.

The idea is to do as few passes as possible, to avoid irritating your skin. (No matter what tool you’re shaving with, the act of shaving in general irritates your skin.)

Pro-tip: If you’ve never paid attention before, check out what direction your hair is growing before applying your shaving cream. The hair on your face and underarms tends to grow in several different directions!

A note on leg hair: If you were to shave with the grain on your leg hair, that would mean you’re shaving downwards — which you can imagine could be difficult in some areas. Leg hair is generally thinner than the other hair locations, because of this you can get away with shaving against the grain like you normally do.

3 — Save water.

Shaving takes a bit of time, and learning to do it with a safety razor takes a little bit more time. To help save water, go ahead and turn off the faucet or shower while you’re at it. In the shower, you could use a little tub of water to swish the blade in when it gets full. (Remember to be safe: a glass dish is not a good idea for the shower!)

4 — Use short strokes.

With your safety razor, you can’t take huge, long strokes like you can with your disposable. The best way to use a safety razor is with short strokes, about 2 inches long.

5 — Use the proper angle.

Your safety razor works best at a 30-degree angle. Remember to follow the curves of your face, pits, speedo-land, or legs and adjust the angle to suit. The cool thing is that most razors already have a domed head, which essentially creates the best angle for you. While you’ll have to pay attention at first, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

6 — You can use both sides.

Double-edged means that you have two blades to work with, letting you just flip the safety razor over when the first one is full. And the best part is you no longer have to deal with a clogged razor! Because of its simple design, you can get your blade clean with just a quick rinse.

7 — Know when to replace your blade.

If you notice after a while that the razor is missing hairs, causing razor burn, or feels like it’s dragging on your skin, it’s probably time to go ahead and swap out for a fresh blade.

8 — When shaving a crevasse...

Remember that your safety razor is double-edged. In tight spaces, you could accidentally nick the other side. Just be careful and don’t rush yourself!

Most people have found that the act of shaving with their safety razor becomes a much more mindful and meditative act — rather than the robotic routine it was before!


Like we said above: all shaving irritates your skin!

After you’re done, gently pat your skin dry, and apply a moisturizer. And then admire how great a shave you just got and how waste-free the whole experience was.

Taking Care of Your Safety Razor

Ok, now that you’ve learned how to use your safety razor, let’s talk about how to properly take care of it. Your safety razor can definitely last you a lifetime, but it’s important to treat it nicely.

The best thing to do after every shave is to take it apart, rinse every part clean, and then dry everything with a towel. Then you can either leave it out disassembled or put it back together.

It’s important to dry off your razor and its blade to help prevent rust — to make each blade last longer.

All About Blades

This is the main aspect that makes safety razors so amazing: the body lasts forever, the blades are extremely affordable to replace, and they’re completely recyclable.

One blade can shave a thick beard about 5 to 10 times (depending on the brand), before needing to be replaced. (Unfortunately, there’s not very much non-beard information out there!)

One blade can cost you between $0.15 and $0.45 each, with the average being $0.25. (Compare that to the $2.25 cartridge refills for a disposable razor!) You can order your replacement blades in small packs of 10, and they come in a tiny package the size of a matchbox.

Once you notice your blade feeling like it’s dragging on your skin, missing hairs, or causing razor burn — it’s time to swap it out!

To change your blade, you simply unscrew the necessary parts, lift the blade off, and replace it with a new one. While you do this, make sure to only handle the blades by their short ends (i.e. the sides that aren’t razorsharp!)

What to Do with a Used Blade

A razor blade is made of steel and is infinitely recyclable — making it a super valuable resource. But it’s still important to be careful with them! If you throw a blade straight in with the rest of your metal recycling, an unsuspecting worker at the recycling plant could easily get cut while handling your recyclables.

The best thing to do is to collect your blades in an empty can or tough envelope until you’ve collected enough to go straight to the recycling plant and hand deliver them. If that sounds like way too much work for you, you’ll be happy to learn that one or two companies have a system in place that lets you mail back used blades, and they handle the recycling.

So there you have it! All your safety razor questions answered. Now you can confidently add this awesome zero waste swap into your self-care routine!

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