Cartridge Razors

In the early 20th century, King C. Gillette developed the ultimate model of profit for shaving:
1. produce a razor that requires refills;
2. Offer the razor free or at a discount as a loss leader;
3. Make a fortune selling expensive razor refills. The cartridge razor, developed in the mid-20th century took that model and perfected it.

Many a man has received a free cartridge razor in the mail on their eighteenth birthday, and many a man gave nary a thought to buying countless expensive cartridge refills.

Cartridges are the most common form of shaving in the developed world. They are also far and away the most wasteful and least useful innovation in shaving. In short, they are cheap, disposable junk. Also, as a rule, the more blades, the worse the shave. In fact, the only utility that more blades in a cartridge serves is playing into a marketing campaign.

Cartridges lack flexibility and adaptability in matching the contours of the face. The cartridge itself gets in the way of the shave. In cartridges with more blades, the blades sometime work against each other and prevent a quality or close shave. Another problem with cartridges is that they clog up easily. A cartridge with blades clogged or covered with dead skin, shaving cream, and hair is prevented from doing its job. The result is a poor shave, razor burn and a generally inferior shave. With more blades in a cartridge, there is even less space between the blades causing more clogging.

In between shaves, because cartridges are difficult to clean, leftover debris and water cause deterioration of the cartridge and with each passing day, the cartridges become more and more useless. The advent of the cartridge in shaving has led at least two generations to miss out on the enjoyable experience that is possible with shaving.

Despite the overall weakness of the cartridge razor, the best cartridge that has even been made is the Gillette Mach 3, providing the best shave and least clogging of any cartridge. There is no imitator that has even come close to rivaling the quality of the Gillette Mach 3. Avoid shave clubs, off brands, other Gillette products and any poseur purporting to offer a cartridge that comes close to the quality of the Mach 3.

The Pros

Most baby boomers and beyond grew up with a cartridge shave. They are comfortable in what they do not know. What they do not know is that the switch from a cartridge to a safety razor is like the switch from high fructose corn syrup to pure Maple Syrup on your pancakes.


Convenience and Speed.
Cartridges are convenient and quick. They are easy to change out. They are fast for shaving. Unfortunately, one reason that they are fast shaves is that they do not offer as close a shave- so there is less risk of a cut or nick.

Moisture Strip.
Most cartridges have some kind of strip to lubricate the shave and moisturize your skin. Therefore, there is an argument that one may soothe skin while shaving. Meh.

If you like to have options, there are many-many mediocre options.

The Cons

The cost.
No matter how you cut it, or where you get your blades, cartridges are costly. Shave clubs, discount stores, off brands and other suppliers cannot come close to the low cost of a simple safety razor blade. Electric razors and straight razors do not require refills and have no such cost.

Poor Design.
If you have ever picked up a cartridge blade after it has been used once or twice, you know about the inferiority of the cartridge. No matter how you rinse the blade, residue will remain. This is a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria – especially in damp environs such as the bathroom. Not to mention, anything remaining on the blade will impede the closeness of the shave. Also, residue, dead skin, old shaving cream and hair will degrade the quality of the cartridge and blades.

Being Duped into the Hype.
More blades do not make for a smoother shave, rather the opposite is generally true. The notion that more blades means a better shave is a crafty notion developed in order to sell new and more expensive blades. Do not buy into junk science invented by Madison Avenue executives. If blade 1 is at the optimum angle and closeness then invariably the other blades will be too far or too close. The result is more irritation and a less precise shave.

Does not play well with product.
Cartridges do poorly with cheap mass manufactured shaving creams that will clog up the blades and cartridge. Cartridges are often worse with high quality shaving products and soaps. The best shaving products use natural lipids and botanicals that may not be as readily water soluble – meaning they do not rinse away with a splash of water. These types of shaving products may gunk up a cartridge like nobody’s business.


A poor shave.
Clogged blades mean a bad shave. Over-designed cartridges with multiple blades that are rigid and cannot match the contours of a face mean a bad shave. Cartridges that retain residue and degrade result in a bad shave.

Environmental impact.
Cartridges are the most wasteful shaving products on Earth- they are the “K Cups” of shaving. They represent a disposable and throwaway lifestyle. These blades are made with plastics, polymers and metal alloy blades and are not easily recycled. While conservation is not important for everyone, it is very important to some.

Proprietary Designs.
Most razor handles and cartridges are proprietary and are not interchangeable. You will have to pick a brand or style and stick with it. If you do not have a particular brand loyalty and forget what type of cartridge you are replacing, you may come home with blades that do not fit your handle. It happens, and it is an expensive mistake.

Oh. There are so many flavors of junk from which to choose. Every shave club and site on the internet wants to hawk their own special cartridge blade. How does one decide which is best? With so many blades to choose from, it may be easier to just decide to grow a beard. Still, if you must choose one, choose the Gillette Mach 3.

Continue Reading Part 1 2 3 4 5 6 Back to Articles