Safety Razors vs. Cartridge Razors: A Fact-Based Comparison

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Double edge safety razors and cartridge razors are distinctly different shaving tools.  The purpose of today’s guide is to outline their key features in an objective manner so you can get a clear view of how these razors truly differ from one another.

Let’s begin:

Related: Best Razors for Men

Design Differences

While primarily designed for shaving facial hair, here are how safety and cartridge razors differ in both form and design:

Blades

The biggest difference between these two systems will be the razor blade (long-term cost will be covered later on).  

Safety Razor Blades

Safety razors rely on a single cutting blade on either side of the razor head (orange arrows) – hence the name double edge safety razor:

By relying on a single blade, there is reduced contact with your skin and a shallower cut on your facial hair.  Safety razors and their blades have a universal fitting so you can use different brands without any issues:

Related: Best Safety Razor Blades Reviewed

Cartridge Razor Blades

Cartridge razors have several cutting blades ranging from two to seven:

Pictured above is a Gillette ProGlide with five cutting blades.

Multiple blades allow the razor to lift-and-cut (hysteresis) with every pass.  Per Gillette, the increased number of blades also helps to decrease the bulging of the skin under the razor which ultimately results in a closer, more comfortable shave (source).  However, a closer shave may cause irritation or razor bumps in some men.  

Furthermore, cartridge razors have a proprietary fitting so you can’t use blades from other brands should you be disappointed with the performance or simply want to experiment.

Two other subtle features on the cartridge razor that work with the blades include the lubricating strip and comb:

The lubricating strip is designed to reduce irritation, whereas the comb helps to flatten the skin prior to it being cut.  

The safety razor does have a similar feature with the safety bar that extends past the edge of the cutting blade:

The safety razor lacks a lubricating strip.

Pivot Head

The biggest mechanical difference between these razors is in the cutting head.  Safety razors feature a fixed head:

Whereas a cartridge razor head can pivot:

Furthermore, some cartridge razors also have a head that is able to tilt side-to-side:

This is helpful to ensure that the cutting blades remain on the surface of the skin when passing over your body’s natural contours.

But the real difference here isn’t simply a question of mechanics but in the quality and skill required for the shave itself.  As we will touch on in just a minute, these mechanics have a direct impact on the learning curve for these two razor systems.

Length

Safety razors and cartridge razors will vary in length.  However, when compared to one another, a cartridge razor is typically around 5.5″ in length whereas a safety razor will be around 3.5″.  For a better understanding of just how significant this is, here’s how they look side-by-side:

Weight

The weight of the razor depends largely on the composition of the materials used.  Many safety razors are made from solid brass and have chrome-plated bodies whereas cartridge razors are largely made out of a combination of plastic, rubber, and metal.

For comparison, here’s how much a cartridge razor and safety razor differ in weight:

As you can see from the picture above, the Gillette weighs a modest 48g (1.69 oz) whereas the Merkur 34C weighs 77g (2.72 oz).

Related: Merkur 34C Review

Handle & Grip

Due to their blend of materials, cartridge razors have a more comfortable grip thanks to the reliance on rubber.  When designed appropriately, the cartridge razor is easy to hold onto even if your hands are wet or coated in shaving cream:

Safety razors commonly rely on a 100% metal body.  In order to provide control, many companies will have a knurled etching along the handle that makes it easier to grip:

This subtle engineered feature can help provide control while shaving.  

Learning Curve

When learning to shave for the first time, the cartridge razor is undoubtedly easier.  The reason is that the blades on cartridge razors have been pre-set to the optimal cutting angle, so you never have to worry too much about how the razor is held.  Additionally, the pivoting head makes it easy for the razor to always remain at the appropriate angle no matter where on the body you shave.

Using a safety razor takes effort.  Expect to get acceptable results (no irritation or cuts) after approximately 10 consecutive shaves.  The primary reason so many men have difficulty with this razor system is the weight and the lack of a pivoting head.  You must continuously adjust your hand and arm so the blade remains at the optimal 30 to 45-degree cutting angle without applying too much pressure. 

Cost of Ownership

The cost of ownership between these two systems is complicated.  Here’s why:

Razor Blade Cost

Here’s what you can expect to pay in razor blade refills when using each of these shaving systems for one year:

# Of ShavesSafety Razor (Expensive Blades)Safety Razor (Cheap Blades)Cartridge Razor (Expensive Blades)Cartridge Razor (Cheap Blades)
260 Days$10.40$5.20$92.08$54.17
365 Days$14.60$7.30$129.27$76.04

Definitions:

  • 260 Days: This is roughly how many business days there are in each year (52 weeks x 5 days = 260 days).  This excludes holidays, vacation, and sick days.  
  • 365 Days: Expectations that you shave every day of the year.
  • Safety Razor (Expensive Blades): Feather razor blade at $0.20 per blade.
  • Safety Razor (Cheap Blades): Derby razor blade at $0.10 per blade.
  • Cartridge Razor (Expensive Blades): Gillette Proshield at $4.25 per blade.
  • Cartridge Razor (Cheap Blades): Schick Hydro 5 at $2.50 per blade.

Furthermore, we assumed that a safety razor blade will last about five shaves before replacement whereas a cartridge razor blade will last about 12 shaves before replacement.*

As you can see from the data above, the cost of ownership between each razor system is significant.  If you shave every day for work, you can expect to pay anywhere between $54 and $130 per year in cartridge razor blades alone.  For safety razor blades, you would only need to pay about $5 to $15 per year.

* Unfortunately, companies rarely state how many shaves a razor blade will be good for. This is our best estimate based on personal experience and interpretation of various razor brands’ FAQs.

Handle Cost

The cost for the razor handle varies between brands, especially for safety razors.  Here we wanted to present the data that we found for popular safety and cartridge razors:

TypeRazorPrice
Safety RazorMerkur 34C$40.00
Safety RazorMerkur 38C$60.00
Safety RazorEdwin Jagger DE89$31.00
Safety RazorMuhle R89$44.00
Cartridge RazorGillette Mach 3$7.00
Cartridge RazorGillette Proshield$10.00
Cartridge RazorSchick Hydro$10.00
Cartridge RazorBIC Flex 4$5.00

The average cost for a safety razor was $43.75 whereas the cartridge razor on average costs about $8.00.  That is an average difference of $35.75.

Lifespan is difficult to determine for both razor types.  There is an argument to be made that both can last for several years.  

Ultimately, a safety razor, given the heavy-duty materials that it is made from, should have a longer lifespan.  

Total Cost

When comparing safety and cartridge razors, the difference isn’t nearly as great as is often assumed.  Here are a few different comparisons to demonstrate why:

Razor SystemHandle CostBlades (365 Days)Total = Handle + Blades (365)Blades (260 Days)Total = Handle + Blades (260)
Gillette Proshield$10.00$129.27$139.27$92.08$102.08
Schick Hydro$10.00$76.04$86.04$54.17$64.17
Merkur 38C + Expensive Blades$60.00$14.60$74.60$10.40$70.40
Edwin Jagger DE89 + Cheap Blades$44.00$7.30$51.30$5.20$49.20

As you can see in the data above, if you get a Gillette Proshield and shave 365 days a year (unrealistic for most), you can expect to spend about $139 for the first year.  For the same shave routine but with a cheap safety razor, the total cost comes to $51.  This is a net difference of $88.  

While the savings are significant, you would need to commit to this razor and the cheaper blades for several years before real savings begin to build up.

But take this scenario:

When comparing the Schick Hydro ($64) to the Merkur 38C with Feather razor blades ($70), the Schick Hydro actually ends up saving you $6. Of course, the safety razor handle is a one-time expense that goes away after the first year.

Ultimately, if you are committed for the long haul and want to save money, then the safety razor is a budget-friendly option.

Hidden Costs

While we went over how much each of these razor systems cost in a perfect environment, there are few hidden costs that you should be aware of:

Travel

Post 9/11, the razor blades used by safety razors are prohibited in carry-on luggage (source).  However, the safety razor handle without the blade is okay to travel with.  Therefore, you will either need to bring a disposable razor with you or you will need to pay a checked luggage fee if you really want to travel with your safety razor and blades.  

Environmental

One of the leading reasons both men and women have started to consider safety razors is due to their environmentally-friendly design.  The razors can be recycled and are made from sustainable materials – lessening their overall impact on the environment.  

Cartridge razors contain plastic and rubber which may take several hundred years to decompose in a landfill (source).  Recycling a cartridge razor must be done through special collection programs as we covered here.

Versatility

One of the advantages that the cartridge razor enjoys is its ability to shave everything.  Whether you are shaving your facial hair, head, chest, groin, etc., the cartridge razor can provide good results with little chance of you cutting yourself.

While some can use a safety razor for such purposes, it is not advised unless the surface that you are shaving is extremely flat (i.e. legs or chest).

Shaving Experience

Both systems offer a unique shaving experience.  Here are some of the highlights for each:

  • Safety Razor: Much more traditional and slower.  While you can get a good shave in a matter of minutes, this system best performs at a restrained pace.  Using a safety razor has a certain old-school classic barbershop feel to it.
  • Cartridge Razor: Best for efficient men who want to get on with their morning.  Doesn’t require much skill and you can get good results quickly.  Able to be easily used in the shower as well.

Clogging

When shaving longer hair, about a week’s worth of growth, a cartridge razor can easily clog.  This can increase the number of passes required and simply make for a frustrating shaving experience.  

Many safety razors have an advantage here as they only rely on a single blade.  While still susceptible to mild clogging, it is less likely.  You may want to consider this razor type if you shave infrequently.

Resolving Aliments of Razor Burn and Razor Bumps

Men may find the safety razor advantageous over the cartridge razor when it comes to resolving common shaving problems such as razor burn and razor bumps.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Razor Burn: This can be caused by a variety of factors including technique, shave prep, grain mapping, dullness of the razor blade, etc.  We go over all the leading causes of razor burn here.  By relying on a single cutting blade, a safety razor may help to reduce irritation due to decreased contact with your skin.
  • Razor Bumps: Some men with dense and curly beards are more susceptible to razor bumps.  Cartridge razors do a good job at cutting hair down to the skin level.  However, when the hair begins to regrow, the chances of it growing inwards and becoming a razor bump are increased.  Safety razors don’t cut nearly as deep as cartridge razors and may reduce the prevalence of razor bumps.

Supporting Products

There is a common misconception that safety razors need high-end accessories in order to work – which includes a quality shave cream and shave brush.  This assumption is incorrect.  Both safety razors and cartridge razors can perform well with a standard drugstore shaving cream such as Cremo.  Therefore, you shouldn’t feel pressured to invest money into these additional products.

With that being said, a quality shave cream and brush can enhance the shaving experience of both systems.  When used together, they can provide a nice cushion and slickness to the shaving cream which makes for comfortable results.

So…Which is Better?

As you learned today, while both of these shaving systems share similarities, they are uniquely different.  If you are looking for a travel-friendly and versatile razor, then the cartridge razor is a good choice.  Should you prefer one that has a slightly lower longer-term cost of ownership and you currently experience razor bumps, then a safety razor should be considered.

Ultimately, we hope that this guide provides you with a better understanding of these systems and determining which one would work best into your grooming routine.