Straight Razors Vs Disposable Cartridge Razors (Pros and Cons)

Shavers have many choices today when it comes to maintaining the facial hair style of their choice. Just browse in the shaving section and you will see everything from high-quality metal straight razors to cheap plastic disposables.

When deciding on the best tool to maintain your beard, should you choose a straight razor or a disposable cartridge razor? You’ll find die-hard users in both camps. The choice ultimately comes down to personal preference, however factors such as time, price, and shave results aid in the decision.

If you want to learn more about the differences, as well as the pros and cons of straight razors and disposable cartridge razors, keep reading.

Differences between a straight razor and disposable razor

The global razor market accounts for over 10 billion dollars. According to 2018 statistics, disposable cartridge razors held the largest market share. However, there are men who still prefer the shave only a traditional straight razor can provide.

At first glance, it’s easy to see the difference between straight razors and disposable razors, but let’s look at some specific attributes and how they compare.

Straight razors and disposables razors differ in the following areas:

  • Blade
  • Handle
  • Materials
  • Availability
  • Price
  • Value
  • Effectiveness
  • Learning Curve
  • Environmental Impact

Blade

One of the biggest differences between a straight razor and a disposable razor is the blade itself.

A straight razor contains only one blade. This blade requires sharpening or “stropping” to keep it sharp. Once a year or so, the blade should also be “honed” to keep it at peak cutting effectiveness. Since it is a single blade, it can be disinfected easily between shaves. 

Disposable cartridge razor blades are housed within the shaving head. Instead of one long, exposed blade, disposable razors can include up to seven different cutting blades.

Since there is more than one blade is inside the disposable razor head, it can be a bit trickier to clean. Hair, shaving cream, and dead skin cells can get trapped between the blades. The lift and cut action of the blades can dull them quicker as well.

Handle

The handles of the straight razor and disposable razors are glaringly different.

The handle of a straight razor can rival a work of art. The appropriate name for the handle is the “scale.” The scale resembles a knife handle. It is long, thin, and curved to fit comfortably in the hand. The handle is attached to the blade with a pivot pin.

Disposable cartridge razor handles are long and often described as “ergonomic.” Many have rubberized grips to prevent slips. Single-use disposable razor handles tend to have a boxier shape and are made from plastic.

Materials

The blade and handle materials differ greatly between the straight razor and disposable cartridge razors.

Straight razor blades are usually made of high-quality metals like carbon steel and stainless steel.

Many straight razor handles are crafted out of ivory, wood, turtle shell, bone, horn, copper, steel, aluminum, and the list goes on. It is no surprise that straight razors can often be found in museums and antique stores.

Disposable razor materials can vary vastly over brand and price points. The quality of disposable blades can range from cheap alloys in throwaway razors to chromium or titanium coated steel. Higher-quality stainless steel blades are often found in replaceable razor cartridge heads. 

Disposable razor handles are often constructed out of molded plastic. This is especially true for the one-use type. The reusable cartridge razor handles range from plastic to solid metal.

Availability

Finding your ideal razor is the first step to a clean shave.

A straight razor shave is sometimes called a “traditional” shave because of its widespread use up until the early 1900s. While some men shave with a straight razor at home today, barbershops are the most common places to see these blades in use.

Online retailers like Amazon and specialty grooming stores carry the traditional straight razors or the more modern shavette versions.

Walk into any mass retailer or drug store and you will see an aisle dedicated to disposables of all types. Packs of BIC and store brand one-use disposables. Higher-end Mach and Fusion cartridge razors with pivoting heads. There is also an abundance of cartridge replacements. 

In recent years, shave subscription boxes have come onto the scene. Companies like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club deliver razors, replacement cartridges, and shaving cream right to your door.

Price

When looking at the upfront cost of straight razors versus disposable razors, the straight razor looks to be more expensive, but consider that it’s a one-time purchase rather than something you’ll be picking up regularly.

Straight razors can range in price from $35 to well over $100 depending on materials. A maintenance kit including a leather strop and honing stone can add another $20 or more to the cost.

Disposable razors can cost as little as 28 cents each for plastic multi-packs or up to $15 for a replaceable head cartridge razor handle, like the best-selling Gillette Fusion ProGlide

Value

There are other factors to consider when discussing the true value of each shaving implement.

While straight razors can be more costly upfront, they can last forever without replacement. As long as you perform the sharpening maintenance and keep them dry between shaves to prevent rust, your initial investment will pay off great dividends in the long term.

Disposable razors should be replaced after each shave. Even at 28 cents apiece, that can add up to $5,600 over the course of the average lifetime of shaves. Disposable cartridge razors can also be expensive over time. Replacement cartridges can run up to $4.50 apiece. Even at four to five shaves each cartridge, the cost could be as much as $1 per shave.

Effectiveness

In many instances, the choice of razor comes down to shaving effectiveness. Which type of razor will give you the cleanest, closest shave without skin irritation?

The extremely sharp blade of a straight razor gives a close shave rivaled by no other shaving implement. Proponents argue that irritation is also less once you master this type of shave. 

A disposable razor uses the lift-and-cut method of shaving. Each hair is lifted by the blades and then cut. If you’ve ever experienced razor burn, you know that this method has flaws. The neck area of a shave is especially vulnerable to irritation using the multiple blades of some cartridge razors.

Learning Curve

Perhaps one of the biggest deciding factors when choosing a razor is the learning curve involved.

Straight razors have a large learning curve. They’re often referred to as “cut-throat” razors for a reason. For a true beginner, a straight razor shave can take an hour or more. The shaver must perfect the angle and pressure needed to achieve a close shave without nicks and cuts.

Disposable razors are grab-and-go. There isn’t much of a learning curve involved. Many cartridge razors even have a pivoting head that makes shaving around the face and neck contours a no-brainer. A typical shave can be completed in a few minutes. Plus, most men learn to shave on this type of razor, making it a more natural choice.

Environmental Impact

When looking at the overall cost of razors, the shaver should also factor in the razor’s environmental impact.

Straight razors are typically made of metal and naturally occurring elements. The parts of the straight razor are made to last for a lifetime. Some of these razors are even passed down through the generations. Straight razor shaving is as close to zero-waste shaving as you can get.

Disposable razors, on the other hand, are made to be thrown away. In fact, the EPA estimates that 2 billion razors and related cartridges are discarded in the United States annually. Thirty-two percent of plastic products end up in the ocean.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plastic product packaging accounted for 14.5 million tons of waste in 2018.

To add to the complexity of this problem, metal blades encased in plastic become mixed commodities. The majority of these products end up in the nation’s landfills if the materials are not separated. The environmental impact of razor waste can have long-lasting effects on the world.

Are straight razors better than disposable razors?

Shopping for a razor can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many choices on the market.

The best way to decide whether a straight razor or disposable razor is best for your lifestyle is to consider the pros and cons of each, and how your choice will fit into your lifestyle.

Straight razor

Overall, a straight razor is a great choice for a man who wants a clean, smooth shave and is willing to put in the money and effort upfront to get it.

Pros of a straight razor

  • One razor can last a lifetime and beyond
  • Close shave
  • Low long-term cost
  • High value
  • Better for the environment

Cons of a straight razor

  • High upfront cost
  • Low availability
  • More maintenance
  • Large learning curve

Disposable razor

A disposable razor may be the preferred choice for men who are often on the go, need to shave quickly, don’t want to spend a lot of money upfront, or simply don’t want to learn how to shave with a new kind of razor.

Pros of a disposable razor

  • Low upfront cost
  • High availability
  • Easy maintenance
  • No learning curve

Cons of a disposable razor

  • High long-term cost
  • Low value
  • Skin irritation
  • Negative impact on environment