Safety Razors vs Straight Razors: What’s Better?

Straight Razors vs Safety Razors

Both safety razors and straight razors have been popular in the past, the majority of men now use cartridge razors or disposable razors, but there is still a formidable group of men who prefer to use traditional methods.

The straight razor was a natural progression from using a knife to shave. They retained the same blade feel, adding a handle and allowing it to fold away easily.

Straight razors are quite rare these days and most of us will have only seen them on television or in movies. A straight razor is quite simply a straight single blade that is sharp on one side and blunt on the other. They are extremely sharp and require a steady hand to use.

They were the first purpose built razor and it wasn’t until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that safety razors appeared. According to some sources, safety razors were designed to improve hygiene as the dangers of blood transfusion was understood. It wasn’t uncommon for the barber to nick your skin, causing blood to leak onto the straight razor, this would then transfer to the next customer when the same thing happened.

Obviously, today this isn’t an issue because barbers clean all of their products in alcohol solutions between customers. But back then they didn’t have that knowledge and so safety razors were developed because you could easily change out the blades.

Safety razors are what disposable and cartridge razors are based upon, they have a handle which leads up to a T-shaped blade holder. They are called safety razors because above the blade you have a cap and below the blade you have a safety bar. This means that only a small amount of the blade protrudes and it can only contact the skin at a given angle, making it far safer to handle and use than a straight razor.

Straight razors vs safety razors is a heated debate, men on both sides will insist that their method offers the closest shave and the best experience. The reality is that both have their merits and it will come down to personal preference. In this article we’ll discuss safety razors vs straight razors, giving the positives and negatives for each, allowing you to make your own decision about which is right for you.

Straight Razors: Why are they the best?


Men who use straight razors will tell you that the biggest benefit is that a single razor will last a lifetime. The build quality on these razors is exceptional and the metal is designed to be re-sharpened over and over. Many men use straight razors which were created centuries ago, giving them a real history. There’s definitely a large amount of nostalgia for those people who use straight razors, it’s about getting that authentic experience that men have been having for centuries prior.

The blade on a straight razor is normally around 3 inches long, far longer than any commercial or safety blade. This allows you to cover a larger surface of your face in each stroke, which could reduce irritation for some men. With proper care, strong honing and stropping, you’ll be able to make an initial investment that will last a lifetime. In fact, I’ve heard many men say that they wish to pass their razor on to their sons, creating a family tradition.


When you first start shaving using a straight razor there’s a very good chance that you’ll cut yourself. Using one of these takes technique and it’s something that every man has to learn. You’re far more likely to cut yourself with a straight razor than with a safety razor.

Another downside is that if you do damage the razor, you’ll have the buy a new unit. It’s unlikely to happen, but you wouldn’t be the first. It also takes a time commitment to learn and then sharpen the blades. Whereas a dull blade in a safety razor is simply replaced, with a straight razor you’ll have to re-sharpen the blade every 6 months to ensure a close shave. We would also argue that because you only have one blade, if you do have any changes in your skin you can’t simply change to a less aggressive blade, you need to work the blade instead.

Safety Razor: Why are they the best?


The best part about a safety razor is in the name - it’s safe. The safety bar allows you to get an extremely close shave (when compared to a commercial razor from Gillette or Bic) without the same risk of cutting yourself. This is excellent for anyone new to shaving or with an unsteady hand. We’ve all heard the stories of older men with shaky hands regularly cutting themselves and a safety razor can help to prevent that.

Compared to a commercial disposable razor, safety razors are also much cheaper. While a disposable razor can cost 40 cents or more per razor, a single double-edged blade for your safety razor may only cost 5 cents. These double-edged blades often last far longer than a single disposable razor, saving you money on each shave.

We also like that with a safety razor you can simply use different blades. This means that if your skin changes because of a rash or longer hair, you can use a different blade very easily.


The biggest con when compared to a straight razor is that you have to continue to buy blades. For some men this might be enough to turn them off, however, straight razors still need to be sharpened which takes time. A safety razor also isn’t as authentic to some men as using a straight razor.

Safety Razors vs Straight Razors vs Disposable Razors: Which is better?

We’re going to take a stance that might annoy some people, we believe that each one has its place.

There’s a common rhetoric that disposable or cartridge razors are horrible and that using a safety or straight razor makes you more of a man. The reality is that modern cartridge razors aren’t anywhere near as bad as most people make out and they still allow for the quickest shave.

A lot of men won’t notice a huge difference between a shave with a good-quality cartridge razor and a safety razor. Yes, you’ll get a closer shave and less irritation with a safety razor. But, most men don’t have an issue with irritation and they aren’t overly worried about having stubble the next day.

That’s not to say that safety and straight razors don’t have a place or aren’t superior. They do and they are. But they are also slower, have a learning curve and are overkill for many men. Most people value efficiency over quality, that’s another debate but we need to accept that there are benefits to all methods of shaving ( except lighting your hair on fire, that’s just stupid ).

What is a Traditional Wet Shave?

Let’s explain exactly why a traditional wet shave with a safety or straight razor offers a superior shave.

A traditional wet shave involves; a rich lather created from a soap using a brush and a single blade. Any deviance from this and it’s not a wet shave.

There’s a great reason why we use just one blade; it cuts better. Plenty of companies including Gillette and Bic , market to us that the more blades the better. We’ve seen razors with six-blades. You only need one ultra-sharp blade to cut through hair. The reason why disposable and cartridge razors can irritate mens skin far more than a single blade is that each stroke involves multiple blades dragging on the skin. Therefore, you’re having much more contact and friction with the skin, causing greater irritation than with a single blade.

If you get irritation with shaving or have delicate skin, then we would recommend that you switch to either a safety or a straight razor. Either will be better than using a commercial razor.

One other significant difference between commercial blades and straight or safety razors is the weight of the blade and handles. Most commercial razors are designed with plastic, this makes them much lighter than straight or safety razors which are usually made out of wood and steel respectively. This extra weight changes how the blades are to be used. With commercial blades you have to push hard to cut downwards, whereas heavier blades simps glide down. This wouldn’t be a problem except that as humans we aren’t perfect, our hands push harder than needed and this causes a lot of irritation to the skin. By using a safety or straight razor you can use the weight of the blade, making it far easier to have the right force and prevent irritation.

Each of the different types of razor have their benefits, but there is little doubt that a safety and straight razor will provide a much closer shave than a commercial razor. Whether the safety or straight razor will be closer is up for debate.

The Difference in Blades

Many men prefer the ease of disposable razors and safety razors aren’t much more painful. But straight razors can be. It’s annoying having to sharpen and strop your razor , most of us would prefer to simply replace a blade and then start shaving. With a straight razor you’ll need to hone then blade and keep it sharp to ensure that it cuts properly. Then, you’ll need to regularly strop the blade to prevent it from dulling. All to say, a straight razor will require a certain amount of upkeep. It’s not a lot, but when compared to a safety razor it is.

Van Der Hagen Safety Razor Box

As we mentioned before, with a safety razor you have the flexibility to decide which blades you want to use, meaning that you can try different blades or interchange regularly. This extra flexibility can improve your shave by giving you the choice of the aggressiveness each day. Obviously, you do have to buy these blades and whilst they are cheap, it’s still an on-going cost that needs to be considered when deciding between a safety razor or straight razor.

Taking into consideration the extra price of a straight razor and the cost of accessories like a strop, stropping paste and a sharpening tool, the cost of using a straight razor is likely to be very similar to that of a safety razor. Either way, both will be considerably cheaper than a commercial razor - whether it’s disposable or a cartridge razor.

Conclusion: Who wins? Straight Razors vs Safety Razors

In this article we’ve been through the history of both blades, we’ve discussed the pros and cons of each and talked about how they differ. Our conclusion is that there is no real winner, both are excellent choices and you can’t go wrong with either. In fact, we love both. This isn’t a black or white choice, you can have both. Pick one, use it for a while and then try the other. See which you prefer, but never discard the other. It’s great for any man to have the choice.

Let’s finish up this discussion by re-capping the main points:

Straight Razors

  • Greater control of the blade because it can be used at different angles
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Steep learning curve that is very different to a commercial razor
  • More expensive upfront, but you don't have to buy blades

Safety Razors

  • Much safer to use when compared to a straight razor
  • Very similar motion to a commercial razor
  • Arguably, slightly less close shave when compared to a straight razor
  • On-going cost of buying blades
  • Flexibility to choose different blades
About the author

Jack Prenter

Jack has been fascinated by fashion for decades and spent huge amounts of time researching it and becoming an expert. He's written for many well-known publications and is in the process of opening an online clothing store for men. Jack studied at the University of Nottingham and is now based out of Toronto, Canada.