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Ask Levi: What’s the Best Cartridge Razor?

cartridge razor heads

Today’s question is about finding the best cartridge razor out there, both for best shave and best value…

Hi Levi.

You seem to know razors and shaving cream. I don’t want a DE razor. So, out of all the cartridge razors you may have tried, in your opinion, which one gives you the best shave? And the most bang for your buck?

Thanks.
Cartridge Carl

Hi Carl,

This is an excellent question! As you know, I’m a big fan of my DE razor, but when it comes to shaving my legs, I still prefer the quickness and ease of use I get with a modern cartridge razor.

The cartridge razor market really bothers me though. The things are ridiculously expensive! It’s not so much the total price as it the price in respect to a plain DE razor blade. Or the price of the refills in respect to the price of the handle you buy once. Or the retail price of the cartridges in respect to the pennies it costs to manufacture them!

I’m sure you’ve felt the sting in your wallet, too, since you asked about getting the most bang for your buck.

 

So, what is the best cartridge razor out there?

That’s a tough question to answer.

For one thing, it’s going to be a matter of personal preference. What works for me might not work well for you.

Furthermore, there are so many fricking razors to choose from!

Here’s a list of the more popular ones I remember:

  • Gillette Trac II
  • Gillette Sensor Excel
  • Gillette Mach3
  • Gillette Mach3 Turbo
  • Gillette Fusion
  • Gillette Fusion ProGlide
  • Schick Xtreme 3
  • Schick Quattro
  • Schick Hydro3
  • Schick Hydro5

That’s only based on Gillette and Schick. I didn’t bother including the Gillette Venus lineup (which would make the list twice as long) or any of the “Power” versions (which seem a little disturbing.) Nor did I include lesser-known brands such as Personna or Wilkinson Sword (which is actually the same as Schick.)

 

Before I make a recommendation, I’ll share my shaving story.

gillette mach3 ad

I believe the year was 1998 when I first started shaving. The same year that the Gillette Mach3 was introduced.

At that age, I was a sucker for a good advertising campaign, so you can bet I saved up my lawn mowing money and bought myself a Gillette Mach3.

Wanting to explore my options, I also bought a Schick Xtreme 3. I got a Schick Quattro, too, as soon as it was released. Since Gillette had me in the “more is better” mindset, Schick made an easy sale!

I bought into the hype of the Gillette Fusion series too, but once I realized how much the replacement cartridges cost, I stopped to think, “am I really getting my money’s worth?”

That’s when I started growing a beard!

I also went back to the Gillette Mach3 Turbo as my primary razor, partly because of the price, but also because I got just as good a shave with it as with the Fusion. And less irritation!

Let me reiterate that point – I get a better shave with 3 blades than I do with 5!

I do like that edge trimmer on the back of the Fusion cartridge, but I went years without having that luxury, so I’m pretty sure I can survive without it!

More recently, I’ve been alternating between bearded and clean shaven, and testing out different razors. The vast selection of styles and brands, plus the number of accessories, verges on mind-blowing!

 

Did you know razors existed before the Mach3?

Obviously they did. But after Gillette got me started on the Mach3, I assumed even their own previous products were inferior… and that was a poor assumption.

There’s the Gillette Trac II for instance. This two-blade razor debuted way back in 1971, and despite Gillette having moved on, there are still companies out there making cartridges for it! (Check out the Personna Twin II Plus.)

Don’t have a Trac II handle? Grab a Bump Fighter handle – it fits the Trac II blades!

There’s also the Gillette Sensor Excel, released in 1993 (still a few years before I was paying attention to razors.) That razor is over 20 years old now. However, it is still very popular today!

I believe it is the most recent cartridge which does not feature the “paintbrush style” pivoting head that’s all the rage these days. This style gives you have more control of the blade, so it falls somewhere in between a DE safety razor and a more modern cartridge.

How is that still popular?!

With the paintbrush cartridges, you have to apply a fair amount of pressure to get the proper blade angle against your skin. And that pressure is generally what causes irritation for me. Since I typically do a second pass, I’d rather not use so much pressure the second time around, but I have to.

A lot of people consider the Sensor Excel to be the best cartridge Gillette ever made, and I can see why. Once you get used to the idea of not having that pivoting head safety net, you can get used to better shaves! Unfortunately, it’s just lost in the shuffle for anyone who began shaving in 1998 or later, when the marketing machine really kicked up for the Mach3.

 

Open your mind to brands other than Gillette.

I mentioned that I get a better shave with the 3-blade systems than with the 5-blade systems, but the Mach3 isn’t the only 3-blade razor out there.

I have been experimenting with the Schick Hydro 3, and it might be the better option. The Hydro series came out in 2010, so it’s a new, high-tech razor, with a reasonable number of blades.

Opinions seem to be split evenly between the two, so if you find that 3-blade systems work for you, test both head-to-head. (I like the blades on the Hydro, but I’m not a fan of the sticky, messy lubricating gel reservoir.)

For an even cheaper option, consider the Wilkinson Sword Tech 3. It’s essentially a Schick Extreme 3, and you’ll find it on the shelves of Wal-Mart. It’s $5 for the handle and two cartridges, then $5 for a 4-pack of refills – nearly 50% less than a Mach3 refill!

There’s also the Matrix 3 Titanium and M5 Magnum from Personna. I’ve never used these, but they’re out there.

 

What about the Dollar Shave Club?

This place has been around a few years now. Surely you’ve seen the video.

Basically, you sign-up at www.DollarShaveClub.com, and they send you a pack of razors each month.

You have three different options for the razor you want. The $1 option (which is actually $3 with shipping and handling) is a twin blade, the $6 option is a 4-blade, and the $9 option is actually a 6-blade cartridge! And yes, it’s six blades on the front. There’s a seventh blade on the back for edge trimming.

 

Is the Dollar Shave Club the cheapest?

If you’re used to shelling out $16 each month for your Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power refills, you may think so.

If you do the math, and base prices on brands other than Gillette and Schick, you don’t really save money. It’s more about the convenience factor of not having to go out and buy razor blades.

If you don’t mind shopping around and buying in bulk, you can save money in the long run…

 

Let me introduce you to Dorco.

dorco sxa5000 razor

With some careful research on one of my favorite finance websites, I found the supplier for Dollar Shave Club. It’s a South Korean company named Dorco, and you can buy direct from them at www.DorcoUSA.com.

You can buy a razor and a year’s worth of cartridges from them for a fraction of what you’d end up paying for a year of Dollar Shave Club deliveries!

If you fancy that 6-blade razor, you can find it as the Dorco SXA5000. Expect to pay about 60% less than you would for the Gillette Fusion ProGlide and 20% less than you would for the exact same razor in Dollar Shave Club!

If you prefer the 3-blade system, as I do, you’ll really save some money. The Dorco TRA1000 cartridges are just over $1 each, the cheapest I’ve seen a 3-blade cartridge.

What’s even better? You can almost always find a coupon code for 15% off your order!

So, you have the cheapest prices around, you take another 15% off that, and if your order is over $25, you get free shipping.

A year supply of handles and blades should be about $30. That’s hard to beat!

 

What’s the best value cartridge then?

Finding the best value is important. If “the best” choice is $4.00 per cartridge, and the second best yet still acceptable choice is $1.00 per cartridge, well, I’m pretty sure I know my choice.

The Fusion ProGlide cartridges are just under $4 each. Mach3 and Hydro 3 cartridges, just over $2 each.

If you don’t mind going with Dorco blades instead, you’ll pay about half what you do for the top name brands.

While the Dorco blades aren’t quite as sleek and sophisticated, they work!

I’d say the best value cartridge is a toss up between the Dorco TRA1040 and the Wilkinson Sword Tech 3.

They’re both right around that $1/cartridge price point. One you buy online, one you buy in Wal-Mart.

Finally, I’ll give you one last tip that will give you a better shave, no matter which cheap cartridge you choose…

 

Don’t forget the shaving cream!

I believe a good shave follows the 80/20 principle. 80% of the shave comes from the lather, while only 20% is attributed to the blade.

With a good lather, you don’t need any of those “microfins” or “lubricating strips” or whatever crap they put on the cartridges.

How do you get a good lather? Get some proper shave cream or soap, a shave brush, and a bowl. Spend the money on this stuff, and you’ll spend less on cartridges!


If anyone has a better suggestion, please chime in in the comments below!

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7 Comments
  1. Dorco is also on Amazon for a pretty good price…

  2. @Bryant

    I did notice that! Very convenient if you’re already ordering from Amazon.

    If you’re just stocking up on razors, you end up getting a better deal direct with Dorco. Slightly cheaper razors, an extra 15% off, and free shipping at $25 (whereas Amazon had to go and raise the minimum to $35!)

  3. Hey Coach Levi, do you remember in that movie Predator that one of the commandos in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s platoon was always shaving his face using just his sweat and a disposable razor?

    As a “disturbingly hairy” male, I decided that that is the only way to respectably shave a beard.

    Man, that movie was awesome.

    Also, did you know that Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator?

  4. @DaQuan Hanks

    Stay tuned for my article about how to shave your legs in the jungle. Coming November 2014, timed alongside the La Ruta de Los Conquistadores bike race.

  5. The Wilkerson TECH 3 BLADES HAVE ALMOST DISAPPEARED. NO LONGER AT WALMART. ARE THERE OTHER BLADES THAT WILL WORK IN THE HANDLE?

    Thanks

  6. @Luke

    Maybe they’re trying to push everyone to the Tech4 blades?

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the handle, though. You can get handles for almost nothing.

  7. I have a schick hydro 3 razor.
    Do hydro 5 cartridges fit on the hydro 3.
    The shop and a reviewer on the website said

    “Interestingly there are two versions of the Hydro. A 3 blade and a 5 blade (handily either cartridge will work on either handle)”

    I believed this but I can’t put a 5 cartridge on the 3 razor.

    Is it me or the advertising ???!!!
    Kevin

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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