Today I received a marketing email from a maker of single-edged razors. The email argued that cartridges are full of germs, and by implication, their single-edged injector razors and blades are not. The email got me thinking about germs on common objects. I have some relevant background and experience.
When I was a graduate student in a department of microbiology and working on my Ph.D. in Immunochemistry, I served as a teaching assistant for an introductory microbiology laboratory course. Each semester the students were assigned a project to determine how many bacteria were in a sample of their choosing. A frequent choice was to attempt to measure bacteria on food service eating utensils from the dorms or maybe from a cracked stoneware plate. The students were sure these disgusting everyday items from dorm life were full of germs. In most cases, they were not. Smooth surfaces are easy to clean and don’t provide a hospitable environment for bacteria. I expect razor blades to be similar: easily cleaned and an unlikely environment for bacterial growth.
Microban Research Finds Nearly 5 Million Bacteria on Single Wet Razor Handle (published October 25, 2012).
The above article is from a study conducted by Microban, a company that makes antibacterial treatments to keep shoes and other things germ-free. It is likely the source for the email allegation about germs on razors. Microban wanted to sell their treatment to razor manufacturers. Not a bad idea. The article’s headline proclaimed that 5 million bacteria were found on a razor. Then it went on to mention that some razors had as few as 300 bacteria. Further, the study was designed to expose the razors to mold and bacteria for a period of time. Also, they measured the bacteria on the handles. It wasn’t clear if they examined bacteria on the blades.
What if the razor were properly cared for and washed after every use, air dried in a stand, and not stored in a medicine cabinet? My guess is the number of bacteria would be 300 or less.
Are there more bacteria on a cartridge razor than on a DE (double-edge) or SE (single-edge) razor? Maybe, but I don’t see why there would be. I haven’t seen a study. Also, I would expect the same profile of bacteria on a toothbrush handle or any other bathroom grooming tool.
Certainly, blood from micro nicks could contaminate a blade. But the two easy solutions to that are to wash your razor after each use and then let it dry naturally (not confined in a medicine cabinet), and when unsure, change the blade.
To be sure, the cost of a new cartridge is more than that of a DE blade. If cost is the main consideration, frequent cartridge changes based on fear of germs would be expensive. SE blade costs are in between DE and cartridges. Looking at the multi-blade cartridges, it seems likely that the space between blades would be more difficult to clean. But has there been a study to prove this? I don’t know.
I switched to DE and SE safety razors, and although I haven’t purchased the razor being marketed in the email, I am curious. The company’s razors look like good products. But I doubt that the assertions in their marketing email are backed up by well-designed clinical studies.
I am not dismissing the possibility of germs on your razors. It is a real concern. But it is also one that can be addressed through regular cleaning and blade replacement.
If you are concerned about the germs on your razor, regardless of whether it uses multi-blade cartridges, single-edge blades, or double-edge blades, here are some suggestions for how to clean and disinfect your device. These will not kill all germs. Your razor and blades will not be sterile (germ-free) when done. But these techniques will go a long way towards reducing germs.
Simple cleaning: hold your razor under hot running water. When done, shake off the excess water and allow it to dry upright in a stand. This should be your standard practice after each shave.
Mild disinfection: Soak your razor and blade in a solution of dish detergent. There are many ways to do this, but an easy method is to find a cup large enough to hold your razor head down. Fill the cup with hot water and a small amount of liquid dish soap and let it soak for 30 minutes. Then rinse as described for simple cleaning.
Another experiment we had students do in the microbiology laboratory course was to determine how well different treatments disinfected (killed germs). Higher temperatures, longer exposure times, and higher concentrations of disinfectant all increased the killing of germs. Soaking your razor for 30 minutes in a hot detergent solution will be better than 10 minutes at room temperature.
Advanced disinfection: Use either rubbing alcohol or the disinfectant barbers use for their tools. There are many other products you could use for disinfection, e.g., stronger detergents. But do not use bleach. It is one of the best disinfecting agents, but it reacts with steel and could compromise your razor and blades.
As for Barbacide (below), Matt, founder of Razoremporium.com, points out that barbershops often have a jar of Barbicide on display which is mostly used to disinfect plastic combs by not for razors. You should keep your razor dry. Leaving it in a solution of Barbacide or anything else will encourage rust. However, I do not see a problem if you follow the directions and leave a razor in a solution of Barbacide for 10 minutes which is enough to kill Covid-19, monkey-pox, and other common germs.
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