Some everyday purchases seem to tick off consumers more than others. Gasoline and inkjet cartridges are examples. Another is razor blades.
The razor industry is known for a marketing strategy in which the seller takes a loss on the device, the razor handle, and makes money on refills, the blades. That model is used by inkjet printers and cartridges, video-game consoles and games, and mobile phones and wireless service, among others.
The razor industry has undergone an amazing one-upsmanship. Two-blade razors were bettered by the introduction of three-blade cartridges by Gillette, then four-blade cartridges by Schick, then five-blade razors with lubricating strips, some with vibrating handles, from Gillette. Each is touted to give a closer, more comfortable shave than the last.
Whether you are shaving your face or your legs, you could be paying several dollars each for these multiple-blade cartridge refills. To save money, you could buy cheaper blades, but many consumers claim the more expensive new razors are, indeed, superior. So the other way to spend less is to make the blades last longer.
How can consumers make razor blades last longer? There are many proposed methods. But Gillette and Schick declined to allow interviews with executives or blade-research personnel to discuss them. The most a Gillette spokeswoman would say by e-mail is that "Gillette scientists have not seen any data to substantiate" methods of making blades last longer. Schick would not comment at all.
Granted, some proposed ways of extending blade life seem far-fetched or impractical for everyday consumers. They include cryogenically freezing blades, coating or submerging blades in various oils or rubbing alcohol, storing blades in a magnetic holder to avoid warping or placing your razor in a prism to somehow take advantage of the earth's magnetic properties.
But one very simple method has great allure and at least anecdotal support: dry your razor blades after shaving.
The concept is this: Razor blade dullness stems more from oxidation, microscopic rusting, than from contact with whiskers. Water that sits on blades between shaves causes the oxidation. The Wall Street Journal once cited a Gillette executive as saying the No. 1 reason for blade fatigue is corrosion.
Corrosion can cause metal on the blade to flake off and the edge to become blunted and jagged. That results in blades pulling and tearing hairs instead of cleanly slicing through them.
Degraded performance prompts most people to ditch the blade for a new one.
If water causes rusting, and rusting is the main culprit of blade dullness, then, presumably, drying your razor blades could increase the life of blades. A high-profile test of this happened when consumer-advocate radio host Clark Howard of Atlanta used a 17-cent disposable razor for an entire year. He said he extended blade life by blotting his razor dry with a towel after use.
Howard's report intrigued Atlanta resident Brian Cohn, who then tried it himself. Cohn said his results weren't quite as good but still amazing. Instead of blades lasting the usual 10 days to two weeks, his blades lasted five to six months. "I just couldn't get over it," he said. "I truly hated buying razor blades."
Cohn has since invented a razor-storage device with a small fan for drying razors. He hopes to market it under the name RazorPro.
Because the only evidence he had was anecdotal, he paid for testing research from an independent laboratory, 360-Degree Testing Service of Yonkers, N.Y. It tested a two-blade razor from Bic, a three-blade razor from Gillette and a four-blade razor from Schick.
The results? Using the fan device to dry blades extended blade life an average of 122 percent, or more than double.My own test--drying a Gillette Fusion razor after every use--has been ongoing for more than two months with the same blade cartridge.
None of this is conclusive proof that drying your blades after shaving will make them last longer. But it's worth a try, especially if you use expensive cartridges. If it doesn't work for you, you've lost very little. These ideas, used individually or together, are free:
-- Shake it up. With a loose wrist, shake the razor vigorously for several seconds to dislodge water droplets from blades, or tap the razor handle on the edge of the sink.
-- Towel it off. Blot, don't rub, the blade cartridge on a towel or dry washcloth.
-- Blow it dry. Use a hair dryer or fan to dry blades of the razor. Don't blow dry razors too long or you might end up spending more on electricity than you save on razor blades. About 10 seconds should suffice.
-- Put it away. Store your razor outside the bathroom to avoid steam and humidity from showers getting to blades. Or store the dry razor in a sealable plastic bag.
To the extent that wear results from contact with whiskers instead of oxidation, shave only after softening hair with a moisturizing soap. After applying shave cream or gel, don't shave right away. Allow time for hair to soften further.
Other ideas for reducing shaving expenses are to buy cheaper disposable razors, use an electric razor or use coupons for name-brand cartridges. And there's a whole subcommunity of male shavers who like the old safety razors and straight razors, both of which can be less expensive in the long run.
Or you could shave less. Men can grow a beard, for example. For women, well, letting hair grow is an individual choice.
Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call, a Tribune Co. newspaper in Allentown, Pa. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times