It is amazing how quickly razors get dirty and just how dirty they get. This comes from all the organic material they scrape off your face, added to all the fats and chemicals in your shaving lather, added to the salts that precipitate out of the water that you are using. This is bad enough when it is your own razor, it is far worse when you are trying to re-commission a vintage razor that you have been lucky enough to acquire.
You would think that a robust, all metal razor would be easy enough to clean, but there are a number of problems.
- The plating on old razors can be very thin, cleaning vigorously, either mechanically or chemically, can be the straw on the camel’s back that finally removes some, or all of this plating. Especially if it is gold, which is a stupid thing to plate a razor with, it is too soft.
- Many razors have painting on them. The numbers on an adjustable, the black handle on late Super Adjustables, the TTO knobs on Red Tips and Blue Tips, etc This is even more fragile than the plating.
- Whilst you can easily reach every square millimetre of a Tech type razor, other razor types are more problematic. TTO type razors have much of their mechanism hidden in their handles, totally inaccessible. Adjustables have even more complexity that you cannot reach.
- Razors can often be made from several different metals, in the wrong chemicals these will react with each other causing irreparable damage.
- With secondhand razors you want to ensure that you don’t catch any nasty diseases.
So now I am going to tell you what works for me, this is purely anecdotal chat, so do not think that it will necessarily work for you, and don’t blame me if your Gillette Toggle or Eclipse Red Ring melts. I take no responsibility for your actions.
The first rule of cleaning razors is don’t do too much of any one thing, do everything in moderation. Except for soaking in mild detergent, which is OK overnight. The second rule is don’t use bleach or scouring powder, these are both far too harsh. The third rules is remove the blade before you do anything else.
Also adapt your cleaning with some common sense. After a week’s use you razor will clean up very nicely with just a few seconds of attention. A well used and neglected 50 year old adjustable bought from a junk shop might take a long time and a lot of work to restore to its former glory.
Boiling razors in water is long established as a good technique. It kills off virtually all potential nasties and removes a lot of rubbish. However people have damaged razors with this method. So only boil for a few minutes at most. If you are nervous you could just pour boiling water into a mug containing your razor(s). What is for sure is that after boiling you will be amazed just how much rubbish there is in the bottom of the pan.
Soaking is excellent as it reaches into otherwise inaccessible places. You can add domestic disinfectant or Barbicide. Just don’t leave for too long. I tend to boil secondhand razors for a couple of minutes, then take them off the heat and pour in some disinfectant, then leave it ten minutes before rinsing out. Without being paranoid this is more than enough hygiene precautions.
Soaking in 50% vinegar solution dissolves precipitated salts and is one of the best methods for unjamming blocked up mechanisms inside handles.
The best tool for cleaning your razor is a toothbrush. An electric one is even better as long as you don’t use it too enthusiastically. With this use any soap or detergent that you like as long as it is not so strong that you need gloves and it isn’t abrasive. And liquid detergents, compared with pastes and solids, are less likely to make things worse by adding to the clogging. Rinse frequently. Some people use pipe cleaners to reach inaccessible parts. Take care, there are sensitive mechanical bits in there.
The combination of soaking, boiling, scrubbing and rinsing, all done in relative moderation, will eventually get any razor looking a whole lot better. I have 50 year old razors that look virtually new. However there are a couple of techniques that are more labour saving.
The first is to use your dishwasher, just make sure you use liquid detergent and not the tablets. The tablets contain a fine grit which is not good for your razor. Depending how fastidious you are you can clean your razors at the same time as your plates and cutlery. Obviously boil and/or disinfect secondhand razors first. And if it is a TTO then wash it with the doors fully open.
The second is to use a bath type ultrasonic cleaner, just like virtually every jeweller does. These reach even inaccessible area. They are surprisingly cheap these days, just look at eBay, and they come in useful for lots of household tasks. Tell your wife you have bought it to clean her jewellery. Ultrasonic cleaners can be used in combination with other techniques, vinegar solution for instance. As with everything else don’t overdo it.
Once you have your razor sparking with cleanliness you can add to the lustre with a metal polish. I don’t bother because my razors are for using, not looking at.
One final precaution, do not clean gold razors with non gold razors. Metals can transfer in some solutions and this could make your nickel and chrome plated razors turn pink!