Taking Benjamin Franklin's Advice: Shaving With Cold Water

Cold Water Shaving

I know what you’re thinking. Shave with cold water? WTF? Yes, cold water. It sounds extremely uncomfortable, but it isn’t. This particular method of shaving dates back to the Victorian Era, when getting hot water was a chore. Benjamin Franklin once wrote that: “The act of shaving with cold water is much easier; it allows the whiskers to be stiff; the razor to slice the hair; and obtaining hot water much less of a bother.”

Now, yes, back in those days you had to chop the wood, start a fire, gather water, and boil it for some time (as an avid camper, I’ve done this from time to time). And now, all we have to do is turn a knob, which can still take a little bit of time for the water to heat up. But what if you don’t have time to let the water get warm? Shave cold. It actually has some very good benefits, such as less irritation, pores staying closed, whiskers being stiff. From a young age, let’s say puberty, our father’s typically teach us to use hot water whilst shaving. The reasons for this is that the hot water makes your beard soft, allowing it to be cut. I was taught this method as well.

The reason I switched to cold water was because of the extreme skin irritation I would have after a hot water shave. I have sensitive skin, so cold water was a much better alternative. Now, since several of us are proponents of the Traditional Wet Shave, we typically use that water, combined with a brush and soap, to whip up a lather. And you may be thinking, It lathers because we use hot water. It also lathers with cold water just as easily. For a cold water shave, just do your normal prep, but when you wet your face to ready it for the lather, use cold water.

This method has several benefits, not just for you, but for your gear as well. Take your razor. Nice, shiny, sturdy piece of metal. Feels nice when it’s warm. So does the blade. But get this. The hot water used to rinse the blade causes the tiny metal molecules in the blade to expand, making the razor dull after only five shaves. Cold water, on the other hand, causes the molecules to contract, giving the blade a better edge and longer life. Just by using cold water, my current Wilkinson Sword blade is on it’s eighth shave.

Your brush benefits too. While it will make the bristles a tad stiffer than normal, you don’t have to worry about any bristles slipping out of the handle and sticking to your face mid-lather. But, if you’re using a badger brush this should be no problem, as the badger hair remains soft regardless.

Now, for your face. With cold water, your beard will stiffen as opposed to being soft. When you make your first cut, there will be a slight tug, but is to be expected. Instead of the razor gliding over your whiskers, this tugging motion is the razor cutting the whisker at it’s closest. Your face will thank you, as you won’t have razor burn or bumps, your equipment will last longer, and you’ll stay quite the cool customer during the summer months.

For more on this, check out the article on cold water shaving at www.artofmanliness.com and http://tunedin12.blogspot.com

P.S. There is also a chap in England who has a video on YouTube where he is shaving with ice water. You can check this out as well, although I would rather drink the ice water:


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  1. Alain Nonyme says

    pores staying closed

    Please stop perpetuating that old women myth.

    Our pores do not have any muscles and do not open and close. This is a complete myth. What we see as “opening” and “closing” is our pores’ reactions to either being clogged by gunk (causing the “open” look) or our pores’ reaction to our facial tissue swelling from astringents (causing the “closed” look).

    Ask any dermatologist or do a simple Google search on “close pores myth”, you’ll see…

    • Nic says

      I would imagine that the heat or cold would cause other muscles in your face to tighten or loosen the skin, thus causing the pores to ‘open’ or ‘close’.

  2. says

    A co-worker, Mike, is an ice water straight shaver (Parker SRW shavette). He echoes the benefits of it, but I just can’t bring myself to try it… not yet, anyway. I get great warm water shaves with little or no irritation, however I plan to make a video comparison of Warm VS Cold water shaving at some point…

  3. Chris says

    You don’t even have to use COLD water. Just use luke warm water and you will still get most of the benefits.

  4. says

    I’ve been thumbing over the cold shave idea for a while but can’t bring myself to it yet. Most likely because the weather isn’t warm enough yet. I just may have to try this summer.. Maybe..

    I’ve always found the final splash of cold water to do enough for me.

  5. David Peters says

    Can you back up the expanding razor myth with any facts? This article seems like it was gleaned from some too-enthusiastic forum posts.

    • Robin says

      Given the coefficient of expansion of steel, a 22mm razor blade would be 0.0095mm longer in 40C water than it would in ice water.

      Personally, I can’t see that making any difference at at all to the durability of the blade.

  6. kenstee says

    I’d need a blood transfusion if I shaved in the same style he does…and that’s with hot OR cold water…

  7. Rex says

    I’ve had to shave too many times with cold water during military deployments and exercises, so I enjoy the convenience of hot water…warm lather is a real joy to me.

    • BlueyM says

      +1. Same as Rex, too many shaves in an inch of cold water in the bottom of a canteen cup in too many remote locations as a soldier.
      Nowadays, I like the luxury of abundant hot water, warm lather and warm razor, thick towels and a bathroom full of steam.


  8. Jerry says

    I switched to cold water shaving over a year ago, and haven’t looked back. One thing you can do to lessen the shock is use hot water in your brush so your lather isn’t cold. You can Prep and rinse with cold, but still have warm lather and it’s not that uncomfortable.

  9. The Pontificator says

    Nothing feels better on a hot, sticky South of the Mason-Dixon line day like shaving with ice water, methol shave cream/soap and some sort of mentholated aftershave the cheaper the better. Either of the Barbasols or Osage Rub come to mind.

  10. Gogo says

    I’ve been shaving with cold water exclusively for about 3 years. I much prefer it. I get less irritation, less weepers and still have terrific, long lasting lather. I enjoy every part of it.

    • Justin says

      FYI all. If you watched the video and are impressed be warned. This guy is actually trying to sell you a liquid dish soap (no joke) through an MLM company!!!!

  11. André Corrêa says

    I have oily and sensitive skin, but a thick beard. Terrible combination. When I started shaving with DE razors, I used warm water. But it’s not very common here in Brazil to have hot tapped water and I had to warm up some water on the microwave every morning, losing my shave prep that I got from the shower. As an advice from my dermathologist, because of my oily and sensitive skin, I changed to “cold” water. Actually, it’s just room temperature water. The weather is warm here now and I must say I’m enjoying shaving this way! And I can just go straight out of the shower and shave. Don’t know about the winter though… It’ll be considerably colder (some nights it can come closer to 0º celsius here). But what I really want to know is if that thing about the blade lasting longer is real. I use brazilian Wilkinson blades and I wanna try and see how far I can push them using cold water.

    • says

      I know how you feel. For me it’s sensitive skin/heavy beard. I’ve grown it out to over a foot before, because I hated shaving. After discovering the traditional way, plus cold water, it’s become bearable. And to answer your question, I’ve used one blade for a month while using cold water. I would only take it out to clean my razor, and while I was cleaning my razor, the blade sat wrapped in a paper towel doused with rubbing alcohol for disinfecting purposes. So really, if you use cold water and sanitize it once a week it should last a good while. I learned this about razor blades from having a knife throwing as a hobby. The knives I throw are extremely sharp, and I keep them that way, but I clean them with cold water and then oil them with vegetable oil. I don’t know if oiling the double edge blade would help its lifespan, but it could be worth a shot.

      • André Corrêa says

        Wow! A whole month?! With room temperature water my blade lasted for 6 shaves. Since I give my face one day off to heal the skin, it’s a blade per week. That already suits me, since I buy bulk packs and I get 60 blades for R$20,00 (aproximatelly U$9,00) here in Brazil. If my blades lasted for a whole month each, that would leave me very little time for testing and buying different blades. Trying and buying them all is part of the fun :P. Plus, those were 6 confortable shaves. The blade life seems different. With hot water, my first shave with a new blade would be wonderful, the second good, the third was decent and the forth was regular with some irritation. I wouldn’t bother trying a fifth shave. For some blades, like BIC, I could get two good shaves and that was it! With room temperature water the best shaves are usually the third and the fourth ones. I just tried 6 shaves, but it would be possible to go even further easily. Hey, I think I saw a mantic’s video about oiling cartridges to extend their lifes.

  12. Josh says

    This is borderline irresponsible. I just did everything exactly the same with the exception of using only cold water and had ghastly results. I hope plastic surgeons aren’t that expensive.

    • Mark E. Wallace says

      Josh – Just because it didn’t work for you doesn’t make it an irresponsible post. There are many, many folks around the world shaving just like this, with excellent results.

      Indian, not arrow.

      – Mark

  13. Gary says

    I use warm or room temperature water. Amazingly, the whiskers continue to grow out again the next day, and need shaving all over again. Since I’ve got to do it again tomorrow, I just enjoy the process. Cold water doesn’t feel good, it feels cold. I tend to avoid discomfort, when possible.

  14. Adam Crawford says

    I just performed my first cold water shave after seeing this. When I first decided to give safety razor shaving a try I bought a Parker 29L. There is one spot on my neck that is extremely sensitive and difficult to get smooth. After trying both Shark and Personna blades, I noticed that area tended to bleed on my downward pass. With the cold water shave however, not only did I not bleed, but I made about five extra passes with just water to get it smooth and there wasn’t ANY irritation. I am now a convert to cold water shaving! Thanks for posting this article!

  15. Wayne Johnson says

    Just shaved this morn with cold water, with steller results. The shaving process is less comfortable, as the initial passes feel kinda scratchy. But the resulting shave is awesome…it left my face feeling 30 years younger. I think next time I’ll use an alum block as part of my cold water prep so as to fully close up the pores.

    • Wayne says

      …wanted to update my previous post. Using the alum-block as part of the cold water shave prep greatly improves the results. Cold water shaving takes a little longer and the process is less comfortable but the end result in incredible..my skin is hair free…this is a step above BBSm, and remarkably, irratation free.

  16. Pick says

    Wow. Running the razor over bare skin with no lubricant (soap/cream) is just asking for razor-burn in my opinion. Will have to try the cold water shave though, once it starts warming up here in the North.

  17. Wheeler says

    A longer lasting blade is the only benefit I’ve received from a cold shave. I prefer to lather up with warm water and rinse the blade with cold.

    Metal expands – gets softer – when warm. Metal gets stiffer when introduced to cold. So the blade cuts better and stays sharper longer when you rinse with almost freezing water.

    • Forbin says

      Didn’t mean to “ditto” you; I guess your post got moderated into view while I was writing mine?

      Your post makes me think of an alternate explanation of why this irritates my skin less. Colder blade = stiffer = better cutting = less of the microscopic friction heating in the first place.

      Or maybe just “better cutting” –> less pulling!

  18. Forbin says

    I’m of mostly Irish, Scottish, and “Ulster Irish” heritage, so I have very pale sensitive skin and a tough beard. A few years ago, I started experimenting around and hit on the following combination: lukewarm facial wash and lather, and ice cold blade rinse.

    My wife thinks I’m nuts, but this technique has really minimized facial irritation for me and consequently I can shave closer more often. I keep 2 smaller cups for rinsing and a larger cup to keep the smaller ones topped off, and for pre-chilling my razor (okay, I’m a heretic, I use cartridges).

    I literally use a mixture of water & a little crushed ice in the large cup — just enough ice so it won’t all melt before I’m done. I try to avoid more than a tiny chip or two in the rinse cups so I’m not banging the blades into them.

    To rinse the razor during shaving, I swish it pretty vigorously in the first cup, shake it a bit, do it again in the second cup, and then give it a couple of wrist snaps to flick it dry before the next stroke or two.

    I found it better to use 2 rinse cups instead of one, because the first one gets glopped up with the lather pretty quickly, and it warms faster. Two steps seems to keep the blades cleaner and colder with less fuss.

    My (completely untested and unproven) candidate theory is that there may be quite local (i.e. microscopic) heating effects on the leading edge of the blade and that starting the entire blade off at a colder temperature means the heat energy is more readily conducted up into the rest of the metal mass, and less of it into my face. :-)

  19. Helveticum says

    I’ve been shaving with cold water exclusively since the first time I’ve tried it. Makes a huge difference for me – and no discomfort whatsoever. In fact there are many more benefits to the skin that weren’t mentioned in the article, plenty of info in the subject for those that want to research.

    I do take cold showers too 😉

    • bcraigwaciii says

      Wow! My dad takes cold showers and swears by them. The most I can do is a lukewarm shower and a cold shave. Pretty amazing though. I mean my grandfather, who was a physician of Scottish decent, swore that cold showers helped raise body temperature in the winter, and shocked your heart too. There must have been something to it because he lived to the ripe old age of 90!

  20. Old shaving guy says

    Any WWII veteran, physicist, or someone who lived through the great depression knows the answer to this one. Use as much hot water on your face as you want. This makes the bristles stand up for a closer shave so that’s good but never rinse a razor blade in any water that is not as cold as it can possibly be.

    When rinsing the blade in warm/hot water the blade undergoes expansion followed by a contraction back to its normal size as the blade goes from hot back to normal temperature again. This makes the edge dull perhaps because the hot water softens the metal.

    When rinsing with only cold water the blade goes in the other direction by contraction first and then expansion back to its normal size as the temperature goes from cold back to normal temperature again. This does not dull the edge.

    With blades these days it is even worse. Hot or even warm water will soften the polymer coating on the blade. Then when the blade expands because of the warm or hot water the polymer stretches. When it contracts again not only is the edge dull but the polymer is all wrinkled up which effectively makes the blade seem even more dull. This happens pretty much instantly and is great for companies who manufacture razor blades because the consumer has to replace the blade sooner.

    To test this, lather and shave only half your face with a new razor (be sure to always rinse it in very cold water). When finished this side of your face, rinse the razor several times while changing the temperature of the water from hot to cold. Now lather and shave the other side of your face. If you do not immediately notice that the blade is now more dull you will for sure notice the next time you use the razor. Mine usually last until the wife takes them in the shower. I have had some blades stay perfectly sharp for at least a few years of daily shaving.

    As for the temperature of the water that you use on your face that is a personal preference but if you want your blades to last considerably longer they must never touch anything other than cold water.

  21. Rlayten says

    I use cold water to rinse my face, but I have hot water in the sink. As far as the way he shaves, using only liquid soap and very little lather, I’m surprised he still has a face. I could never do that, but if it works for him, great! I’ll stick to my routine thanks.

  22. Edge says

    I’ve tried cold water shaving with my DE blade. I was impressed by the end results. Can’t wait to try it with a Feather blade.

  23. david hall says

    Looks to me like he is using a cartridge type of razor in which case anybody can use the same technique due to the shaving angle remaining constant and the blades are cushioned by the guide/guard rails at the leading edge. A different result would be apparent if he used a DE razor.

  24. C'mon people says

    the guy in the video is clearly South African. accent is totally different… plus he says he is in the southern hemisphere -_- this is no “chap” from England.

  25. robin says

    sometime ago i started having cold showers or baths,at first for health reasons.and yes i had to practice mind over matter !! now i am really hooked .to many reasons to list ,but they can be found on the net.the cold water shave just seemed to be a progression, but what a fantastic shave.a nifty thing i did find was a razor pit to sharpen the fusion blades, with that cold water and good shave cream my skin is great.my age by the way is 60

  26. Leo says

    I started shaving with cold water 6 months ago and haven’t gone back to hot water. I even use cold water to lather up my shaving soap with the badger brush and rinse my blade between shaving strokes. As for showering in cold water, that is closer to summer time when I prepare cold water tolerance for my ocean swim races.

  27. says

    Funny, I just tried shaving with cold water this morning. I usually use hot water. I found the cold water invigorating, and the shave was a little harder to do then hot water shaving. However I found my face less irritated and smoother.

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