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I Did It! I Did It! – A Love/Hate Story About Shaving Soap

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I hate shaving soaps!

A few years ago, I got into traditional wet shaving. I had never EVER been able to generate a decent lather from a shaving soap. Foamy. Airy. Dissolving on my face after less than a minute. So frustrating.

Resigned,  I used only creams, which isn’t so bad since there are so many really good ones out there. For a while, I gave up the idea that I’d ever be able to have a collection of wooden and plastic bowls filled with with the pucks of my favorite scents I’d been longing to buy.
Now, I can’t say I have the best technique in the world, but I can generate a damn good lather from nearly any shaving cream. Why such a problem with shaving soaps then?

Maybe it’s the heat…
Usually, I use a scuttle with the outer bowl filled with as hot of tap water that our building allows (pretty darn hot). It had been suggested to me that the heat might be drying out the lather. Okay, I’ll try it without a heated scuttle…

Nope. Same crappy lather.

Maybe the brush is too wet…

Okay, let’s squeeze and shake most of the water out of my Semogue boar brush to see if that helps.

Nope. Same crappy lather.

Maybe the brush isn’t wet enough…

Okay, let’s leave more water in the brush this time.

Nope. Crappy lather. Actually, it was worse than usual.

Maybe our water is too hard…

Maybe I’m using too much/not enough pressure on the brush…

Maybe I need a new flux capacitor…

Really, I tried anything and everything that came to mind or was suggested to me. This past weekend, I wanted to try again. SUCCESS!
What the hell did I do differently?

* Loading Time *

Now, I had tried a longer loading time before, going from a measly thirty seconds to about a minute. All the videos I watched showed the brushes’ bristles clumping together a lot more than mine and really being loaded with soap.

I figured, “What the heck have I got to lose?” So, I used my phone as a timer and set it for two minutes. My brush was on the drier side, and the puck of sample soap had been wetted (in its own bowl) with about a teaspoon of hot water while I showered. The pressure I used was such to just barely spread the bristles on the tip of the brush. I didn’t want to create lather; I wanted the soap to stick to the brush.

After two full minutes, and a bit of forearm cramp, I looked at the brush. Hmmm, that seemed to be a LOT better. Let’s test it out!

Brush to Scuttle… Brush to Scuttle… we are ready to initiate docking procedure Delta-Lather-9. Repeat: Delta-Lather-9. Over.

One part of my technique I had changed more recently is to really work the lather before I even think of hydrating it. All too often, I had made the mistake of trying to hydrate a cream before its structure had been fully developed, resulting in flaccid lather. (Even with that newer technique, I wasn’t getting anywhere with soaps.)

Scuttle to Brush… Scuttle to Brush… lather appears stable. Again… the lather appears to be stable. Proceed. Over.

Finally, I had what I thought was a really good base lather to start hydrating. Half-teaspoon by half-teaspoon, I added hot water and worked it into the lather. When I felt like it was sufficiently hydrated, I began the shave.

Brush to Scuttle… Brush to Scuttle… procedure Gamma-Hydrate-2 complete. Commencing Operation: Face Scraper. Over.
Roger, Brush. Sending coordinates to human for proper razor angle. Zeroing out pressure. Good work. See you later for final rinse.

Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! Lather. GOOD lather. Creamy, stable and hydrated.

The shave? Brilliant! It was really close, much closer than I’ve gotten in a long while with my creams.

It turns out that our water is so hard here in Los Angeles that I have to use way more product than what is shown in most tutorials, even with creams. I just didn’t realize it would take that long for me to get a soap onto the brush.

I love shaving soap!

Kenny Haberman

Kenny Haberman

16 thoughts on “I Did It! I Did It! – A Love/Hate Story About Shaving Soap”

  1. Rodolfo De la Vega

    Congratulations! I’ve been using shaving soap for around 2 years now and I personally love it. I prefer to form the lather directly on my face and I enjoy the brush massage. It does take more time to form lather than the creams, even back in Colombia (South America) and now here in Boston. Once you get used to the timing, it’s as smooth as it’s going to get.

    1. As The Dean suggested above, lathering on the face with soaps seems the way to go for me with our hard water.

  2. If you have problems of hard water, I would suggest trying some Italian soft shaving soaps; 75% of Italian live with hard water and these croaps are designed to be used in hard water environments; probably the reason for Michael’s Cella comments above. Cheers!

  3. I have a “Badger Hair” brush I bought on Amazon a couple of years ago. The brush is great but the coating on the wood handle has chipped off. Do you know how I can cover it?

  4. I just returned from three weeks in LA. For convenience, I’d brought a stick of Arko, which works fine at home in Chicago. A couple of lines on my face, and I’m in. In LA, rubbing on as much as possible? Just about nothing.
    My wife came out and spent a couple of days with me, and I had her bring my tub of the old reliable, Cella (easy for her to find, too: the red one), and everything was fine.
    I’m blaming the LA water, too.

  5. For me, my big breakthrough was sprinkling a little hot water from the brush onto the puck to let it soften while I shower. It really makes a difference with some of the harder soaps.

  6. Two comments:
    First, dang funny post, I was laughing all the way through it. As someone who has blogged since 2005, well done!
    Second, I had the exact same problem this morning with my soap. I rotate between several creams and soap, but tend to use the soap less. I’ll put forth more effort next time.
    Thanks for the read and the tip.

  7. Congrats on finally cracking the code. Sometimes it takes a bit of work to find out what method works best for you–and for each soap. But one of the options you didn’t mention trying is face lathering.
    Even with the hard Florida water, I found skipping the bowl/scuttle and going right to the face was the easiest way to build great lather from just about any soap or cream. It seems a bit easier to get the right hydration working right on the face–and shaving in the shower. I also was able to cut back on the loading time (I bore easily)–if I need more product for the 3rd pass I can always go right back to the product.
    Of course, if you really like to see a bowl of lather porn, then this isn’t the answer for you. I will mix up a bowl of whipped-cream lather from time-to-time (it is kinda cool) but I no longer think it is worth the extra effort.

  8. Yeah, the water quality really makes a difference. I live in FL and have hard water, but this weekend was in GA and stayed at a hotel with soft water… there was a noticeable difference in beard hydration time and lather making. I can usually get great shave results, but this one was effortless. The Kell’s soaps make great lather; I have the Energy scent.

    1. I’ll be in the Pacific Northwest soon. I’m curious to see if their water is any softer than ours.

      1. Personally, I prefer synthetic bristle shave brushes; in my opinion they make lather easier and more efficiently. They are also generally softer than badger or boar at their corresponding price points. This one is the same quality of an Omega Synthetico at a fraction of the price.
        My personal favorite is the original Beauty Strokes synthetic, but it is an awfully large brush. The Eco Tools synthetic kabuki brush (available at most Walgreens) is serviceable and cheap, but the bristle loft is too short for my taste.

        1. Try Rite Aid Pharmacies Renewal synthetic Kabuki brush. It lacks the proper shaving brush handle, but the brush itself is superior. It reminds me of Muhle’s black fiber, with more loft, dries in 10 minutes. Ecotools Kabuki takes a few hours. As a reference Kent Infinity is dry in 45 minutes.

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