What's new



Water's place in shaving is fundamental. Dry shaving is universally regarded as uncomfortable, and electric shaving (which can be dry) is practical in some cases, but less preferred by the patrons of Badger & Blade. Good lather depends on "good" water, and to a smaller degree, proper prep can also depend on good water. Razor and blade care is affected by water quality. As such, it may be useful for wet shavers to understand more about water, and how local water affects his or her shave.

Water Hardness

USA Water Hardness Map|US Geological Survey water hardness map.
The level of mineral content in water (primarily calcium, magnesium and iron) determines the hardness of a given water sample. Harder water contains more metals or minerals that can bind to soap molecules, forming soap scum, and reducing the froth and effectiveness of lather.

In comparison, soft water contains very little mineral content. Soft water is less able to bond with the soap, making the soap very difficult to wash off. This presents an unfortunate conundrum: too hard, and you get soap scum and lousy lather; too soft, and you can't rinse clean.

Here's a chart that was taken from Wikipedia and also the Water Quality Association[1] in order to assess your own water. Both tables are merged as they are not exactly scaled the same way.

Classificationhardness in mg/Lhardness in mmol/Lhardness in dGH/°dHhardness in gpghardness in ppmhardness in gpg (WQA)ppm (or mg/L) (WQA)
Soft0–600–0.600-3.370-3.50less than 60<1.0<17.0
Slightly Hard1.0-3.517.1-60
Moderately hard61–1200.61–1.203.38-6.743.56-7.0160-1203.5-7.060-120
Very hard≥ 181≥ 1.81≥ 10.12≥ 10.57> 180>10.5>180


Detergent manufacturers (including "body wash") have an advantage when operating in either too hard or too soft water; detergents don't form soap scum, and they bond more readily with water so they are easier to rinse. Detergent molecules can form a slippery lather, but in general, do not, by themselves, form a durable and cushioning lather. Sometimes detergent-based products include foaming agents such as sodium laureth sulfate.

Hard water and shaving equipment

Soap scum|Buildup of soap scum and hard water scale on the heads of a Gillette Slim Adjustable and a Gillette NEW. Some soap scum has been removed for contrast.
Hard water has several effects on shaving equipment. Scale (hard, white, calcium deposits) can form on any surface where water is allowed to dry. It is noticeable on razors and mugs but can build up on other items. Hard water creates soap scum, and this, too, can build up on any surface that comes in contact with soap or lather. Soap scum is insoluble in water (any water). Once soap scum builds up on a shaving brush, it affects the brush's ability to hold water and generate lather.

Water Softening

Metals and minerals can be removed to make soft, or softer, water. The resulting water should be better able to support a good shaving lather and leave shaving gear with less residue, soap scum, or scale.


Some commercial water softeners basically swap the dissolved minerals for salt content; thus, while the water is softer, and better able to support shaving lather, it should not be ingested due to the elevated sodium content.


Washing soda (sodium carbonate) and borax (sodium borate or sodium tetraborate) soften water, though both can be skin irritants and should not be ingested. These products bind with the calcium and magnesium ions so that they do not combine with the soap molecules and form soap scum. Thus, the hard water will no longer interfere with the lathering and rinsing of soap. The trade-off is that, like soap scum, the precipitate of washing soda and/or borax with the hard water minerals will also build up on surfaces. Further, these water softeners increase the alkalinity of the water, contributing to the above-mentioned possibility of skin irritation and the imperative that the water not be consumed internally. Note that the water softening effect of washing soda and borax is why they are called "laundry boosters".

Soap Additives

Many soaps, bath bars, body washes, etc. contain chelating agents or other highly localized water softeners. These additives, such as tetrasodium EDTA, isolate hard mineral/metal ions and prevent them from coming into contact with the soap or lather, thus making the water seem -- at least to the soap -- softer.

Shaving Lather

Distilled water is very soft, and some shavers find that it is worth the trouble to use distilled or bottled water for shaving preparation and shaving. Soap scum and hard water scale builds up on brushes and razors and can be difficult to remove, so distilled water avoids this problem. As noted above, borax or washing soda softens water but have a few drawbacks. With proper periodic cleaning of shave gear, hard water can be reduced to a minor nuisance with few adaptations such as a soap or cream that works well in hard water, a non-soap lather product (like Cremo), or even a brushless pressurized foam or gel.

Hot Water Versus Cold Water

The conventional wisdom among wet shavers is to use hot water for shaving (note that scalding water may damage natural brushes, so be careful when soaking the brush). Some prefer cold, or tepid water for shaving. Hot water opens pores and makes skin more supple. Cold water tightens skin and closes pores.


  1. ^https://www.wqa.org/Learn-About-Water/Perceptible-Issues/Scale-Deposits


This page has been seen 24,668 times.

  • Contributors:

Recent Activity

Icon Legend

  • Normal page
  • Color code

    • Content has new updates
    • Content has no updates

Share This Page

Top Bottom