Ever notice how nothing about shaving is intuitive? Not using a disposable razor, not using a safety razor, not using a rotary shaver, not using a foil shaver. Nothing about it comes naturally. Is that odd? This is all to say, that if you’re a little confused by your rotary shaver, and wondering 1) how to use a rotary shaver, and maybe 2), how to use it so that you get more out of it, we’re here to help.
Below we’ve got 12 tips to help you use your rotary like a pro, and get a smooth, satisfying shave with as little effort as possible.
We’ll start with the tip we all need to hear:
Tip 1: Keep the Shaver Clean
The most important—but most overlooked!—aspect of shaving with a rotary shaver is keeping the device clean.
You wouldn’t think so, but a dirty shaver is one of the biggest causes of razor burn, and it makes sense when you consider it: there’s a lot of hair, dead skin, and sebum (the oil produced by your skin) built up on the blades, and it can get smushed down into your skin while you’re shaving, irritating your pores during the process. This can clog the pores and encourage bacterial growth, which can lead to inflammation, rashes, and a whole host of other awful stuff.
So, as often as you can—perhaps after every shave, or after every other shave—clean your razor thoroughly. There are a few ways to do this, depending on your shaver model and its features.
Empty the Shaver Head
On just about every rotary shaver, you can open up the shaver head, either by flipping it up or taking it off completely. Here’s one of our favorite shavers, the Philips Norelco 3800:
… and if you look right underneath the three rings of the rotary head, you’ll see a grey button:
Press that button and the top of the rotary pops open, like so:
All rotary shavers may not flip open like that, or may have a different mechanism to do so, but it’s a very common feature that let’s you get in there. Hair clippings build up there pretty fast, so after each shave, empty this out by turning it upside down and lightly tapping the casing so the clippings fall out. Do this over a trash can, of course!
By the way, we mentioned that we’re using a Norelco shaver. They are one of the top names in the rotary shaver game, and we’ve written about our favorites Norelco shavers here (and our favorite rotaries in general here).
Brush Off the Rotary Heads
Most rotary shavers come with a cleaning brush, but if your model didn’t or you’ve lost it, you can also use an old toothbrush. Use this to brush out the hair clippings that get caught down in the rotary heads between the blades.
Rinse Off the Blades
Only do this if your shaver is waterproof! If your rotary shaver isn’t waterproof, putting it underwater could permanently damage it.
However, if your shaver is rated for it, give the rotary heads a good rinse under the faucet before and after each use. This is an easy way to remove hair clippings and dead skin.
Use a Cleaning Station
Many modern rotary shavers come with a cleaning station, and depending on the model, you can sometimes buy one separately. These pump an alcohol-based cleaning solution through the rotary blades that removes hair, skin, and oil and kills bacteria.
Tip 2: Wash Your Face First
Many men get in a hurry and use their rotary shaver on their skin as soon as they wake up. This is one of the main reasons they end up with razor burn after shaving. Washing your face before shaving cuts down on inflammation and makes your shave more comfortable for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it’s good to get as much oil and dead skin off your face as possible. This allows the shaver to move fluidly over the skin and cut the hair consistently. Plus, the hairs can more easily stand up straight when they’re not weighed down by sebum and dead skin, so the shaver can more easily get at them.
Similarly, if you shave with all that oil and dead skin built up, the shaver can press it down into the pores or any small cuts or scrapes the shaver makes. This could feed bacteria that grow and cause acne and inflammation.
Washing your face, particularly with warm water, has another benefit, as well: it causes the pores to open up, which makes it a lot easier for the razor to cut the hair close to the skin without yanking or pulling it. This makes the shave more comfortable and minimizes irritation.
Tip 3: Exfoliate Your Skin
Sebum and dead skin cells build up quickly on your face. Especially if you keep your facial hair short as stubble, the skin and oil can start to cover the hair and trap it underneath. This makes it difficult for the shaver blades to cut the hairs evenly and consistently.
The best solution for this is to exfoliate your skin. There are a few ways to do this, but most men opt for an exfoliating scrub that they use to wash their face before they shave. This type of scrub has little beads inside that scrape off dead skin and dig oil out of your pores. This both lifts up the hairs and lets the shaver get closer to the base layer of skin thereby cutting the hair shorter.
Other convenient ways to exfoliate your skin include exfoliating brushes or sponges. You can even find battery-powered electric exfoliators that spin a brush to remove as much dirt, oil, and dead skin as possible.
Tip 4: Use Shaving Cream or Dry Your Face
Many men get a rotary shaver specifically so they can avoid the hassle of wet shaving and applying shaving cream. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that using a lubricant like shaving cream or gel will always improve the quality of your shave regardless of how modern your rotary shaver is. It softens the hair and creates a barrier between the blades and the skin that the blades can glide across.
Because a large number of modern rotary shavers are waterproof, you can actually wet shave with them as well. This way, you get the best of both worlds: the speed and convenience of a rotary shaver with the comfort of a wet shave.
However, if you’re really in a hurry or just hate shaving cream, you can definitely dry shave with a rotary shaver. You just really need to dry shave. If you wash your face or shower beforehand, make sure you’ve dried your face thoroughly. In professional settings, barbers using rotary shavers often even go so far as to apply an alcohol-based pre-shave solution to the skin which dries the hair out.
This is because without the shaving cream barrier, you can’t press into the skin. In fact, you don’t really want to touch the skin at all. Drying the hairs out makes them stand up straight and stiff, so you can get a closer shave without shaving cream.
Our next tip on how to use a rotary shaver may seem like it cuts against the grain (ha), but it’s one we advise nonetheless:
Tip 5: Use a Mirror
Again, there’s a good chance you got a rotary shaver in the first place so that you could save time and shave while you’re making coffee or pouring your cereal. However, if you can spare a few minutes, we definitely recommend using a mirror. For one thing, this will actually save you time in the long run because you won’t end up going over the same spots multiple times because you don’t know whether you’ve shaved the hair there or not. Shaving over the same spots multiple times can also cause irritation, and nobody wants that.
Moreover, using a mirror just helps you be more coordinated. You can see how you move the shaver over the angles of your jaw and chin, which lets you get an even shave without leaving any patches. Similarly, you can see if you have the skin taught or if there are any irritated areas where you should shave lightly.
Our specific advice is to get one of those small mirrors you can hang in the shower. They’re convenient since you can shave in the bathtub so you can easily clean up the trimmings. They won’t get all over the sink and annoy your wife / spouse / partner / roommates / whoever.
Plus, if you wet shave, it’s definitely a lot easier. Take a shower to open up your pores, then wet shave with shaving cream that you can rinse off in the shower.
Tip 6: Shave in Circular Motions
With a foil shaver, you’re supposed to shave in straight lines with the grain, and that’s one of the main differences between a foil shaver and a rotary shaver. You might think you should do the same with an electric rotary shaver, but that’s a bad strategy. The blades of a rotary shaver, well… rotate! They travel in circular motions, and as a result, their angle to your facial hair is constantly changing.
To facilitate shaving, you have to work with the movement of the rotary shaver itself. That means moving in slow, circular motions. This makes the shave more effective because the circular motion is more likely to catch the hair regardless of the angle it grows out of the skin. If the hair is flat against the skin, the circular motion allows the rotary head to lift it up off the skin so the blade can cut it.
Additionally, the circular motion makes it less likely that you pull or yank a hair. If you drag the shaver straight across your skin, it’s more likely that it catches a hair without cutting it. However, the circular motions give the shaver time to cut at the right angle so the blades or heads don’t catch any hairs.
Tip 7: Don’t Push Too Hard
Rotary shavers are usually recommended for men who don’t mind or even specifically want a little stubble. Except for a few of the highest-end models, rotary shavers never shave as close to the skin as your old safety razor, and this is actually a good thing.
A lot of men looking for a smooth shave try to cut the hairs closer to the skin by pressing the rotary shaver firmly against the skin. This works to cut the hairs shorter because it pushes the skin down causing the hair follicle to stick farther out of the pore as if you were sliding back a sheath. However, you should avoid doing this.
Razor burn, bumps, and other post-shave irritation is usually caused by hairs growing into the skin. If a hair follicle is cut below the surface of the skin, it may not grow straight out of the pore again and instead grow into the side of the pore—that is to say, into the skin itself. That damages the skin and causes inflammation. Most men can suffer from this issue to some extent, but it’s usually worse the curlier your hair is since it’s harder for the follicle to exit the pore.
Pushing a rotary shaver hard against your skin is a direct cause of this. Since it pushes the skin down, it’s likely to cut some of the hairs below the level of the skin. That means they have to exit the pore again.
When shaving with a rotary shaver, you shouldn’t press down. You should just feel the rotary heads lightly touching your skin.
Tip 8: Take Advantage of Settings
Rotary shavers seem to get more advanced by the day. They include settings that let you change the speed and power of the shaver, among many, many other things. And even though your manual may look like this…
…and have a bunch of pages, it’s definitely worth reading up on your model or flipping through the manual to see what kind of settings it has and how to use them. By adjusting speed and power, you can get a much more comfortable shave adapted to the thickness and density of your beard.
You can also learn about add-on features your rotary may have, like this one—the pop-up sideburn trimmer and edging tool:
These are great, and you won’t know about them unless you read the book that comes with your shaver.
Tip 9: Moisturize Your Skin After Shaving
Regardless of how advanced the shaver is that you’re using, shaving is hard on the skin. Not only does it pull on hairs, but the blades inevitably scrape the skin at least a little. It’s important to keep the skin healthy so it can repair itself easily and withstand the demands of frequent shaving.
Good moisturizing is arguably the most important part of keeping your skin healthy. It keeps the skin hydrated by trapping in water so it doesn’t dry out. This keeps it flexible and resilient.
We recommend moisturizing after each shave. This is doubly true if you wash your face beforehand and apply an alcohol-based aftershave. These steps are great because they remove dead skin and sebum and kill harmful bacteria—but they also strip away water as well as the skin’s protective layer. You should replace this after you shave with moisturizer.
There are many moisturizers made specifically for after-shave application. These often include essential oils that provide anti-inflammatory benefits and carrier oils that protect the skin without clogging pores. After your aftershave is dry, apply a thin layer to the skin you’ve shaved.
Tip 10: Replace the Blades as Necessary
Most quality rotary shavers these days have self-sharpening blades that resist corrosion. Nevertheless, any shaver blades will have to be replaced at some point. They will eventually dull, which means they won’t cut effectively. Dull blades mean irritation because they have to pull more on the hairs to cut them and don’t cut as smoothly.
Exactly how often you should change the blades on your particular rotary shaver depends on the model, so check the manual. However, you should usually change them out every 6-12 months. Don’t be afraid to replace them earlier if it seems like they’re beginning to cut less effectively, though. This usually means you start to feel the blades yanking on the hair, or it may seem like the blades are leaving more patches of unshaven hair than they used to.
Most manufacturers sell replacement blades for their models as well as some third-party dealers. Just make sure you get blades compatible with your specific model.
Tip 11: Keep the Shaver Charged
It may seem like a simple step, but always making sure your shaver has enough battery life for a shave is an easy but important way to improve the quality of your shave. For one thing, it’s pretty inconvenient to wake up in a rush for work and find your shaver dead. More importantly, you don’t want the shaver to die while you’re in the middle of shaving. This could cause hair to get stuck between the blades, a painful experience that can cause irritation.
Keeping your shaver charged is easiest if there’s a battery level indicator of some kind, be it a simple light or a digital percentage display. When it gets low, plug it in after your next shave. If your shaver doesn’t have one of these indicators, consider plugging it in after every two or three shaves based on its stated battery life.
Tip 12: Store the Shaver Correctly
Lastly, put your shaver away in a safe place after each shave. Of course, you don’t want it to get damaged when someone knocks it off the edge of the sink where you left it, but more significantly, you want to keep the blades away from water or other liquids. Even with corrosion-resistant blades, enough exposure could eventually cause them to dull and corrode, especially if other chemicals are involved.
If your shaver comes with a charging stand, this is a great option since it keeps the shaver upright and the blades away from water. Carrying cases are also good choices. If your shaver didn’t come with either of these, try to put it in its own container. You can use a reusable plastic storage container or toiletry bag. Alternatively, give it a dedicated drawer that’s dry and secure where it won’t get knocked around too much.
Welcome to the Rotary Club!
Knowing how to use a rotary shaver correctly can mean the difference between a smooth shave that looks neat and professional and an uncomfortable shave that causes unsightly redness and irritation. We hope there’s something here that helps you—good luck, have fun, and happy shaving!
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.