How do you choose a shaving bowl?
This can be a difficult question to answer. There are so many factors to consider and it usually boils down to your own preference.
We’ll go through the different styles and materials that shaving bowls come in to weigh up their advantages and disadvantages before moving onto the specific features that you will want to consider when choosing your bowl.
What material should my shaving bowl be made from?
Shaving bowls are usually made from one of 4 materials: ceramic, plastic, metal, or wood. There are also some less common materials such as horn. Each have their pros and cons when it comes to lathering, which we’ll go into.
Ceramic, sometimes referred to as stoneware, is a widely used material in all manner of items from tea mugs to dedicated shaving scuttles.
They hold colour well and can easily feature a logo or other form of artwork to make it more personal. This means you can pick up a relatively inexpensive shaving vessel of all shapes, colours and sizes to suit your preferences fairly easily. For example, many wet shavers use a large branded coffee mug they like the design of.
Ceramic’s most attractive quality for shaving is its ability to hold heat efficiently; which is why most scuttles are made of it. You can submerge your bowl in hot water before shaving to heat it up so that the lather you generate is pleasantly warm on your skin.
Another positive is that ceramic is stain resistant and easy to clean so you can quickly wash out any remaining lather and it won’t retain any smell by the time it comes to your next shave.
However, as anyone that has dropped a plate knows, ceramics can be quite delicate and prone to chips and, more devastatingly, smashing into pieces.
It’s not ideal for hands made entirely of thumbs or for traveling, unless you don’t mind constantly reinvesting in a new bowl.
Also, the smooth surface of ceramics doesn’t aid in the lathering process because it won’t increase the friction between lather and brush. This isn’t necessarily a problem as it doesn’t prevent a lather forming, but it will increase the time it takes to generate.
Some bowls get around this by adding bumps and ridges on the inside surface to increase the surface area.
- Widely available allowing for a lot of options to choose from
- Can be very cheap if you’re not fussy; use an old, large coffee mug.
- Offers good heat retention
- Won’t absorb moisture or smells
- Easy to break
- Smooth surface doesn’t aid lathering process
- Specialist shaving products tend to be expensive
Plastic is easily the cheapest option available and is found in a wide range of products so you can pick yourself up a serviceable shaving bowl for next to nothing and in whatever colour you please.
They’re very light and durable; unlikely to break no matter how many times you knock them on the floor, making them perfect for traveling or for placement in shared bathrooms.
However, specialist shaving bowls in plastic are very difficult to come by. If you do find one, it tends to be unbranded, made in China, and far too small to be effective. We couldn’t find any that were built for purpose.
Your best bet would be a good sized plastic kitchen bowl for a cheap, no-frills option for building your shaving lather.
Like ceramics, the smooth surface of plastic bowls doesn’t aid lather generation; unlike ceramics, they don’t retain much heat for keeping your lather warm.
- Very cheap
- Lots of options for colour and size
- Very durable
- Won’t absorb moisture or smells
- Not many options for specialist shaving bowls
- Smooth surface doesn’t aid lathering
- Looks and feels cheap
Metal shaving bowls are a fairly common product made by a number of grooming brands and tend to be middle of the road in terms of price; cheaper than ceramic bowls but pricier than plastic.
You don’t have to use a specialist shaving bowl, there are many metal kitchen bowls or metal mugs that could easily serve for lather building which widens your options.
You have to make sure that the metal bowl you’re using won’t rust so make sure it is made from stainless steel.
Generally speaking, most metal bowls look the same and are fairly uninspiring but won’t look out of place in most bathroom environments.
However, many feature branding on the side and some can be more elaborate with a decorated, hammered finish or have the potential to be personalised with engraving, although this will cost extra.
Most metal bowls that we came across had a smooth surface which won’t aid lathering but there are some out there with ridges and bumps on the inside.
Metal isn’t able to retain heat very well so you’ll find that your lather has gone cold again mid way through your shave.
- Can be elaborately decorated or custom engraved
- Won’t absorb moisture or smells
- Durable but can dent
- Standard metal bowls are uninspiring
- Smooth surface doesn’t aid lathering
- Poor heat retention
The grain in wooden bowls almost always adds a touch of luxury to the bathroom which is no surprise they’re usually used for presentation to store a good quality soap.
However, finding a wooden shaving bowl that is the right size for specifically lathering can be quite tricky as they’re not widely available, but there are options out there.
Depending on the finish of the bowl, the rough texture of the wood can aid in lather generation, giving you a workable lather in half the time.
Wood isn’t bad at retaining heat so you can pre-soak it in hot water and it should provide you with a nice warm lather.
Wood is also unlikely to break if dropped but the main downside is the potential for it to absorb water if not left to dry properly which, over time, will begin to warp the shape and can give it a slightly musty smell.
In terms of price; buying a wooden shaving bowl without a soap to come with it isn’t always an option so, if you’re not interested in the soap, it can be quite pricey.
If you can find a wooden bowl by itself, they tend to be slightly more expensive than metal bowls but cheaper than specialist ceramic bowls.
- Looks luxurious
- Can be reasonably priced
- Rough texture creates a quicker lather
- Holds its heat quite well
- Can absorb water and warp over time
- Most bowls are presentation only
After material we need to look at the different types: mug, scuttle, bowl
Mugs are great because they are readily available and they have high sides so you don’t lose any of your precious lather as you’re whipping it up. They’re also very easy to hold onto because of the handle on the side, allowing you to grip tight if you tend to work your brush quite vigorously.
Most first time wet shavers will have used an old tea or coffee mug when starting out which is great because it’s cheap, convenient and they’re designed to retain heat for hot liquid.
Many wet shavers are happy to continue to use old mugs, or even buy regular mugs specifically for shaving, indefinitely.
But for those that want something a bit nicer, they can get a proper shaving mug.
One of the disadvantages of regular mugs is that they’re usually not wide enough which results in your shaving brush continually clinking against the rim and can result in damaging either the mug or brush.
Specialty shaving mugs, on the other hand, tend to be a bit wider giving more room for the brush to swirl around uninhibited. It’s worth pointing out that even the wider mugs can result in your brush hitting the side if you’re not careful.
Many of them also feature ridges and bumps on the inside for the sole purpose of increasing the friction to build a lather quicker.
- High sides
- Easy to grip handle
- Risk of hitting brush against sides
- Most are made of ceramic which can break
Scuttles fall into two categories: the original scuttle and the bowl scuttle. The difference being that one looks like a teapot with a handle on one side and a spout on the other, and the other looks like a bowl with a thick base and a hole on the side.
Historically the spout on original scuttles was filled with warm water and used to dip your brush into when working your shaving soap. The bowl variant is a more recent innovation and is designed so that the bottom is filled with hot water to keep your lather warm throughout the shave.
Most shaving scuttles you see these days are closer to the modern style, their most attractive feature being a hot lather throughout your shave. They usually also feature a textured inside or ridges to help build your lather quicker.
They tend to look very traditional with a rustic style that isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but for some people that is what makes them so appealing.
- Hot lather
- Quite bulky
- Tend to only be sold in ceramic
- Rustic style isn’t for everyone
The most common receptacle for building your shaving lather is the traditional shaving bowl. As with the mugs, you can use pretty much any bowl you like and designate it your “shaving bowl” but there are some benefits to buying one that is built for that specific purpose.
It’s important to know that there are two different types of shaving bowl: one that you use to store or present your shaving soap, and one that you lather with.
Surprisingly, most shaving soaps that come pre-packaged in a bowl are not ideal for lathering with. They are designed specifically for presenting soap so it looks as nice as possible to entice you into buying it. They are usually perfectly fitted to the soap it comes with, so it sits flush at the top of the bowl, leaving no room for you to build your lather.
This is because companies want you to buy their soap again so they purposely create a bowl that perfectly fits their product.
So what do you do?
You’ll find that trying to build a lather on top of the soap when it’s sitting flush to the rim usually ends with most of it falling on the floor and around the sink.
Instead, you should load your brush by working the soap and then build your lather in another container or directly in your hand or on your face.
Leave the fitted bowl for presenting your soap in your bathroom so it fits in with your decor and keeps your sink area tidy. They often come with a lid which can look extra smart and hide any soapy residue around the rim.
A lathering bowl is exactly as it’s name suggests: for building your lather in.
Less obviously, you don’t keep a shaving soap inside it when building your lather but instead load your brush with soap or cream beforehand. This means you’re not locked into a specific soap that fits it so you can change up whichever brand of soap or cream takes your fancy for that shave.
Shaving bowls come in all sizes and materials so the one you choose wants to fit your bathroom decor and feel comfortable to hold when whipping up your lather.
Most are designed so they fit nicely in the palm of your hand, allowing you to vigorously work the brush. They tend to come in two broad sizes: one style is quite small, so it easily fits in your hand, but this runs the risk of losing lather over the sides.
The other style is a lot bigger allowing for more freedom of movement without losing any soap but can be more awkward to hold and much more expensive.
The best usually feature a textured or ridged inner surface as well. A benefit of the bowl is that it can be left to float in hot water to keep it warm regardless of the material it’s made of.
- Looks stylish
- Varied shapes to suit preference
- Depending on size, lather can fall out
No matter what type of shaving bowl you use, it needs to be a size that suits the building up of a lather (unless you just want it for presentation purposes).
For this, we recommend a bowl that is at least 4 inches across so that the shaving brush can easily swirl without banging against the sides. It also needs to be at least 3 inches deep with relatively steep sides to prevent the shaving lather from getting lost over the rim.
We’ve mentioned it briefly already but the texture of the surface you are building your lather on can have a big difference to how quickly it comes together.
Some of the materials such as ceramic, plastic and metal, have a very smooth surface compared to wood or stoneware. If you work your lather on a rougher surface many people find it is easier, probably because of the increased surface area.
One way to get round this problem for smooth materials is to intentionally create nucleation sites by scoring the inside of the bowl. We wouldn’t advise this because of the potential to break your bowl and it doesn’t look very good.
The best option is to buy a product that already has this built-in.
We have a range of hand-picked shaving bowls in our shop, using a variety of materials to suit your needs, that we have personally tested and know to be excellent quality.