One of the best parts of a barbershop straight razor shave are the copious amounts of hot towels the barber presses on your face. It’s so stinking relaxing. There’s also a practical reason for this classic ritual: the heat from the towel softens up your beard so the barber can give you a nice, close, comfortable shave.
Unfortunately, it will be awhile before I experience the pleasure of a hot towel shave at a barbershop again. My old barber retired and took with him his amazing antique, gas-powered hot towel warmer! While I’m looking for a new barber who offers hot towel shaves here in Tulsa, I’ve decided to re-create the experience in the comforts of my own home. It’s a great addition to my pre-shave routine on mornings when I have a little extra time. Below I show you how it’s done.
Step 1: Get a Towel/Washcloth
You don’t need anything fancy. Any old bathroom hand towel or washcloth will do. I prefer washcloths because they’re just the right size for your face.
Step 2: Pick Your Essential Oil
Many barbers add essential oils to their towels before steaming them in order to make the towels even more relaxing. Three traditional and relaxing barbershop scents are lavender, eucalyptus, and sandalwood. You can buy vials of essential oil at many health foods stores; prices vary depending on the scent (sandalwood is crazy expensive).
For a eucalyptus-scented hot towel that also packs the punch of invigorating menthol, you can improvise (and save money) by using some Vicks VapoRub. A Vicks hot towel not only softens up your beard and makes your skin feel great, but it acts as an nasal decongestant when you’ve got a cold. My sinuses cleared right up after applying my Vicks-imbued hot towel to my face.
Step 3: Apply Essential Oil to Dry Towel
Whatever essential oil you go with, apply it to your towel while it’s dry. If you’re going with the cool, refreshing menthol experience from the Vicks VapoRub, just spread a small, thin layer of the goop around the center of your towel. You don’t need too much. This stuff packs a powerful punch when heated up!
If you’re using an essential oil like lavender or sandalwood, just apply a few drops on your washcloth, like so.
Step 4: Heat Up Towel
Now it’s time to turn our hot towel into a hot towel. There are three methods you can use to get your towel steaming.
Hot Water from Faucet
The most obvious way to heat up your towel is to simply run it under the hot water from the faucet of your bathroom sink. While I was able to get a piping hot towel by doing this, this method does come with some drawbacks. First, if your wife used up all the hot water in the shower so she could shave her legs, you’re going to have to wait a bit while your water heater does some more work. Second, depending on what temperature you have your water heater set at, you might not be able to get hot enough water for the full hot towel effect. Finally, even if you have plenty of hot water in your water heater, it may take a bit for the hot water to arrive. I had to wait a good minute for the water to start running really hot.
Nuke a Damp Towel
A faster and more sure way to heat up your towel is to simply nuke it in the microwave. Run your towel under the kitchen faucet, then wring it out so that it’s just slightly damp. Throw it in a Pyrex dish or on a plate and microwave for 30 seconds. Presto. A super hot towel, super fast. Sure, you’ll have to apply your hot towel in the kitchen and then walk back to the bathroom to shave, but if you consider that an inconvenience, you need to be kicked in the head by a Brontomerus.
Pour Hot Water from Teapot
Kill two birds with one stone with this method. Boil up some water in your teapot for your morning tea or French press coffee. While your tea or coffee is steeping, place your prepped dry towel in a dish or bowl and pour hot water on it. Make sure the entire towel gets wet. Wring out the towel. Be careful! The water and towel are going to be really hot using this method. You might wait a few minutes for the water to cool off before you handle it.
Apply to Face. Enjoy.
Apply your hot towel to your face and just hold it there for a few seconds. Bask in the soothing heat while your whiskers soften up. When I start to feel my towel cool down, I’ll rub my whiskers in the opposite direction of their growth, lifting the hair from my skin so I can get a closer shave. When your hot towel is no longer hot, remove and follow your regular shaving routine.
Start your day off on a relaxed foot and enjoy.
Last updated: April 12, 2016