Regardless of your stance on the electric vs traditional shaving debate, there’s no denying that electric shavers are very practical.
There’s something very appealing about being able to simply grab your razor and start shaving, particularly when compared to the lengthy prep work implied by traditional shaving.
And it’s not just the preparation and the actual shaving; cleaning and drying your gear can be tedious and repetitive.
While most electric shavers are easy to clean manually, an automatic cleaning station is the ultimate step in ensuring a completely fuss-free shaving experience.
All the major manufacturers offer variations of their shavers that include an automatic cleaning station. And while the goal is the same — charging, cleaning, drying and lubricating the shaver — they can be very different in many ways.
For example, the cost of the cleaning cartridges, how well the stations perform, how long the cleaning and drying cycles take to complete — these are all things that should be considered by a potential buyer.
In this post we’ll examine some of the best automatic cleaning stations from Braun, Philips Norelco and Panasonic, see how they stack against each other for the most important aspects and ultimately find out if they are worth your money.
Braun Clean & Charge automatic cleaning stations
Braun, one of the most popular manufacturers of electric shavers, offers the option of an automatic cleaning station for all their electric shavers.
These include the Series 3, Series 5, Series 7 and the flagship Series 9. The models that include the cleaning station usually have a CC (standing for Clean & Charge) in the product name. For example, 3050cc, 5090cc, 7865cc, 9290cc etc.
The s (solo) models don’t come with a cleaning station and except for the Series 7, they will not work with one. The Series 7 s models (like the 740s, 7893s etc) are the only ones fitted with the chip needed to communicate with the station.
In the case of the other lines — the Series 3, 5 and 9 — only the cc models come with this chip and will work with a compatible cleaning base.
Overview and features
All the stations, regardless if they come with an entry-level Series 3 or a high-end Series 9, use the same cleaning cartridges.
The cleaning solution is alcohol based and Braun is as far as I know the only manufacturer that uses alcohol; all the other ones use a detergent based cleaning solution.
Choosing alcohol has both advantages and disadvantages. Alcohol is very efficient at cleaning and also dries very fast.
On the other, alcohol also evaporates very fast and is flammable, so there may be shipping or traveling restrictions because of it.
Even though all the clean & charge stations across Braun’s lines of electric shavers use the same cartridges, they can be different in the way they work.
For example, the Series 3 uses a more basic variant that has been stripped off of several features, like the LED indicators, cleaning modes or the option to just charge the razor without cleaning it.
The cleaning station of the Series 3 is also more compact compared to the ones included with the Series 5, 7 or 9.
The size and shape of the opening, along with how the shaver is connected to the station via two metal plates differs throughout the different series, so you won’t be able to use your Series 7 station with a Series 9 shaver for example or vice-versa.
Another difference among the Braun stations is how they dry your shaver.
For example, the stations that come with the Series 7 and 9 use either induction heating or a fan to speed up the drying process, while the ones included with the Series 3 and 5 don’t use any active system to dry the shaver.
As a result, the drying cycle for the Series 3, 5 and the above mentioned Series 7 models takes a lot longer as the alcohol-based solution will have to evaporate naturally. On average it takes 3 to 4 hours to have a completely dry shaver.
This isn’t a deal breaker as most of us won’t need to shave within hours of a previous shave and you can simply leave the razor into the station.
Regarding the use of inductive heat vs fan, both implementations have pros and cons.
Using a fan produces some noise and also takes a bit more time. For example, a complete cleaning and drying cycle on the Series 7 station that uses induction heat takes 30 to 40 minutes, while in the case of the Series 9 it takes in excess of 45 minutes.
The fan does seem to dry it completely compared to induction heat that tends to sometimes leave the shaving head damp.
Using inductive heat is completely silent and takes less time, but Braun ditched it in favor of using a fan for the latest Series 9 shavers.
The better drying achieved by a fan and possibly the lower production costs are the main reasons for this change.
Braun’s automatic stations clean, charge, dry and lubricate the shaver and do so very well. You can’t however choose just to dry your shaver (you can do that with Panasonic stations).
The cleaning and drying cycles are reasonably short and quiet, even for the stations that use a fan. The cleaning cycle takes around 2 to 5 minutes, while the drying phase lasts for 15 minutes to almost an hour, depending on what technology it’s being used (induction heat or fan).
Some shavers in the Series 5 and 7 families include a more basic version of the cleaning station, lacking a few features.
For example, only the Series 5 5090cc comes with the full option station while the other models (like the 5070cc) lack the cleaning modes (short, normal, high intensity) and the hygiene analysis.
The same goes for the Series 7 760cc variation that doesn’t include the quick clean mode and hygiene indicator like the rest of the Series 7 shavers.
Despite these differences, the end result after the cleaning is excellent. The shaver is perfectly clean and lubricated, ready for your next shave. And it has a very nice, citrusy scent.
As for the downsides, since the solution is alcohol based, it tends to evaporate fast. It is therefore a good idea to remove the cartridge from the base and put the cap back on if you won’t be using it for a few days.
Also, there’s a very odd and highly inconvenient restriction if you’ll be using your shaver with shaving cream or gel.
You’ll have to manually clean all the foam and soap from the shaver before using the station. If you fail to do this the station will eventually clog.
It’s pretty obvious why this is a deal breaker for anyone planning to buy a wet/dry shaver like the Series 7 7865cc or the Series 9 9290cc and using it with shaving cream or gel.
The automatic cleaning station should take care of all the cleaning hassle and Braun fails to do this in the case of wet shaving.
For dry shaving, this is a non-issue, but if you plan on using shaving cream I highly recommend you to consider other options from Panasonic or Philips Norelco.
Finally, because the cleaning solution contains alcohol, the paint just below the shaving head can start to chip and flake after years of using the station. The problem was notorious with the Series 7 and we’re yet to see if it’s still present in the case of the Series 5 and 9.
Braun says that the cc models have a coat of special paint that should withstand the exposure to alcohol, but still some users have reported issues.
However, the damage is only aesthetic and won’t affect the performance of the shaver.
Cost of ownership
Another very important thing to factor in when looking at various cleaning stations is how much money you’ll be spending on replacement cartridges.
While the performance of the Braun station is very good, the costs are higher compared to Panasonic and Philips Norelco.
The cartridges are priced similarly, maybe a bit pricier, but they don’t last as long. Depending on how often you use the station, one cartridge can last between one and two months.
Braun Clean & Renew replacement cartridges
You can prolong the time between changing the cartridges significantly by avoiding the evaporation of the fluid (putting the cap back on), using it once or twice per week or by brushing the excess hairs and dirt from the shaving head before you use the station.
There are also third-party alternatives that work really well and cost less money.
Should you get it?
I usually don’t recommend cleaning stations if they’re not absolutely necessary, but in the case of Braun shavers, they are.
The shaving heads are notoriously difficult to clean manually because the blades and foils are merged into a single piece, called a cassette. Panasonic for example uses separate blades and foils, making cleaning a breeze.
Even if you won’t be using the station after every shave, my recommendation is to buy a Braun shaver that includes one, especially in the case of the Series 5, 7 or 9 (you can probably skip it for the Series 3).
- Fast and quiet cycles, especially for the ones that use induction heat;
- They do a great job of cleaning and lubricating the shaver;
- They use cartridges, so you won’t have to mix water and detergent beforehand;
- The refill containers have plastic caps, very convenient and practical for storage and traveling.
- The alcohol-based solution evaporates fast when you don’t use the station for extended periods;
- The cartridges are more expensive and don’t last as much as the ones for Panasonic and Philips Norelco;
- If you use shaving cream you must clean the shaver manually before using the station;
- The stations included with the Series 3 and 5 and some Series 7 don’t have an active element for drying the shaver;
- You can’t just dry the shaver like you can with Panasonic stations.
Philips Norelco SmartClean automatic cleaning stations
The SmartClean stations from Philips Norelco replace the older JetClean systems that used to be included with older (and discontinued) razors, like the 1280x.
The SmartClean cleaning systems are included with Philips Norelco shavers from the Series 5000, 7000, 8000 and 9000. Most of them can be bought with or without the station.
You can also buy the station separately later on if you choose so.
Overview and features
Unlike the older station that needed to be refilled with Norelco’s cleaning solution, the new station uses cleaning cartridges. The model numbers are JC302 (pack of two) and JC303 (pack of three).
The new stations are also more compact and take less countertop real estate.
The cleaning solution is detergent based and as a result it won’t suffer from the evaporation problem we saw with the cartridges from Braun.
The SmartClean stations perform the same task of cleaning, charging, drying and lubricating your Philips Norelco razor.
Using and operating the station is extremely simple, as you’ll only have to place your shaver into the holder and press a button.
Once the ON/OFF button of the station is pressed, it will begin the cleaning cycle. At around 13 minutes, it takes longer compared to Braun’s Clean & Charge station, but it’s still reasonably short and also quieter.
Once the cleaning has ended, the station will begin the drying cycle. For this it uses inductive heating and the process is completely silent.
According to Philips, drying the shaver takes a hefty four hours, a whole lot more compared to Braun. In practice, the shaving head of my razor was perfectly dry after around 2 hours.
The result of the cleaning process is excellent, the shaver being perfectly clean, dry and lubricated.
The SmartClean system takes the lead in front of Braun’s CC station for practicality: you can use shaving cream or gel without worrying about any potential damage to the station.
As we saw previously, with Braun you’ll have to manually clean the razor of any lather residues before using the station. The shaver must also be completely dry.
With the SmartClean station you only have to quickly rinse the outside of the shaving head under tap water and then you can toss it into the cleaning base.
One thing I do not like about Norelco’s cleaning cartridges is that they do not have a plastic cap.
They only have a sticker that you peel off and that’s it. If for example you must take out the cartridge and take it with you on a trip, you’re completely out of luck.
Cost of ownership
Probably the best thing about the cleaning stations from Norelco is the low cost of ownership. The price of the cartridges is on par with the other offerings, but they somehow last a lot longer before needing to be replaced.
SmartClean system cleaning cartridges
Depending on how often you use the station, you can easily squeeze 3 months out of a cleaning cartridge.
Moreover, since the solution doesn’t contain alcohol, it won’t evaporate and there are no restrictions on storage or shipping.
Should you get it?
If we consider the performance and the low cost per cleaning cycle then I would say yes, it’s worth buying a Norelco shaver that comes with the SmartClean station.
I would definitely consider it in the case of more advanced shavers like the Norelco 8900 or the 9300/9700.
Philips Norelco 9300
As for the more affordable Series 5000 or 7000, if it fits within your budget, go for it.
A quick manual clean of a Norelco shaver is easy to perform, but a more thorough cleaning that requires taking apart the shaving head completely and cleaning each individual cutter is fiddly and time-consuming.
This is when the station can come in very handy and take care of all the cleaning.
- Excellent performance and low cost per cleaning;
- The cartridges last a long time before needing to be replaced;
- The stations are fitted with an inductive heat drying system;
- Quiet operation.
- The drying cycle takes a long time compared to other stations;
- The cartridges do not have a plastic cap;
- The protruding shaver holder makes them difficult to pack.
Panasonic automatic cleaning stations
Completing the trio is Panasonic, another major manufacturer of electric shavers and self-cleaning stations.
There are currently two generations of Panasonic cleaning stations available:
- The older Vortex Hydra Clean Shaving Systems that use detergent cartridges. These stations are included with the Arc 4 line (the Panasonic ES-LA93-K model), several older Arc 3 shavers (Panasonic ES-LT71-S) and the first generation Arc 5 shavers (Panasonic ES-LV81-K)
- The new so-called Premium Automatic Clean and Charge Station available with the newer shavers. These include the new Arc 3 LT series (ES-LT7N-S) and the second and third generation Arc 5 shavers (ES-LV95-S, ES-LV9N-S etc.). The same station is available with the latest revision C/D Arc 5, but the part number is different.
Overview and features
There are similarities, but also a few important differences between the two self-cleaning systems from Panasonic.
They both use detergent for cleaning the shavers, just like the SmartClean stations from Philips Norelco.
However, the older Vortex Hydra Clean systems use detergent cartridges, while the newer stations use detergent gel that comes in small sachets. You’ll have to mix the concentrated detergent with water in the filter tray yourself in the case of the latter.
The older stations are also larger and in my opinion look a bit dated. Leaking was another potential problem with the older system that was completely addressed with the new iteration.
All Panasonic cleaning stations use a fan for the drying cycle; the one in the newer stations seems subjectively quieter when running.
A Panasonic cleaning station will charge, clean, dry and lubricate the shaver.
As expected, they perform really well, on par with Braun and Norelco.
A unique feature specific to Panasonic stations is the dry only setting. Precisely, you can clean the shaver manually, then dump it into the station to dry it. You cannot do this with the cleaning stations from other manufacturers.
A cleaning cycle takes approximately 10 minutes, while the drying phase can last anywhere from one up to three hours depending on the ambient temperature. However, most of the time it will take just a little over an hour.
In this regard the Panasonic cleaning stations fare better than the SmartClean systems from Norelco but not as good Braun’s stations which are the fastest, particularly the ones that use induction heating.
The cleaning and drying cycles are also reasonably quiet, the newer stations being an improvement in this regard.
As it was the case with Norelco’s SmartClean system, you can use the Panasonic cleaning station with no restrictions when it comes to wet shaving.
You can shave with your Panasonic razor using your favorite shaving cream or soap then toss it into the station for a thorough cleaning without worrying that the lather might damage the station.
It is however recommended to give it a quick rinse under tap water beforehand.
Cost of ownership
Regardless of the generation, the costs associated with using a Panasonic cleaning station are very reasonable.
The reasons are the same as in the case of Norelco’s SmartClean system.
The cartridges (used by the old Vortex Hydra) and detergent sachets (used by the new stations) from Panasonic are usually cheaper to buy compared to Braun’s cleaning cartridges.
Panasonic WES4L03 detergent packets
Moreover, they last longer. Depending on how you use your shaver, you may need to replace them every two to three months. Since they don’t contain alcohol, you won’t have to worry about evaporation either.
You can extend the time by manually cleaning you Panasonic shaver and only using the station two times per week for example.
Which leads us to the next question.
Should you get it?
Out of the three big players in the electric shavers market, Panasonic cleaning stations are the least necessary.
And that’s a paradox since the stations are quite good as we’ve seen.
However, out of all electric shavers, the ones from Panasonic are the easiest to clean manually. It literally takes less than a minute to clean a Panasonic shaver thoroughly with a bit of liquid soap and warm tap water.
The design of the shaving head, with the inner blades separated from the foils, makes cleaning a breeze.
The construction of the shaving head allows excellent access for easy cleaning.
Finally, all Panasonic shavers, even the entry-level Arc 3 models have a so-called sonic cleaning mode. When activated, it makes the blades vibrate extremely fast, dislodging any dried lather, debris or dirt.
As a result, I personally haven’t used my Panasonic cleaning stations in years.
So my take on this matter is to only buy a Panasonic shaver that includes a cleaning station if you can get a fantastic deal on it. Otherwise just save some money and buy one without the station.
For example, I wouldn’t get one with an Arc 3, even if it’s the new LT line that has the updated cleaning system. The Arc 3 is a budget oriented line and the models that come with an automatic cleaning station cost significantly more than the ones that don’t.
The same goes for the Arc 4 and the original Arc 5 shavers that have the older Vortex Hydra Clean Shaving Systems and use the detergent cartridges.
For the second and third generation Arc 5 shavers, the ES-LV95-S and ES-LV9N-S respectively, I guess you can treat yourself with the automatic station.
Panasonic ES-LV95-S Arc 5
- Excellent performance, particularly the second generation cleaning stations;
- No restrictions on using shaving creams or gels with your shaver;
- You have the option to only dry the shaver without a cleaning cycle;
- Economical and reasonably fast and quiet;
- The detergent-based solution lasts longer compared to Braun’s cleaning cartridges.
- The older generation stations are bulky and would sometimes leak
- You’ll have to mix the detergent gel with water yourself and also clean the filter tray when replacing the solution in the newer stations;
- The stations aren’t really necessary since you can easily clean the shavers yourself.
Should you get a cleaning station? Which one?
Now that we’ve reached the final part of our analysis of the best self-cleaning stations, it’s time to put it all together in an actionable manner.
If you’re faced with the decision of buying an electric shaver that’s available with or without a cleaning station, here’s a quick list of questions you should ask yourself before pulling the trigger:
- Is the shaver easy to clean manually? If so, do you really need the station?
- How much will the cleaning cartridges/detergents increase your monthly costs?
- Are the cartridges/detergents readily available?
With that in mind, here’s my personal take on the matter for each of the three big names in the industry.
If you decide to buy a Braun electric shaver, then the cleaning station is a necessary evil. The shavers are a pain to clean manually and the stations, while not the most cost-effective, work excellent.
I think I would skip it for the Series 3, but in the case of a Series 5, 7 or 9 I would most likely opt for a model that includes the cleaning station. Here are my three detailed guides on the different Series 5, Series 7 and Series 9 models.
The SmartClean stations are probably my favorites as they offer the lowest cost per cleaning and work great. Would I get one? Probably yes, especially in the case of mid-range and high-end shavers like the Norelco 8900 or 9300.
A quick manual clean of a rotary shaver is easy to do, but an extra-thorough cleaning that must be performed every once in a while is time-consuming and fiddly. For this reason opting for a cleaning station is probably a good call.
I’ve said it on many occasions, in the case of all Panasonic shavers, a cleaning station is not necessary. I would probably get one only if the price difference compared to the same model that doesn’t include the station is insignificant.
Again, the automatic stations from Panasonic are excellent and offer very good performance and value for money, but you don’t really need them as the shavers are extremely easy to clean manually.