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 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 device for a completely fuss-free shaving experience.
All the major manufacturers offer variations of their shavers that include an automatic cleaning station.
And while the end 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 — are all things that should be considered by the 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 buying.
Table of Contents
- Braun Clean & Charge automatic cleaning stations
- Philips Norelco SmartClean automatic cleaning stations
- Panasonic automatic cleaning stations
- Should you get a cleaning station? Which one?
- Final word
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.
The models that include the cleaning station usually have a CC (standing for Clean & Charge) in the product name. For example, 3050cc, 5190cc, 7865cc, 9390cc etc.
The s (solo) models don’t come with a cleaning station.
As for the compatibility of the solo models with a cleaning station, that’s a bit more complicated.
Braun doesn’t really provide any reliable and easily accessible information regarding this.
Here’s a quick summary:
1. Series 3. A Series 3 solo model will not work with a compatible Series 3 station purchased later on.
2. Series 5. An old generation Series 5 solo shaver (like the 5030s, 5140s etc.) will not work with a compatible station. A new generation Series 5 solo shaver (like the 5018s) will work with a compatible station purchased later on. More details here.
3. Series 6. The Series 6 solo models will work with a compatible cleaning station.
4. Series 7. A Series 7 solo shaver, regardless if it’s from the old generation (740s, 7893s etc.) or from the new 2020 generation (like the 7020s) will work with a compatible cleaning station. More details here and here.
5. Series 8. A Series 8 solo model will work with a compatible cleaning station. More details here.
6. Series 9/Series 9 Pro. Only the Series 9 and Series 9 Pro solo models that start with either 93 or 94 will work with a compatible cleaning station (for example, 9330s, 9427s, etc.). More details here.
Important: Notice how I always mentioned compatible. For the exact part number make sure to check out the linked articles for each series and get the right station for your shaver).
Side note: will not work generally means that the shaver will only charge when placed in CC station, but the cleaning and drying (for the Seires 9/9 Pro) functions will not work.
The solo models that don’t work with a station lack a specific chip needed to communicate and pair with the station.
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 the only manufacturer that uses alcohol; all the other ones use a detergent-based cleaning solution.
The use of 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 old Series 5, old Series 7 or 9.
The stations for the new 2020 generation of the Series 5, 6 and 7 are similar and also have the same protruding arm that locks the shaver in place:
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 the shaver.
For example, some of the stations that come with the Series 7 (older models) and Series 9 use induction heating or a fan respectively 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, 6, 8 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 in 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.
However, that is also highly dependent on the alcohol concentration. Third-party cleaning solutions can use a lower concentration which can increase the drying time significantly (more details later on).
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 (Series 9/9 Pro) 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 though).
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 up to one hour, depending on what technology it’s being used (inductive heat or fan).
Some shavers in the old Series 5, old Series 7, 8 and 9 families include a more basic version of the cleaning station, lacking a few features.
For example, some of the Series 9 stations come with only 1 cleaning mode instead of 3. In my opinion this is a non-issue as the stations tend to always select the high-intensity cleaning mode anyway.
Another example is the Series 8. The newer models that start with 84 come with the same station as the Series 9, meaning they’re also fitted with a fan.
The Series 8 shavers that start with 83 get a more basic station that doesn’t have a fan.
Despite these differences, the end result after the cleaning is excellent.
The shaver is perfectly clean and lubricated (provided you’re using the OEM solution or a high-quality third-party solution), ready for your next shave.
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 caveat if you’ll be using your shaver with shaving cream or gel.
Precisely, 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 and the fine mesh filter inside the cartridge can eventually clog.
It’s pretty obvious why this is a bit inconvenient for anyone planning to buy a wet/dry shaver like the Series 7 7865cc or the Series 9 9290cc and use it with shaving cream or gel.
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 as their stations are less susceptible to this problem and the shavers themselves perform better when used with shaving cream or gel.
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 newer series like the 8 and 9/9 Pro.
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 several 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 and 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.
This is an ideal compromise between costs and maintaining a proper hygiene of your Braun shaver.
Should you get it?
I usually don’t recommend cleaning stations if they’re not absolutely necessary, but in the case of Braun shavers, I think it’s worth getting one.
The shaving heads are can be 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 (except for the new Arc 6 which uses a cassette as well).
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 old Series 5, 7, 8 or 9 (you can probably skip it for the Series 3).
- Fast and quiet cycles, especially for the ones that use induction heating;
- 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;
- You can find third-party cleaning solutions that are very cheap and work just as well.
- You can take out the cartridge, seal it and store it anytime you want.
- The alcohol-based solution evaporates fast when you leave the cartridge in the station and don’t use it 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;
- Except for the Series 9 and several Series 8 models, the stations do not have any active drying systems (fans or induction heating);
- You can’t just dry the shaver as 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.
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.
A special mention has to be made for the so-called Quick Clean Pods that come with some of the latest Philips models like the Series 7000 or 9000.
These are not full-fledged cleaning stations and have some major drawbacks.
For example, there’s no mesh filter to retain the hair clippings and dirt which are then flushed through the shaving head again and it tends to foam a lot.
It’s an interesting and promising approach, but so far it falls short.
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 always 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 wet shaving: 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.
With the SmartClean station you only have to quickly rinse the outside of the shaving head under tap water, shake off the excess 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.
Same goes if you want to use the station less often, even though in this case you could use some duct tape to cover the holes and slow down the evaporation of the fluid.
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 as fast and there are no restrictions on storage or shipping.
Tip: you can still buy the JetClean solution and refill the cartridges for an even lower cost.
You also have the alternative of getting a third-party solution like Shaver Shebang which usually costs a lot less.
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 Series 9000.
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 where 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;
- You cannot just dry the shaving head.
UPDATE: With the latest shavers, Philips has seemingly dropped the automatic cleaning stations in favor of the so-called Quick Clean Pods.
These pods are small, basic cleaning devices that cannot charge or dry the shavers and are instead powered by the shavers themselves.
For more info on how these pods work and their obvious drawbacks compared to the SmartClean stations, you can check out my review of the new Norelco Series 9000 9500 & 9800.
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), the second and third-generation Arc 5 shavers and the latest Arc 6. The stations do have different part numbers depending on the revision though, but all of them are extremely similar in terms of features and performance.
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 (now discontinued) 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 station’s 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 and a heating element for the drying cycle; the one in the newer stations seems subjectively quieter when running.
This makes them by far the most effective at drying the shavers.
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 brands.
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 (but you cannot get one of those anymore).
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 pretty 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 once a week for example.
As for third-party cleaning solutions, your options are very limited.
Precisely, it’s the concentrate from Shaver She Bang which in my opinion doesn’t have excellent lubricating properties.
The best and cheapest alternatives are unfortunately only available for Braun cleaning stations.
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.
But my main gripe is that you cannot take out the tray and seal it like you can with Braun’s cartridges.
Once you commit to mixing the detergent with water, you’re stuck with it on your countertop.
For you this may not be a deal-breaker though.
So my take on this matter is to 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 first generation 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, like the ES-LV95-S, ES-LV97-K, ES-LV9Q, etc., I guess you can treat yourself with the automatic station if it fits within your budget.
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;
- Very effective fan + inductive heating drying system.
- 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/third-party solutions 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 very practical and genuinely useful.
The shavers can be difficult to clean manually and the stations, while not the most cost-effective (in case you get the original refills), work excellent.
I think I would skip it for the Series 3, but in the case of a Series 5, 7, 8 or 9 I would most likely opt for a model that includes the cleaning station.
The cc models aren’t a lot more expensive than the solo variations and using a cheap third-party solution will also lower your costs significantly.
The SmartClean stations are excellent as they offer the lowest cost per cleaning (in the case of the OEM solution) and work great.
Would I get one? Probably yes, especially in the case of mid-range and high-end shavers like the Series 9000.
If Philips would make the cartridges resealable (like Braun does), I would be even more open to getting one.
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 I find a great deal.
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.
Moreover, they are the least practical if you decide you won’t be using yours for a while.
You can’t really move it/store it as the solution with all the hairs and debris will spill and the tray is open, so you can’t put a cap on it.
That’s pretty much it — I hope this guide will help you with your decision of buying an electric shaver with or without a cleaning station.
In the end, no station is absolutely necessary. However, getting one can make sense, especially if you get a great deal and you can also source a cheap cleaning solution.
If you have any questions or you’d like to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment below.