If You Live in an Old House, There Could Be Razor Blades in Your Walls
If your house was built before 1970, it's likely there are razor blades in your walls. Here's why.
It sounds like a scene from a horror film. A young, bright-eyed family moves into an old home, ready to fix it up. But when they knock down their bathroom wall, hundreds of old, rusty razor blades come pouring out.
What Are Safety Razors?
The blades you might find aren’t your common plastic cartridge blades or anything fits your modern razor. These blades are from the so-called “safety razors” of the early twentieth century. These double-edged blades might be making a trendy comeback. But in the 1950s, the only method for at-home men’s shaving was causing a big problem.
The First Razor
In 1903, Gillette introduced the first safety razor to give men an option that was safer and easier than the straight-edge razors used at most barbershops. While these blades took a little more time to master than today’s razors, they were a vast improvement over what was previously available. Soon, nearly everyone was shaving with them.
What To Do With Old Blades
The problem soon arose: What to do with used blades? Because they were sharp (and often contaminated with skin, hair and occasionally blood), you couldn’t just throw the blades in the garbage. Trash was regularly burned in the 1930s and ’40s, with the ashes spread in gardens. But razor blades generally survived the low heat of a trash fire, becoming a huge hazard for gardeners.
Using Medicine Cabinets
So an alternative disposal method was needed. In the 1950s, one was found.
“Old medicine cabinets were installed directly inside the interior walls,” Richard D’Angelo, project manager at JWE Remodeling and Roofing. “These old units had a slot in the back that was used to discard used blades, which would allow them to fall into the wall cavity between framing studs, and collect on top of the bottom-plate stud.”
The end result is visible in this photo taken by Atlanta builder Nancy Keenan, founder and owner of Harris Park Homes, when demolishing a home from the 1920s.
Courtesy Harris Park Homes
Filling up the Space Between the Walls
The thinking was it would take centuries to fill up the space between walls with tiny, single blades. By then, surely, we would have thought of another option.
With the advent of safer disposable blades and the installation of new medicine cabinets, the wall slots were often plastered over. As the years passed, this practice has been all but forgotten. Until someone tries to knock down an old wall, that is.
“We have found stacks of razor blades in the walls at least a dozen times when we do remodels and restorations of older homes,” says D’Angelo.
“We even once found them in the ceiling of the first floor. They fell through the wall from the second-floor bathroom, down a hole made for plumbing pipes, and into the ceiling cavity of the kitchen. When we demolished the old plaster ceiling, the razors came raining down. Luckily no one was hurt!”