Williams Mug Soap – a review and some opinions

Williams Mug Soap is in many ways like the Arko shave stick… I’ll touch upon several of the ways during this review, but lets start with the big one: If you try it, you can not not have an opinion on it. And my opinion on Williams Mug Soap seems to run counter to what many fellow shavers think.

In the interest of full disclosure; I received this puck as a gift from an outstanding gentleman and fellow shaver. Had I bought it though, it wouldn’t have cost me a lot – before adding shipping and customs fees that is. So far I have not found a shop in Norway that sells it, and getting things trough custom can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to fees.

While the brand have been around since 1840 – claiming to be the oldest real shaving soap – there have been many, many reformulations over the years. The newest formulation have a reputation for being bad compared to the old one, to the point where an artisan made a “recreation” of the classic formula some years back.

Finding if it really is that bad it is was one of the reasons I jumped on the chance of trying the modern Williams. Could it be that we have become spoiled by artisan shave soaps? That we have forgotten that soaps like Williams are closer to what most men shaved with for many years. That is; a simple, no fuss shave soap without pretensions.

Pre-shave impressions

The box – to me at least – screams classic design. Some might say retro (or cheap), but to me that would imply trying to emulate the style of yesteryear. Williams on the other hand haven’t significantly changed their packaging since at least the 60’s… Classic, not retro – feel free to disagree.

The text on the box make a couple of bold statements; claiming to not dry on the face, and leaving the skin smooth and soft. To me that translates as long lasting and non-drying lather – we’ll see how it holds up. The list of ingredients1 makes it obvious that this is not an artisan soap, and is probably a far cry from the original 1840 formulation.

The puck itself is hard like a bar soap, and smells like one too. It’s a smell you’ll either dislike or shrug over… this is not a fancy soap, and don’t try to pass itself of as one. The embossed text and logo on the soap is a nice touch though.

In order to make using the soap easier, I placed it in a plastic tub with a screw on lid. This had the added benefit of keeping the scent contained.

Lathering with Williams Mug Soap

Almost all sources online indicate to me that building the lather should be somewhere between hard and impossible. Actual experience on the other hand…

Apart from having to go back and load some more the first two times I used the soap, I have had no problems whipping up the lather. I do have fairly soft water in my region, which can explain part of it – but far from all of it. I suspect that a lot of the negative opinions comes from people either not loading enough, or expecting cream-like behavior.

Williams is a hard soap – harder than Mike’s, harder than Pereira, harder than any soap I own – with one exception; Dr. Selby Lavender Luxury Shaving Cream. And just like Dr. Selby’s, Williams just require a little more loading and a little more water to create ample, soft, fluffy lather.

Dr Selby’s do smell better in the lathering bowl than Williams’ do though… Even so, I can’t deduct points for being a hard soap. And unlike some soaps I’ve tried, the lather didn’t collapse on me in the bowl while I was shaving.

Shaving with Williams Mug Soap

No, Williams’ don’t leave your skin dry (if you gotten the lather right) – if anything it leaves the skin too slick after shaving. Plenty of cushion and glide, and more than enough slip even with a GEM style razor.2 It took a bit of work to get the lather to build up on my face – it was almost like all my brushes were loath to let go of it.

The same stickiness was apparent when it came to rinsing the lather of the razor in between passes – I had to rinse twice to get it all of. On the upside this also meant that all the beard stubble stayed in the lather, and no all over my sink or face.

Findings and opinions

As I mentioned in the first paragraf, WIlliams Mug Soap is like Arko;

  • It’s cheap, and – arguably -cheerful
  • Some people claims it is hard to lather – I disagree.
  • It has a scent that you can not not have an opinion on.
  • It gives plenty of cushion and glide if you take time to build the lather.

There is some things that are different too though; the Williams do a much better job of leaving my face moist and slick, and the scent of the Williams is no where near as polarizing as the Arko. The worst you can say about Williams is that it smells strongly of soap, while I’ve heard people describe the Arko in much less flattering terms.3

Is Williams Mug Soap a great soap? No, the scent and overly slick face feel lets it down.

Is Williams Mug Soap a good soap? Yes, even more so when you take the low price into consideration. It is – when all is said and done – a soap I would recommend all shavers to at least try at some point in their career.

The “To long; didn’t read” summary of this review? Good lather, good cushion, good slip, not greasy nor drying, meh scent. Worth picking up just to try.

Links

A positive review on B&B.

A less positive review.

Comparing the Williams to a high end soap, at Sharpologist.

Other peoples opinions, via Google.

Williams Mug Soap website.

Footnotes

(1) Potassium stearate, sodium sallowate, sodium cocoate, water, glycerin, fragrance,4 sodium chloride, titanium dioxide, stearic acid, pentasodium pentetate, tetrasodium etidronate (may contain sodium palm kernelate)

(2) GEM style razors usually have a much larger contact area with the skin than most safety razors. This means that lather that isn’t slick will cause the razor to drag on the skin.

(3) Terms like “urinal puck” have been tossed around when it comes to Arko.

(4) I have no idea what kind, but I’m sure it isn’t essential oils…

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