Home haircuts save both time and money
It might be intimidating to think about cutting someone's hair -- or your own -- if you're not a professional, but, in reality, it's not as difficult as you might think. While some super stylish hairdos may not lend themselves to a session with a hair clipper, many other styles really don't need much more than a fairly steady hand and a good guide. And your best guide will be a good hair clipper. Learning how to use one can save you quite a bit of money, as well as time driving to the barbershop or salon, waiting your turn, and paying for the gas to get you there.
Unlike electric shavers and razors, which we cover in separate reports, hair clippers don't shave -- they trim, using paired, toothed blades that vibrate back and forth; the teeth act like many tiny scissors, all lined up side by side to give you a quick, efficient haircut. Comb attachments and adjustable or interchangeable blades help cut hair at different lengths; some clippers can cut hair from about an inch long to as short as half a millimeter.
The professional-grade hair clippers a barber uses and the clippers you'd buy for home use work on the same general principle, but barbershop clippers usually have stronger, more durable motors that allow them to power through thick, wet hair or do several cuts in a row without overheating. On the downside, a larger motor means larger, heavier clippers that can be awkward to maneuver when cutting your own hair.
Professional-grade clippers also have so much power that they might get away from beginners, so you may want to start with a more basic model. This type of home hair clipper is usually lighter than professional clippers and have somewhat weaker motors, although reviewers say a few can still power through thick, heavy hair like a professional model. These lighter home-use clippers are easier to maneuver, but getting them into position to shave the back and sides of your own head can still be a challenge.
Beards, ears and nose hairs need specialized tools
Some men use the close-cutting blades on their hair clippers to trim or detail their beards -- but there are also specialized beard trimmers for dealing with facial hair. Beard trimmers usually offer finer gradations of stubble length and are designed to create the clean, straight lines you need to properly style your facial hair and sideburns.
We also evaluate clippers meant specifically for use on nose and ear hairs. These models use small rotary blade sets, hidden beneath a guard that lets hair in to be cut but doesn't let the blade out to nick your skin. Sometimes these clippers can be used for detail work around the eyebrows or on facial hair, but they're at their best when cutting hair in otherwise hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.
Finally, some hair clippers try to bridge the gap between nose hair trimmers, beard trimmers, electric shavers and regular clippers with an array of attachments that let you use one unit for all these uses. The general consensus is that these jacks-of-all-trades perform decently at most tasks, but excel at none. However, if you just need an occasional-use trimmer and don't have any challenging grooming tasks, one of these may fit the bill.
Hair clippers don't draw many expert reviews. The bulk of our input comes from thousands of user reviews posted to retail websites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com, BestBuy.com, SallyBeauty.com, Drugstore.com and Target.com.
The best home hair clippers
If you have multiple heads to keep trimmed and like to see at a glance which blade is which, reviewers say the Wahl Color Pro Haircut Kit (Est. $22) is going to be your best bet. It's a multi-cut clipper set with combs that are color coded so you can figure out what length each comb cuts without having to memorize fade sizes. Users love this feature, and many say they make separate notes to keep with the clipper reminding them which comb they used last on which family member. The Wahl comes with a storage case for all of its attachments, which include 11 guide combs, scissors, two styling combs, blade guards, a cleaning brush and blade oil.
The Wahl Color Pro is also very simple to use, reviewers say, with an easy-to-follow instruction book included. If you need more guidance, a helpful video on the Wahl website will walk you through every step of the process. The combs are also reported as easy to change. Many say this hair clipper kit is particularly well-suited for cutting children's hair, because it's very gentle and not too noisy. There are a few who say it vibrates too much, but those complaints are definitely in the minority. In fact, we saw quite a few comments from pet owners who say they use it to help them groom their dogs or cats and it doesn't faze the critters in the least when it's running.
Although the Wahl Color Pro is not a heavy-duty, professional grade clipper, owners say it feels very sturdy in the hand and is light enough to not cause fatigue. Of course, there are outliers who say it is too heavy but, again, these are in the minority. Many have come back to update their reviews after months or years to say their clipper is still going strong; we saw a few people mention that they bought a second clipper to keep at a second home.
It costs a bit more, but the Wahl Chrome Pro (Est. $35) also includes a cordless Mini-Clipper and as many clip-and-trim accessories as anyone could ever want for their personal grooming needs. That includes 12 guide combs as well as a cleaning brush, scissors, medium comb, barber comb, two hair clips, a blade guard, blade oil and a charger. It even comes with a cape, and everything stores in the soft-sided case.
Most of the accessories that come with the Wahl Chrome Pro get kudos for their performance on hair, but many reviewers say there are just too many, more than they'll need in a lifetime. Others note that the cape is nothing but a piece of super thin plastic, more like a garbage bag than an actual stylist's cape, and that it tore after one or two uses. The cordless trimmer also gets pretty "meh" feedback, with quite a few reviewers saying it's very loud, but not very powerful.
Still, if you want a sturdy, durable pair of clippers that can power through even thick or wet hair, users say the Wahl Chrome Pro is a great choice. It's also super easy to use, even for first time home barbers, with simple-to-follow instructions. Owners say this hair clipper feels extremely sturdy in their hand, and they like that professional heft. Even if you don't need the accessories, or only use one or two, this is a great, heavy-duty choice, most agree.
While many clippers are targeted toward a variety of hair styles, those who shave their heads because they like the bald look have nothing but praise for the Wahl Professional Series Balding Clipper (Est. $40). It's a heavy-duty, corded clipper that comes with just two cutting guides, both intended for a close (head) shave. Users say it does the job smoothly and evenly, without any snagging, pulling or cutting of anything but hair. It does not shave as close as a razor; rather, users note, it shaves to a level that you would get from a razor cut after 24 to 48 hours after shaving (depending upon your hair growth rate), which is what most bald-hear wearers desire. It even works well on coarse, thick or curly hair. For the price, most agree, you can't find a better balding clipper.
The Peanut gives you a portable buzz
If you want something smaller than either the Color Pro or the Chrome Pro, no other clipper gets as much love from reviewers as the Wahl Professional Peanut Clipper/Trimmer (Est. $40). This small, corded trimmer measures just 4 inches long and weighs only 4 ounces, making it perfect for travel, or for those who have smaller hands and just prefer something lighter and easier to hold.
Owners, especially those who cut a lot of children's hair, say the Peanut is quiet, doesn't produce much vibration, and is easy to move and maneuver. However, a somewhat smaller cutting blade also means you have to make more passes. Size notwithstanding, this petite Peanut can mow through thick hair easily. It includes four guide combs, plenty, users say, for almost any basic haircut, although plenty of reviewers say that the Peanut works better for trimming thick beards than a dedicated beard trimmer.
Professional-grade clippers bring the barbershop to your home
Power, precision and speed are the most important qualities for a professional-grade hair clipper and the Oster Classic 76 (Est. $122) has all those qualities in spades, reviewers say. Its powerful motor cuts through even thick, curly or wet hair without flagging, and does it all with no pulling, tugging or nicking. The Oster comes with just two guide combs -- sizes 000 and 1 -- but there is a vast selection of optional blades available if that's not enough. While the prices of individual blades vary, users say they often purchase the Oster Professional 10 Universal Comb Set (Est. $20) when they buy the clippers. The basic hair clipper kit also includes a blade guard, lubricating oil, clipper grease and a cleaning brush.
The Oster Classic 76 is a popular tool not just for the home barber, but in professional salons as well. Plenty of stylists review the Classic 76 on sites such as Amazon.com, saying that it's as smooth and tough as anything out there. However, all that power comes with some downsides: The Oster Classic can get away from a beginner, it's on the noisy side, and it's relatively large and heavy, compared to basic, home use hair clippers.
Even taking those hitches into account, however, you can't beat the Oster 76's combination of power, speed and durability -- with some men saying theirs are still going strong after decades of use.
If you'd prefer a lighter-weight model that's easier to handle but still boasts the trademark Oster quality, the Oster Fast Feed Clipper (Est. $60) is a worthy alternative. It's smaller and lighter, which makes it easier to maneuver; and, although its pivot motor can still cut through thick (dry) hair, it's not as likely to get away from you as the 76.
Aside from a plastic blade-adjust lever that some note feels flimsy, users say the Oster Fast Feed feels well made. The Fast Feed's blades adjust between 1/50 inch and 3/32 inch; it also comes with four guide combs: No. 1 to No. 4, or 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch. Additional guide combs are available for purchase separately.
If you'd like a wider range of accessories, but still like a heavy-duty, professional grade hair clipper, we suggest taking a look at the Wahl Elite Pro High Performance Haircut Kit (Est. $50). This 17-piece clipper kit boasts a powerful motor and a sturdy-feeling, well-balanced body that makes it easy to keep it on track. The kit includes 10 guide combs, two styling combs, a cleaning brush and oil, and a blade guard as well as a storage case to keep everything organized.
Users say the Wahl Elite has the heft of a professional hair clipper, and yet does the job with no tugging or uneven spots. It's particularly popular with those who have very thick or curly hair. Quite a few barbers review this Wahl, saying it works as well in their shop as much pricier hair clippers and lasts for a long time. A few note that the hair clipper is loud, but most say it's no noisier than any other type of trimmer.
Cordless hair clippers give you the freedom to trim hair anywhere
While few professionals are big fans of cordless hair clippers, the Philips Norelco QC5580/40 Hair Clipper Pro (Est. $50) might change some minds. It's powerful lithium-ion battery gives you 60 minutes of run time, and most say that's plenty of time to do all their grooming. It can also be used corded, though. Those who use this hair clipper for a wide range of body grooming tasks say they appreciate that they don't have to wrangle a cord to get to where they need to trim. Parents love that they can line the kids up outside and cut away, without having to worry about getting hair clippings all over the house.
The Philips Norelco QC5580/40 kit comes with a good variety of accessories, including two guide combs, both of which can be adjusted for different lengths with the integrated, lock-in settings. You can even use the clipper without a comb for a very close, balding cut -- something that reviewers say it does extremely well. All pieces fit into the included travel case.
It's more expensive, and doesn't get near as many reviews overall as the Philips Norelco, but those who do offer feedback on the Wahl Sterling 4 Hair Trimmer (Est. $100) rave about this cordless hair clipper. It boasts a longer, 75 minute run time, and users say it feels lightweight and comfortable to use, while performing like a heavy duty unit. Plenty of barbers say they've traded in their corded units for this model, and are happy that they did. Of course, in a busy barber shop you need to either invest in several of these or use it plugged in, so that negates some of the convenience of a cordless clipper.
Still, the kit that comes with the Sterling has pretty much everything you might need, say users, including eight guide combs, cleaning and maintenance necessities, and four color insert chips to personalize its look -- a plus if you need to mark yours in a salon-type setting.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Nose and Ear Trimmers | Best Beard Trimmers |Buying Guide | Our Sources