Characteristics of Various Soap Making Oils

Different oils add different qualities to your soap. The combination of oils you choose will determine the hardness or softness of your soap, how well it lathers, and even how mild the finished soap will be. Use the chart below to choose oils as you create your own recipes. –North Country Soap Making Library


Oil Source Characteristics
Palm oil Extracted from fruit pulp of oil palm tree Adds hardness to soap; very mild; if used alone, soap is brittle with sparse lather
Tallow Rendered animal fat, from cattle or sheep Adds hardness to soap; very mild, although some people think it contributes to acne; if used alone, soap is brittle with sparse lather
Lard Rendered pork fat Produces a softer soap than either palm or tallow; good, lasting lather; cleans well
Any of the above three “hard fats” make better soap when combined with coconut oil and/or palm kernel oil, which have similar characteristics and can be used interchangeably in recipes. SAP values are different, though, so adjust lye amounts accordingly.
Coconut oil Pressed from dried coconut meat from coconut palm tree Lathers extremely well; makes a hard soap and is moisturizing if used in moderation (too high a percentage makes soap drying)
Palm kernel oil Extracted from kernel of African or oil palm tree Adds hardness to soap; lathers well; makes soap moisturizing if used in moderation (too high a percentage makes soap drying)
For even better soap, add one or more of the soft oils (below) to your oil blend.
Olive oil Various pressings of olive fruit… grade of oil varies with subsequent pressings (pomace oil is made from pulp residue and pits and contains a higher percentage of unsaponifiables) A humectant; makes a very mild, gentle soap; soap made from 100% olive oil is good for sensitive or baby’s skin
Soybean oil (vegetable shortening) Extracted from soybeans, often with solvents Makes mild soap with good lather; add coconut oil and olive oil for better lather and conditioning. Caution: Many people are allergic to soybean, so be sure to list it as an ingredient on your soap label, even if you used a hydrogenated shortening like Crisco.
Castor oil Extracted from castor beans Acts as humectant, so is moisturizing; use in combination with other oils (too much castor oil produces soft, sticky soap with sparse lather). Caution: Don’t use sulfated castor oil… it will cause your soap oils to seize when they are mixed with lye.
And finally, superfat with a small percentage of one of the following:
Jojoba Extracted from seeds of jojoba plant Very mild and soothing, especially to dry skin; contains natural antioxidants; excellent superfatting oil
Almond oil, sweet From dried kernels of almond tree Makes very mild soap with good lather; emollient; excellent superfatting oil
Avocado oil From pulp of avocado pear Moisturizing and healing for sensitive skin; rich in vitamins A and D, proteins, and amino acids

A reminder — The usual disclaimers apply. The recipes in this library reflect the individual contributors' own methods of soapmaking and are written in their own words. We cannot personally guarantee the success or results of any of the recipes included in this library.

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