Free Beginner`s Guide to Soapmaking: Common Soapmaking Oils
One of the best parts of soap crafting is being able to customize your recipe down to the very last ingredient. There are an infinite number of oil, fragrance, color and technique combinations, which is one of the reasons soap making can be so exciting!
Arguably one of the most important aspect of any soaping recipe is the combinations of oils and butters that make up your base recipe. The oils you use impact most all defining factors in your finished product, from it’s moisturizing properties, to how well it lathers to the ability to do all kinds of coloring techniques and designs. In essence, think of your oils as the foundation of a house. You need a solid base to support everything else.
To guide you through the wide world of oils, we’ve assembled our most comprehensive resource on fixed oils to date. Think of it as a supplemental companion to our Free Beginner’s Guide to Cold Process Soap Making and our Free Beginner’s Guide to Melt and Pour. It’s just one more tool to help you on your quest for soapy excellence. Keeping scrolling (it’s worth it, we promise!) for a Frequently Asked Questions section as well as a handy chart on fixed oil shelf life.
As an added bonus, we’re even offering a free downloadable two page PDF with information on more than 30 common soapmaking oils and their shelf life, usage rates, characteristics in soap, and more.
Apricot Kernel Oil - 6 months to 1 year
Similar to the makeup of Sweet Almond Oil, Apricot Kernel Oil is lightweight and high in linoleic and oleic acids. It is conditioning and is easily absorbed into the skin (making for an excellent carrier for massage oils). It produces small bubbles and isn’t used at more than 15% because it produces a softer bar of soap that probably will not hold up as well in the shower or bath.
Avocado Oil – 1 year
Avocado Oil (from the pulp of the Avocado fruit) makes a soft bar of soap and is generally used at 20% or less in cold process recipe. Rich in vitamins A, B, D, and E, Avocado Oil leaves your soap with a high percentage of fatty acids and unsaponifiables, making it great choice for massage oils, lotions and butters in addition to soap.
Avocado Butter - 3 years
Avocado Butter is solid at room temperature but because of its low melting point, it’s perfect for all sorts of skin care — soaps, balms, hair-care products and even lotion blends! It is derived from the fruit of the Avocado Tree and hydrogenated to yield a green-tinted butter that is kissably soft with just a mild odor. You can use this butter up to 12.5% in your cold process recipe to create a knock-out, skin-loving soap.
Beeswax has an indefinite shelf life. While the Yellow Beeswax is fully refined, the White Beeswax is bleached naturally by exposing it in thin layers to air, sunlight and moisture. In cold process recipes, Beeswax acts as a natural hardening agent and can be used up to 8% in your recipes. There are special considerations when using beeswax; melt it first and add it at thin trace to soap that is 140 degrees or higher. Otherwise, the beeswax will harden in your soap mixture (no fun!).
Canola Oil – 1 to 2 years
For an affordable ingredient option in your recipes, you can use Canola Oil. This inexpensive oil works great in combination with other oils like Coconut and Palm, and makes for a very balanced bar of soap. It also produces a more white soap than Olive Oil which allows for a wider range of colors to be used. Canola Oil produces a creamy lather that can be used as a partial substitute for Olive Oil or up to 40% of your total oils.
Castor Oil - 1 year
This thick and viscous liquid is extracted from the Castor Bean Plant and has a slight but distinctive smell. It behaves like a humectant, meaning it draws moisture from the air onto the skin. If you want a stable, lush lather, you can technically use Castor Oil in your recipe up to 25% (though using much more than 10% can make for a sticky soft bar). This oil is great for superfatting and is often used to contribute to the thick and large bubbles in most bars. Most soapers use this oil in the range of 3-8% traditionally.
Cocoa Butter - 1 to 2 years
This oil is solid, hard and brittle at room temperature making the term “butter” a bit of a misnomer. When melting cocoa butter for beauty recipes, it’s best to temper it (as you do with chocolate) to prevent crystallization but in cold process soap, no tempering is needed. At Bramble Berry, you can purchase it in it’s natural form, which smells like warm cocoa, or in it’s deodorized state if you aren’t a fan of the smell. Learn more about how our cocoa butter is deodorized here. Use cocoa butter at 15% or less in cold process soaps; any higher than than can cause cracking in your final bar. Because of its naturally chocolatey scent, Cocoa Butter can hide some delicate fragrances, like florals so keep that in mind when working with more faint fragrances.
Coconut Oil - More than a year
One of the most common raw materials used in the soap and cosmetic industry, Coconut Oil comes in a range of melting points (76°F and 96°F are the most common) and has one of the lowest melting points of any solid oil. Both the 76 and 96 degree melting point oils have the same saponification value and can both be used in your soapmaking recipes. Coconut oil is a super cleansing addition that produces big, copious bubbles. It is so good at its job that it can inadvertently strip skin of moisture (leaving it dry and even irritated). A maximum usage rate of 30% is ideal for the perfect balance of cleansing without drying. For more sensitive skin, keep the Coconut Oil a 15% or less in your bar.
Coffee Butter - 1 year
This luscious and rich butter is perfect for your lotions, body butters and even soap. It is a blend of Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil and Coffee Seed Oil, and contains between .5 – 1% natural caffeine (perfect for that extra pick-me-up!). It has a natural coffee scent with a smooth and creamy feel that can be used at up to 6% in your cold process recipes.
Emu Oil – 1 year; up to 3 years if frozen
This exotic oil is a medium-weight oil that has known anti-inflammatory and anti-irritation properties. Use it in cold process concoctions up to 12.5%. It is a great skin-loving ingredient to use alongside essentials oils that are known to have anti-inflammatory properties such as Black Pepper, Anise or Eucalyptus Essential Oils.
Evening Primrose – 6 months to 1 year
This lightweight oil has been know to treat dry, red or irritated skin because of its high content of fatty acids. It is an exotic oil with a short shelf life. Use it up to 6% of your total oils in your cold process recipe.
Flax Seed Oil – 6 months to 1 year if refrigerated
Flax Seed Oil is a lightweight and a rich source of fatty acids that can be used to create skin-loving balms, body butters and lotions. You can also use it in any cold process recipe up to 5%. With its shorter shelf life, it typically is not a staple in common cold process soap recipes.
Fractionated Coconut Oil – Indefinite
More stable than traditional Coconut Oil, Fractionated Coconut Oil contains only the medium triglycerides, which means that it won’t ever turn solid. It is a great carrier for essential oils and it often used in scrubs. This clear and lightweight oil can be used in cold process soaps up to 30% though it contributes to a more soft bar and does not have the same cleansing and bubbling abilities of solid Coconut Oil.
Grapeseed Oil – 3 months to one year if refrigerated
This lightweight yellowish-green oil makes for a great salt and sugar scrub ingredient and is full of antioxidants. Somewhat oilier than Sweet Almond Oil, Grapeseed adsorbs quickly and you are left with kissably soft and smooth skin. When working with cold process recipes, you can use it up to 15% of your total oils.
Hazelnut Oil - 3 months
Producing a skin-conditioning and minimal lather, Hazelnut Oil is low in unsaturated fatty acids and slows down trace. It is typically used at less than 15% in cold process recipes, but be aware of the short shelf life when including this oil in your products.
Hempseed Oil - 3-9 months, longer if frozen
This viscous oil has a distinctly earthy smell and helps to create a luxe bar of soap with excellent lather. It is available both refined and unrefined. Use it at less than 20% of the total oils in a recipe.
Jojoba Oil - Indefinite.
Acquired from the seeds to the Jojoba Shrub, this oil actually a liquid wax that will contribute to a very stable and long-lasting bar of soap. If used at any more than 10% of the total oils in a recipe it can begin to weigh down the lather, but has an indefinite shelf life which makes it terrific for a wide range of bath and body products.
Mango Butter - 1 year
Mango Butter is extracted from the fruit kernels of the Mango tree. It is solid at room temperature but melts upon contact with the skin. Because this butter does not strengthen the lather or hardness of a soap, it is generally used at less than 15% of the total oils in a recipe.
Meadowfoam Oil - 3 years
Meadowfoam Oil is a moisturizing and conditioning oil similar to Jojoba Oil. It contributes to a creamy and silky lather in soap. Originally developed as an alternative to Sperm Whale Oil, this skin-loving and earth-friendly product is generally used at 20% or less of the total oil in soap recipes.
Used essentially in soap for its incredibly creamy and mild lather, Olive Oil yields a soap bar that will last longer with tiny bubbles. Any grade (Pomace, Pure or EVOO) can be used in soapmaking, but we have found that the Pure Olive Oil tends to trace much slower than the Pomace Olive Oil, so be sure to use the Pure Olive Oil if you are soaping with a recipe that you need time to work with. It is a wonderful addition to any soap recipe and can be used up to 100%.
Palm Oil - 1 year
Palm Oil is widely used for it’s hardening properties in soap, and acts as a secondary lathering agent when used in conjunction with Coconut Oil. This is a medium-weight oil that can be used up to 30% in any given cold process recipe. The Palm Oil for sale on Bramble Berry’s website is purchased from a member of the the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an organization that supports sustainable palm oil production. For more information on Palm Oil, click here.
Palm Kernel Oil (Flakes) - 1 year
This oil comes in the form of solid flakes that must be melted before use. It contributes to a hard bar of soap and can also add a lustrous sheen. It will speed up trace when used in recipes, so be prepared to work fast. It can be used up to 15% of your total oils.
Peanut Oil – 6 months to 1 year
This pale yellow oil is typically used as a substitute for Olive Oil or Canola Oil in cold process recipes and can be used up to 25%.
Peach Kernel Oil – 6 months to 1 year
This skin-loving pale yellow oil adds to the moisturizing, nourishing and conditioning properties of your soap while contributing to a stable lather (when used in combination with Coconut Oil). It is used at a rate of 25% of your total oils or less and can be a great substitute for Sweet Almond or Grapeseed Oil.
Rice Bran Oil - 1 to 2 years
Found in the husk of rice grains, this cold-pressed oil is rich in Vitamin E and anti-oxidants. It is an effective substitute for Olive or Canola Oil and contributes to a stable bar of soap with small and mild bubbles. It’s effective for treating dry and mature skin and can be used up to 100% of the oil in your cold process recipes.
Safflower Oil – 1 year
This mild and skin-loving oil is similar to Soybean, Canola or Sunflower Oil and is superb for lotion bars. Use at a rate of up to 20% of the total weight of your oils in cold process soap.
Sesame Oil - 6 months to 1 year
This light, golden oil is full of unsaponfiables, high in antioxidants and Oleic and Linoleic fatty acids and as a result has a longer shelf life that can add to the moisturizing and skin-loving properties of your soaps. This oil is not the same toasted Sesame Oil that is typically used in Asian Cuisine. It can be used at up to 10% in cold process recipes.
Recipes: Circle Swirled Soap in Column Mold
Shea Butter - 1 year
Acquired from the seed of the African Shea Tree, this oil is solid at room temperature and known for it’s softening and moisturizing qualities. Refined Shea has a neutral smell while the unrefined smells slightly nutty. This super skin-loving butter is typically used at 15% or less of the total oils in your cold process recipes.
Soybean Oil – 3 months if refrigerated
Soybean oil has a known creamy, stable and conditioning lather which can produce a hard bar of soap when used in conjunction with Palm or Coconut oil. It’s typically used at 50% or less in cold process recipes.
Sunflower Oil – 3 months if refrigerated
Sunflower Oil has a high amount of essential fatty acids and Vitamin E, making it it one of the more cost-effective fixed oils. It’s great to blend with other base oils for massage or perfume bases. All types of sunflower oil are suitable for soapmaking and have the same SAP value. This particular oil produces a lather that is incredibly conditioning to the skin. Some soapmakers choose to use it in large proportions in their recipes because it’s a great alternative to the higher-price Olive Oil. It does have a slower absorption rate, so it can feel slightly oily on the skin in leave-on recipes, such as balms and lotions. To help increase the shelf life of this oil, be sure to keep it refrigerated. It can be used up in cold process recipes up to 100% but is typically used at 20% or less.
Sweet Almond Oil - 6 months to 1 year
Amazing as a massage oil, this luxurious oil can also be added to your soap recipes at a 5-20% usage rate. Because it has a high fatty acid content including oleic and linoleic acids, its an unparalleled carrier for salt scrubs and is a nourishing oil in soap recipes.
Tamanu Oil - 2 years, 5 years if refrigerated
Tamanu Oil is a rich and multi-faceted ingredient to use in your bath & body products. Use it in soap up to 5% or as a massage oil or even in a salt scrub. Did you know that it takes a 100 full kilograms of Tamanu fruit to make just 5 kilograms of cold pressed Tamanu Oil? This oil has been used by the people of Tahiti for burns, insect bites and even stretch marks. As with any nut-based oil, people with allergies to nuts should not use it.
Walnut Oil – 3 months
Gold in color and high in antioxidants, this emollient oil has been known to condition and moisturize skin. It can be used up to 15% in soap.
Wheatgerm Oil – 6 months
This skin-loving yellow liquid oil has high Vitamin E content and does contribute to the softness of a bar. It typically isn’t used at more than 6% of the total of your oils in any given recipe.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do I need to heat up my entire container of Palm Oil before I use it in my cold process recipe?
A: Palm Oil contains Stearic Acid strains, which contribute to hardness in your final bar of soap but can also cause spottiness when not properly dispersed throughout the oil. To prevent the Stearic Acid from settling to the bottom of the Palm Oil container, melt the entire container and stir before using in your recipe.
Q: Do I need to heat up my entire container of Coconut Oil before I use it in my cold process recipe?
A: Unlike Palm Oil, you don’t have to heat up the entire container of Coconut Oil. You will find that most soapers will just scoop out the amount that they need for their recipe.
Q: Whoops, I’m out of Palm Oil – can I use Palm Kernel Oil instead?
A: Palm oil and Palm Kernel oil are harvested from entirely different parts of the palm fruit and will yield completely different results in your final soap, in addition to having different usage and saponification rates. Palm oil contributes to texture and lather, and is a great compliment to the attributes of Coconut oil. Palm Kernel oil contributes to the hardness of your bar, and can add a lustrous sheen to the final bar. For these reasons, they should not be substituted for one another in your soap recipe.
Q: How can I tell if my oil or butter is rancid?
A: When an oil or butter starts going rancid, there is a noticeable change in either the color, consistency or odor of the oils (or any combination of the three) and your butters may start to develop mold or dark spots. Always check your ingredients before you use them in your bath & body products.
Q: What happens if I used rancid oil or butter in soap?
A: If you use a rancid ingredient in your soap, it can develop DOS, or Dreaded Orange Spots. These small spots will start to show up in your soap as a result of oxidation and cause unsightly discoloration. Additionally, the smell of rancidity can sometimes be detected in your final bar. Be sure to check the shelf life of the ingredients that you are using.
Q: What happens if I used a large amount of Olive Oil in my recipe?
A: A 100% Olive Oil Soap (also known as Castile soap) results in a gentle and luxurious soap, but it requires some patience. Being a soft oil, it can take quite some time before the texture of the final bar has reached an ideal hardness. It’s not uncommon for castile bars to take as long as 6 months to cure, which is why many soapers have developed a taste for what is lovingly referred to as a Bastile bar – a recipe with a high percentage of olive oil used in combination with other harder oils to help speed along the hardening process while still yielding many of the desirable benefits that olive oil brings to soap. Another bonus – high amounts of pure or extra virgin olive oil in your recipe tend to inhibit trace, which makes bastile recipes ideal for soaping techniques or designs that require a bit more time to work with them. Try increasing the olive oil content in your recipe the next time you need a slow moving recipe.
Q: I have unrefined shea butter and it smells like campfire. Will that scent come through in my soap?
A: Shea Butter is obtained from the nut fruit of the African Shea Tree, and in its unrefined (virgin) form retains a nutty and smoky natural aroma that can possibly be detected in a final bar of soap. If you don’t want to risk the natural scent of the Shea Butter coming through in your soap, you can always use refined Shea Butter, which has been through a deodorizing process, or embrace the prospect by using a complimentary fragrance or essential oil.
Q: Help! I’m out of Sweet Almond Oil, can I just put in Avocado Oil?
A: The answer to this is both yes and no. You can switch out an oil for any other oil you have on hand, but be aware that it will affect the final consistency, texture and/or other attributes of your bar. Follow the rule of liquid oils for liquid oils and solid oils for solid oils, and be sure that when you need to pull an oil from the bench that you are subbing it for an oil whose usage rates are similar. For example, you wouldn’t want to replace Canola oil in a recipe where it’s used at 30% with Avocado Oil, which shouldn’t be used at more than 20%. A good choice in that situation would be Olive Oil, which can be used at up to 100%. Once you’ve found an alternative ingredient that works for you, be sure to run your entire recipe through the Lye Calculator again. If you don’t, your lye and water amounts will be off and you could run the risk of having a lye-heavy soap!
Q: What is a SAP Value?
A: A saponfication value or number is the amount of lye needed to completely saponify 1 gram of an oil or butter (see the Beginner’s Guide to Cold Process Soapmaking for an explanation of saponification). For example, the SAP value of Canola oil is .132, which means it takes .132 grams of lye to turn 1 gram of Canola oil into soap. Often, SAP values are given in ranges – when in doubt, use the mid range value when calculating your recipe. Or, you can use an online Lye Calculator.
|Oil||Shelf Life||SAP Value||Usage Rate in Cold Process|
|Apricot Kernel Oil||6 months to 1 year||.135||up to 15%|
|Avocado Oil||1 year||.133||up to 20%|
|Avocado Butter||3 years||.187||up to 12.5%|
|Beeswax (White & Yellow)||Indefinite||.94||up to 8%|
|Canola Oil||1 to 2 years||.132||up to 40%|
|Castor Oil||1 year||.128||up to 25%|
|Cocoa Butter||1 to 2 years||.137||up to 15%|
|Coconut Oil||More than 1 year||.178||Up to 30%|
|Coffee Butter||1 year||.188||up to 6%|
|Emu Oil||1 year, 3 years if frozen||.192||up to 12.5%|
|Evening Primrose||6 months to 1 year||.19||up to 6%|
|Flax Seed Oil||6 months to 1 year if refrigerated||.19||up to 5%|
|Fractionated Coconut Oil||Indefinite||.34||up to 30%|
|3 months to 1 year if refrigerated||.187||up to 15%|
|Hazelnut Oil||3 months||.136||up to 15%|
|3 months refrigerated, 9 months frozen||.135||up to 20%|
|Jojoba Oil||Indefinite||.069||up to 10%|
|Mango Butter||1 year||.184||up to 15%|
|Meadowfoam Oil||3 years||.12||up to 20%|
|Olive Oil||2 years||.134||up to 100%|
|Palm Oil||1 year||.144||up to 30%|
|Palm Kernel Oil (Flakes)||1 year||.178||up to 15%|
|Peach Kernel Oil||6 months to 1 years||.178||up to 25%|
|Peanut Oil||6 months to 1 year||.19||up to 25%|
|Rice Bran Oil||1 to 2 years||.129||up to 100%|
|Safflower Oil||1 year||.19||up to 20%|
|Sesame Oil||6 months to 1 year||.19||up to 10%|
|Shea Butter||1 year||.128||up to 15%|
|Soybean oil||3 months to 1 year||.135||up to 50%|
|Sunflower Oil||3 months||.134||up to 20%|
|Sweet Almond Oil||6 months to 1 year||.136||up to 20%|
|Tamanu Oil||2 years||.189||up to 5%|
|Walnut Oil||3 months||.192||up to 15%|
|Wheatgerm Oil||6 months||.187||up to 6%|
Want all this info in a handy dandy chart? You got it! Click here to download a two page PDF with a condensed version of this information.