All Olive Oils Are Not Created Equal

Many sopamaking oils can be found in grocery store aisles, and after awhile it begins to beg the question — can you really use store bought oils in your soaps? While this may seem like an easy, convenient and inexpensive option, we did a little research to find out. What we found was sadly not surprising.

The Test

We tested 10 olive oils total, including our own Pure Olive Oil and Pomace Olive Oil. These Olive Oil were small sizes, purchased off of retail store shelves at a local grocery store and a chain grocery store (generally, 8 to 16 ounce sizes; the smallest each brand had to offer). Each recipe was comprised of 100% olive oil, made in 1 lb. batches, had no water discounting and used a 5% superfat. We soaped at the same temperature for all 10 batches and soaped all 10 batches over a 2 day period to ensure as close as the same temperature and humidity conditions as possible for gel phase and cure time. We tested store brands as well as private labels, and every kind of olive oil from ‘virgin’ to ‘extra virgin’ to ‘light’. All bottles listed “Olive Oil” as the only ingredient on their labels.

The Results

Here are the results of the tests after unmolding. As you can see, some of the tests did some interesting things. What’s more, all of the store-bought oils except one exhibited terrible DOS after only a month! DOS is a common soapmaking acronym and it stands for “Dreaded Orange Spots.” Old or unpure oils can go rancid in soap, producing the tiny orange spots that give DOS its name. They’re not harmful, but they don’t make for pretty (or good smelling) soap. This lead us to believe that while these olive oils appeared to be fresh and pure, there may have been extra additives or old oil stock in them that caused the soaps to go downhill so quickly. The most interesting example was a soap made with “light” virgin olive oil:

This had one of the most bizarre textures we have ever seen! The batter was extremely hot after pouring, and then developed a spongy, foamy texture. It also formed a thick layer of cake-y soda ash on top.

The same soap from the side. The heat caused some crazy expansion which bowed out the sides of the super-duper reinforced silicone mold.

Our Verdict

The results of these tests speak for themselves. While you technically can make soap with small sized store-bought oils, you can see that the results can be unpredictable and in these tests, didn’t result in the highest quality soaps. In these tests, only the soaps made with Bramble Berry’s Pure and Pomace Olive Oils stood the test of time and did not behave poorly or develop DOS. If you are going to use store bought oils, always do a small test batch before doing a large batch. And if you do some test batches, I want to hear your results after a few months of curing time. I was extremely surprised by the poor showing. I have successfully (for years) used Sam’s Club, Costco, and Cash ‘n’ Carry bulk oils with success. I suspect these results from smaller grocery chains were because the lower down the chain the oils get, the more options there are for adulteration and excessive aging. After all, who knows how often a grocery store turns over its Olive Oil supply?

The soapmaking process involves many factors and variables that can cause things to go awry, and the best you can do is buy soapmaking oils from a reliable vendor who can verify their quality and purity.

Bonus: An All Olive Oil recipe

Olive oil is one of the few oils you can use up to 100% of in your soaping recipes. It produces a lush, nourishing bar of soap. Soap made with 100% olive oil is also known as Castile soap, which is named after the region in Spain where the soap first originated. Castile soap takes much longer to harden up than traditional cold process recipes, so be patient when making Castile soap. It may take up to double the wait time before you can unmold it! Bramble Berry carries several Castile soap products, including Natural Castile Liquid Soap Base and Castile Rebatch.  If you’d like to try your hand at making an olive oil soap, the Buttermilk Baby Bastille Bar is a great starting point. Although it also contains coconut milk in addition to olive oil, it’s a great introduction to high olive oil content recipes.

Buttermilk Bastille Baby Bar

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83 Comments

    • says

      None of them were Costco – I’ve had 100% success with Costco Olive Oils for the last 20 (!!!) years. The other ones were store brands and sadly, some really large company brands. My big takeaway was not to buy oils in small bottles. I think there’s more adulteration the further down the bottling line you get – or maybe it’s age – but we got such dramatically different results that it makes me suspect adulteration.

      • Caitlen says

        So glad that none of the brands were Costco! I have been using that brand and have had some really great results with is, though I just purchased the 7lb bag from Brambleberry because it seems to be slightly more cost-effective. Thanks for this article! Super informative!

  1. Janet B says

    I get mine from Shamrock Foods locally, and they turn out very well. I agree that it’s most likely the actual shelf time for how long the grocery stores keep their oils. Most of the bottles of oil end up dusty at one store I frequent. So I’ve been using the oils I get for soap in foods as well (not saponified!!)Things taste a lot fresher that way.

  2. Charlemange says

    I’m glad you bogged about this, because there is a huge scam with olive oil right now, and many bottles on supermarket shelves are cut with cheaper oils and chlorophyll. “Light” olive oil is a waste of money. If you need a neutral oil for cooking, use rice bran oil or grapeseed oil.

    Some of the olive oils tested for pureness that passed are Kirkland, California Olive Ranch, and McEvoy Ranch Organic. Do some research on olive oil brands before making a purchase.

  3. Michael says

    Great information! I would love to see more informational posts just like this. Especially using oils or additives, I would love to know more about other oils – such as grapeseed and rice oil. I’m glad to know there is confidence in using Kirkland/Costco olive oil – I’ve never purchased it myself, just seems like its pretty expensive in the stores. Bramble Berry is nicely priced, but then you have to pay for shipping. Thanks for the great post!

  4. says

    Very interesting! I think you may be on to something with the idea that there is some excess aging and even adulteration happening. I buy Olive Oil in bulk at Costco because I trust them, and my soaps always turn out nicely, but I have noticed that other olive oils certainly don’t look or taste the same.

  5. Jennifer says

    Diddo what was said above. I’m curious about the “sell by” date of the oil used? Most bottles will have either a sell by date or date packaged on them. Have to wonder how long they were sitting on a shelf. Did they all smell OK? The weird white cracked one and the middle bottom one…well that’s just crazy. I buy pomace olive in 1 gallon jugs at a restaurant supply store, and have had no issues. Here’s a link to the UC Davis study showing that many olive oils on store shelves are not what they say they are. http://news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=10336

    • says

      Hi Jennifer!

      All the oils smelled okay, isn’t the white cracked soap crazy? We were really surprised with that result! Thanks for the link, I will be giving it a read :) So glad you enjoyed this post!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

    • says

      As I mentioned in the post, I’ve had consistently lovely luck with Sam’s Club, Costco & Cash ‘n’ Carry. I think it has something to do with how fast the stores turn their oil OR the fact that there is some adulteration the further down the rebottling line that you get? Just a theory.

    • says

      Hi Lee!

      I’m glad that store bought Olive Oils have worked well for you! We found some were just fine as well, Anne-Marie has had good luck with Olive Oils from Sam’s Club, Costco, and Cash ‘n’ Carry bulk oils for years. I’m glad you enjoyed this post :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  6. Margaret Julian says

    I buy olive oil from Sam’s Club. I get the 101 oz bottle of reg olive oil and always check the use by date. Been using this oil for the past 5 years with no problems knock on wood. One CP recipe I really love uses veg.shortening and I have found there is a big difference in the brands as far as the color of the soap goes but not in the finished product.

    • says

      Hi Margaret!

      Anne-Marie has also been successful with bulks oils from Sam’s Club, Costco, and Cash ‘n’ Carry. We suspect it may have something to do with how quickly they sell through their supply. That’s interesting that the vegetable shortening effects the color but not the final product, that may be something else to look into :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  7. says

    Eeesh!! I use Kirkland brand olive oil from Costco, have for over a year now as I just couldn’t afford to order it online anymore, and I’ve never had any problems. I have used Great Value brand from Wal-Mart before in a pinch, still with no problems. But those are pretty scary!

    • says

      Hi Laura!

      I’m happy to hear you have found a brand that works great for you :). Anne-Marie has used Costco brand Olive Oil for years, with great success! In general, it’s the Olive Oil from the smaller grocery stores that have resulted in problems.

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  8. Marleny says

    Wow! Very informative I usually buy the Kirkland olive oil from Costco and have never had any issues, unlike an olive oil I once bought from another smaller store,it might be that since smaller stores sell their oils at higher prices they don’t sell therefore sit for a longer time under lights and maybe bad storage conditions.

    • says

      Hi Marleny!

      Anne-Marie has also had good luck with Costco Olive Oil, as well as Olive Oil from other bulk suppliers like Sam’s Club and Cash ‘n’ Carry. I agree, it probably has to do with how quickly they sell through their supply. I’m glad you found this post informative :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  9. says

    And the FDA controls product labeling- ha! It’s amazing how concerned the soaping and small cosmetic companies are about labeling products correctly. We are setting an example the big boys need to start following.

    I’ve always figured things are not what they seem with cheap oils (and other foods), but it’s nice to see the results in color. This is just another reason to stop eating any and all processed food.

    I might not be able to trust the companies I get food from, but at least I can trust the company I get my soaping supplies from! Thank you, Bramble Berry for caring! :D

  10. Karmell says

    A few new babies in the family inspired me to to make 85% olive oil soap 8% superfat with no scent or color. It turned out so good I had to steal some for myself to help cope with dry winter skin. Bought at Costco, which seems to have worked for others as well.

    • says

      Hi Karmell!

      I’m so glad your soap turned out wonderfully, it sounds excellent for delicate baby skin :). We have also found oils from bulk suppliers to work well, like Costco, Cash ‘n’ Carry and Sam’s Club.

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  11. Rachel says

    Here in NZ it costs a lot more to buy Olive Oil from soap making suppliers (and the like) so I have no choice but to buy from supermarket chains. Have had no problem EVER, I am pleased to say, with any of the brands I have used. I have also sourced some straight from a local press which was quite novel but I have to say made no noticeable difference to the finished bar!

    • says

      Hi Rachel!

      I’m so happy to hear that you have always had good luck with your oils. Our big takeaway from this experiment was that Olive Oil from smaller grocery stores is more unpredictable, but can work just fine. I think it all depends on how fresh the Olive Oil truly is, and because bulk suppliers (like Costco and Sam’s Club)sell more, their product is more likely to be fresh :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  12. Irene says

    That is very curious about the soda ash issue with the “light” olive oil. I have often wondered what the correlation is with soda ash and the specific oils and butters used in a recipe.

    You might want to do some testing with that. Just a suggestion, but I’m sure we would all appreciate it.

    Thanks.

  13. LuAnn says

    Because of shipping charges from soap suppliers, Costco has always been way cheaper for me. I use their regular olive oil, and also the extra light, for when I’m going for a really white soap. I’m glad to know that they passed the test of a lot of soapers.
    I think that the obvious next step would be to have these oils you made soap with, tested in a lab. It would be very easy for a lab to compare the oils, and see if they all contain the exact same ingredient(s). So I think it would be great if Bramble Berry would take these exact oils, and have them tested! Unless someone else can afford to do it….. If it turns out that they are not adulterated, then we would know that they are too old. Easy Peasy!

    • Sly says

      Sounds Easy – but I can imagine that the cost of using a lab for testing would be huge $$$$ (Judging by my standard annual blood workup, where the lab charges my insurance $1200…thank goodness I don’t have to pay that!)
      I think you are asking a lot from a company that gives us soapers more than any company gives their clients… Thank you BB!!

    • says

      Hi LuAnn!

      I’m glad you found this post helpful and informative. I’m also happy to hear that you have found a brand of Olive Oil that works well for you! At this time we would not be able to test these oils in a lab, but it’s certainly something we will keep in mind :).

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  14. says

    I have a question go you, have you ever made soap with Crisco All-Vegetable oil? I teach a simple soaping class use 6 pound can, dis. water, lye, laverder est. oil and clean Pringles cans for molds(soap)class is fun works every time . I don’t know why but it’s the best!

    • says

      Hi Chris!

      We have used Pringles cans for molds before, and they do work pretty well :). I have also tried making soap with Crisco, and while it certainly works, it’s not a favorite soaping ingredient of mine. Anne-Marie doesn’t use it when she soaps because the ingredient list has a range and can vary – so it’s often difficult to get accurate SAP values for Crisco or shortening. What types of oils to use is all a personal preference :)!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  15. says

    For a very interesting read about the olive oil industry, check out the book “Extra Virginity” by Tom Mueller. Drives home the point that it’s very hard to know what you’re getting when you buy olive oil. His best advice being to buy from a reputable source, of course. Thanks for this post!

    • says

      Hi Amy!

      I’m happy that you are loving making Melt and Pour! If you are wanting to add additional oils or butters into your base, I don’t recommend adding much, if any. The bases are already made with luxurious oils and butters. The more you add to the base, the more the consistency will change. The lather will start to decrease or you could end up with a softer bar of soap. Because of this, I don’t usually add more than 1 teaspoon of extra oils per pound of soap base.

      If you are interested in starting cold process, we have a ton of resources to get you started! Working with lye can be a little scary at first. But it’s like driving a car, scary at first but perfectly safe when done properly :). This video helps walk you through lye safety, and is part one of a whole video series on cold process soapmaking basics :)

      How to Make Cold Process Soap: Lye Safety and Ingredients::
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR6ttCSrLJI&list=PLAADF6209996265D2&feature=c4-overview-vl

      You may also find this blog post helpful!

      Free Beginners Guide to Cold Process:
      http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/cold-process-soap/free-beginners-guide-to-soapmaking-cold-process/

      I hope this helps Amy, Happy Soaping!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

    • Brenda says

      Amy,

      I was concerned about the lye as well. I watched Anne-Marie’s videos a couple of times but was still concerned about the fumes, so I waited until warm weather and took everything to a table outside. I’ve never even gotten a whiff!

      Brenda

  16. Rosalind says

    I’ve been using Bertolli brand olive oil and I guess its working fine, I’m new at this cause some of my soaps seem to be developing tiny holes on the sides and bottom as it cures. I think I will try the Costco brand next. Although, My family still loves my soap!!

  17. Rosalind says

    I use Bertolli’s olive oil in my soap and everything seems fine.. no DOS so far. I notice my soap seems to get tiny holes on sides and bottom as it cures, what is up with that? I think I will try Costco’s next time. Although, holes or not my family and friends love my soaps, now if I could just conquer that titanium dioxide, I will be happy.

    • Patricia says

      Are you sure the holes are occurring during the cure? Normally it happens during the pour. In that case, just slam your mold on your countertop a few times to make them rise to the surface.

      As for the TD, if it’s water soluble, you can mix it with the lye water, but just be sure to run the lye solution through a fine sieve or you might find undissolved TD in your soap. If using the oil soluble TD, try mixing it with a bit of the oil from the recipe before adding it to your oils – or with your superfatting oil if you happen to be doing that and not then dividing the batch to add other colorants. It really depends on which one your using as well as how you intend to color (part of the batch or all,)as to when and how you add it.

    • says

      Hi Rosalind!

      It looks like Patricia has offered you some great advice, thanks Patricia! :). I would definitely recommend slamming your mold on the counter a few times to help get rid of any air bubbles that might be present.

      To disperse the titanium dioxide, we usually recommend dispersing the pigment in a light weight oil, like Sweet Almond or Sunflower oil. You might find this video helpful!

      Learn to Prepare Colorants for Cold Process Soapmaking:
      http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/learn-prepare-colorants-cold-process-soap-making/

      I hope this helps! :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  18. says

    How interesting! I’ve heard that some olive oils may not be pure and could possibly be adulterated with other oils. I’ve been using Food Club’s Pure Olive Oil with great success, so I stick with it. It’s good to know that BB sells a high-quality pure olive oil, too, if I can’t get my brand for some reason or start having problems with store-bought oils.

    • says

      Hi Darlene!

      When making soap with 100% Olive Oil (also known as Castile Soap), it does take a long time to set up because it does not contain any hard oils. When making Castile soap, you do not need to use a water discount, it just requires more patience :).

      To help the hardening process along next time, I would recommend using Sodium Lactate in your lye water. Sodium Lactate is a liquid salt, and helps soap harden faster! You can use Sodium Lactate in your water at a usage rate of 1 tsp per pound of oils.

      Sodium Lactate:
      http://www.brambleberry.com/Sodium-Lactate-P5127.aspx

      I hope this helps :)

      -Amanda

  19. Robyn says

    Thanks to Megen for referring me to this thread after my query. Olive oil is quite expensive in Australia and after my first two attempts at soapmaking using the bottle I had in the pantry (Bertolli) I bought a 4 litre tin of an Australian brand extra virgin. The resulting soap, which I had previously had turn out a nice white (it was the basic recipe from Anne-Marie’s book Soapcrafting) is muddy looking and still soft after 3 days in the mold. It was also my first attempt at colouring – I added a teaspoon of pink ultramarine oxide mixed in a tablespoon of sweet almond oil – but the colourant made no difference. This batch is destined for the bin I think :). The Bertolli oil is marketed as ‘light in taste’ but not extra virgin, and is definitely a lighter colour than the extra virgin. I guess I’ll stick with that. Is it only olive oil that affects the colour, or do other oils (I’ve used rice bran oil) do this as well?

  20. Jeri says

    Interesting blog article.

    Over the years, I have bought quite a few store brand oils as well as lard. I tend to want to save my shipping charges for the more expensive/exotic oils that I am unable to find locally.

    As a result, I have noticed that after 6 to 8 months, a lot of my soaps do turn up with DOS and it is always so frustrating. I always just assumed it was the lard. It never occurred to me that olive oil could be the culprit.

    • says

      Hi Jeri!

      I’m so glad that you found this blog post helpful! Buying Olive Oil from reputable sources is so important, we were honestly a little surprised by some of the dramatic the results ourselves :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  21. Alma says

    I would love to make the baby soap , but I have a few questions. 1. Which olive oil is best for this recipe…..pure, extra virgin or pomace. 2. When a recipe says coconut oil is it saying pure organic, because it does not give a certain name. I have refine organic is this ok for baby soap 3. I purchase liquid silk and I used it in a 2lb Bastille recipe long with sodium lactate. 1 tsp each and instead of it be harder it is softer will these two products do same to Castile soap. Should I use less or a water Dicount. I got them BB. I know what ever is use I have to run it through a soap calc.
    Thank

    Alma
    Sorry for so many question

    • says

      Hi Alma!

      You could use any Olive Oil in baby soap, but we most commonly use Pure Olive Oil in our soaping recipes. When a recipe says Coconut Oil, it most likely is not referring to organic. You may find this blog post all about the terms natural and organic helpful!

      Natural vs. Organic: http://www.soapqueen.com/bath-and-body-tutorials/tips-and-tricks/natural-vs-organic/

      Using sodium lactate in your soap recipe should definitely make a harder bar of soap. I would recommend using sodium lactate at a rate of 1 tsp. per pound of oils, so it may be that you just have not used enough :)

      I hope this helps!

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

    • says

      Hi Marie!

      Yes, a few of these oils were organic oils. While using organic oils is great, they can still go rancid if they are old. I would just recommend purchasing any oils from a reputable source, and if you can, purchase from a store that goes through a lot of oil quickly! :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  22. Dolly Danger says

    I just made two batches of cp goats milk soap. Every step of the process was kept at room temp or lower to prevent gelling (using ice bath, putting in fridge right away for 24 hours. I noticed tiny orange spots with clearly defined margins in both batches. I poked at the orange spots with a bamboo skewer and the orange spots came right out and seemed almost like a little seed.

    I have seen DOS develop over time and when it does it has hazy, poorly defined borders. I have never seen what happened with these two batches. Does this sound like DOS? I might need to toss out my olive oil :(

    BTW, my recipe uses

    60% olive
    20% coconut 76
    10% castor
    10% shea

    Thanks!!!

    • says

      Hi Dolly!

      Oh no, sorry to hear your soap is giving you a little trouble. It does sound like DOS to me. It is a little odd that the orange spots came out and where hard. How long did it take for the spots to develop? You’re right, usually they develop after some time, but it’s possible they could appear sooner. I would recommend tossing your olive oil, or finding another use for it, just to be safe! :)

      -Amanda with Bramble Berry

      • Dolly Danger says

        Thanks for your reply! I have already tossed the olive oil AND the castor oil just to be safe.

        The spots developed after 24 hours of pouring into the mold and going right into the fridge. It’s so sad when soap doesn’t come out as you planned!

        • says

          Hi Dolly!

          Oh I know, that is such a bummer. Usually I recommend rebatching soap that doesn’t turn out quite right, but unfortunately there is no way to fix bad oils. On the positive side, it’s a good thing that the spots appeared before you made a lot more soap with the oils! Caught it early :)

          -Amanda with Bramble Berry

  23. Liv says

    Thanks so much for the great post! It’s really timely for me, as I am wanting to make a castile soap for a friend who is having a baby. I never thought that different olive oils could cause such widely varying textures and colors in their soaps! Do you mind sharing which two of the soaps were made with Bramble Berry’s olive oils? Thanks again, I love this!

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