Sub-a-Dub-Dub, Soapmakers Learn About Oils for the Tub

Sub-a-Dub-Dub, Soapmakers Learn About Oils for the Tub. . . yes, it’s a little cheesy, but it leads to the question, “How do I know which oil would be a good substitute for the usual oils in my soap?”


If you’ve been making soap, no doubt you’ve asked this question. Perhaps you’ve run out of an oil and need to substitute, or you’re unable to find the oil called for in the formula or you choose not to use the oil specified, you’ll need to know how to substitute oils.


If you look at the fatty acid profile for the oil you’d like to substitute and then look for an oil with a similar profile, you can probably make a direct substitution. I know, I know, you’re probably asking if there’s an easier way than possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of any given oil. Fortunately, the answer is yes.


Consider, for instance, that you usually want to use coconut oil, but have run out or have a customer who is allergic to it. You want to make a bar that is identical or nearly identical to your usual formula. You may look up the fatty acid profile (and it’s a good idea), but it’s also enough to know what coconut does for soap. It makes a hard bar and a great deal of lather. By looking up oils high in lauric and myristic acid, you’ll know that the other lathering oils include babassu and palm kernel oil. Therefore, you know that you can substitute coconut oil with these two oils and also that they are the only oils that provide the abundance of lather that coconut does.


As stated in our last blog, this is the breakdown of the fatty acids:


Lauric, myristic – hard, lathering

Palmitic, stearic – hard, some conditioning

oleic, linoleic, linolenic, ricinoleic – conditioning


You’ll have to do a bit of work to find out what the properties  are of the oils in your formula and the oil options you have for substituting, but with just a bit of sleuthing, you’ll be on your way.


Want to learn more about soapmaking? Subscribe to the Saponifier!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Soapmaking Oils: What are They all About?

“I am out of shortening. May I substitute another oil? I don’t want to use palm oil anymore. What can I use instead?”


These and similar questions are not uncommon among soapmakers. The answers are at times, simple, and at other times, not so simple. For instance, good 1:1 substitutes for shortening are tallow, lard or palm. Not so simple? The person who wants to substitute shortening without using any of the aforementioned oils! At this point, the soapmaker may have to rework his formula to find one that yields a similar bar.


In order to substitute oils, rework formulas or make up our own formulas, we need to know what each oil contributes to soap. This is best accomplished by learning about the fatty acids that make up each oil. The fatty acids that we track for soapmaking oils are: lauric, myristic, linoleic, linolenic, oleic, palmitic, stearic and ricinoleic.


Wait! Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet. Stick with me and I’ll try to make it easier.


Oils high in lauric and myristic acid contribute to a hard, lathering bar of soap. These include coconut, palm kernel and babassu oil.


Oils high in palmitic and stearic acid give us hard bars. These include palm, tallow, and shortening (the hardening which is further enhanced by hydrogenation). Additionally, butters such as cocoa, mango and shea, among some lesser known as illipe and mowrah butter.


Finally, oils high in conditioning are high in oleic, linoleic and linolenic acids. This encompasses a large number of oils such as sunflower, safflower, olive, sweet almond, and apricot kernel oil. Although these oils are primarily used for conditioning, they are thought to make soft soap. More about that in our next installment.


Learn your oils and you hold the key to creating the perfect soap bar!


Want more help with soapmaking? Subscribe today!


 Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier


Oils, What’s Not to Like?

Oils. Who loves oils more than those who make soap and body products?


Many of us try as many oils as we can get our hands on (or afford), eagerly reading the fatty acid profiles and attributes of each oil while planning which products would be the best use of our precious oils.


To be honest, previous to soapmaking and bath and body, I never paid much attention to oil. I’d use it in cooking, but I never wanted it on my skin. Once I began my journey in producing skin products however, I saw oils in a totally different light. Oil was good. It was pure and was beneficial. It nourished my skin and helped me to heal. It had vitamins! Oil was in nearly every product I created, from soap to salves to lotion and more. What’s not to like?


And yet, the subject of oils causes a great deal of consternation among soap and bath and body makers. Which oils should I use? Which oils are good for soap or lotion or shampoo or liquid soap? Indeed, there is so much to learn that I feel as if I have only scratched the surface. I think I have a grasp on the breadth of oils available to me and then I hear of another one I never knew existed. Isn’t the continual opportunity to learn what makes this job or hobby so much fun? By the way, for the purposes of this discussion, my use of the term, “oils,” pertains to fats, as well.


Consider CP/HP soapmaking, for example. We have a hundred oils we might use, but we need to narrow our choices down to a manageable few. So, what do we choose? For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that if we were to choose our soapmaking oils and fats according to their fatty acid profiles and properties, we’d choose much differently than we often do and would value certain oils more than others because our opinions had no base in cost.


Nevertheless, we are usually restricted by price and availability, which may seem like a bad thing, but it isn’t. There is no shame in using inexpensive oils that are easily available. In fact, many would argue that using expensive luxury oils in soap is a waste of money since it’s washed off almost as soon as it’s applied. Others insist that certain oils, albeit pricey, give their soap a luxurious performance that cannot be matched with “everyday” oils.


I tend to side with the former, believing that some humble, commonly found oils are actually excellent oils, providing us with lovely soaps to bathe with.  What about you? Do you enjoy using more common, less expensive oils, or are you a person who appreciates oils more when they’re rare and expensive?


Either way, it’s a discussion that ends with, oils. . . what’s not to like? Want to learn more? Subscribe to the Saponifier!

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth for the Saponifier

Too Much Opportunity; Is it Possible?

Many of our readers sell their soap, bath and body and candle creations. Quite a few of those who don’t are thinking about doing so, while some are former sellers.


Looking back in time, it seems as if selling used to be easier “back in the day” than it is now. A merchant either set up shop in a building, which was often part of the family’s home or he sold via catalogs. Nowadays, we not only have those options, but we also have websites and all sorts of social media. We have the opportunity to put our product out there for a greater number of potential customers to see and see them more often. We develop websites, get Facebook fan pages, get Twitter accounts and join selling sites such as Etsy and Artfire. Each of these choices hold the possibility of providing the seller a cash stream.

This must be a great thing, right? Is it really easier than the old days? Certainly, we see advantages to all this exposure, not the least of which is cost. We can post pictures and information on Facebook all day long without its costing a cent. We can put links to our Facebook comments or add new ones on Twitter for the same low price. Etsy and Artfire, etc., cost money to use, but this cost is much more reasonable than renting a storefront, so their popularity has boomed. Even a website is possible on the cheap if we have the skill or are willing to learn how to make one.


So, what’s the possible downside of all the options we have? Perhaps it’s that we have too many. With all of our choices, we can become bogged down. The time spent researching our options, preparing websites, pages, maintaining them and so on, eats up much of our days, and sellers are in danger of spreading themselves too thin.


I don’t have any glib answers to the modern day dilemma of too much opportunity, but I do have some common sense advice. Nothing has or ever will replace goal setting and planning. Know your mark and aim for it daily, reviewing as often as necessary. Do the necessary research for new opportunities, objectively deciding whether or not they will help you meet your goals or not. If not, keep walking.


How do you keep your head out of the mire and on track? Give us your best advice.

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

Beth Byrne for the Saponifier Magazine

Are you a Producer or a Processor?

Our personalities vary greatly from one of us to the other, and they extend themselves to our soap, body products and candles.  Even so, it seems to me that we are one of two types:  Producers or Processors.  


Producers get their enjoyment out of producing their product.   They do not feel the need to try each ingredient under the sun, nor every product that can be made.  They find a formula and stick with it.  If it’s good, it’s good enough.  Their satisfaction comes in getting that large order out the door, and they don’t mind doing it over and over again.


Processors, on the other hand, get their joy and satisfaction from the R&D (research and development) part of the experience.  They are constantly tweaking formulas and trying new things.  If they hear about a new product, they want to try it, and only money and lack of space keep them from buying everything they see.    They live for the experience of creating.


 It’s not hard to see then, what challenges face each  type of artisan.  The Producer finds it easier to narrow down products and scents to a manageable number and disciplines herself to stick with the plan.  The daily production tasks are an agreeable challenge that she takes great joy in.  Nevertheless, the Producer may rush into manufacturing a product without thoroughly testing how it performs or knowing whether it is a product her customers will prefer.


Conversely, the Processor may take a long time to get a product to market or standardizing his formula, but once he does, it will be a fantastic, well thought-out product.  The Processor is also likely to find time constraints a challenge, and he may get bored of producing the same products over and over until the entire business becomes  more of a grind and less of a joy.


Does this mean that one or the other is not suited for business?  Not at all.  Where this insight helps us is in learning to cope with our shortcomings and in capitalizing on our strengths.


If you are a Producer, realize that you will get things done, but may need to force  yourself  to curb your enthusiasm to finish and sit down and analyze your formulas, encourage your own creativity and make a plan to test out products.


If  you are a Processor, be sure to plan your schedule and business goals with checkpoints so that you don’t get lost in your work.  Give yourself some leeway for creating something different so that you don’t become bored.  Even varying your production schedule may help keep you satisfied.


If you get help, choose someone who has skills and a temperament contrary to yours.  This may seem counter-intuitive, but it will keep you on your toes. How much help you need depends upon each person and the situation; however, being honest with yourself about our needs will lead to greater success and satisfaction.


Can you identify yourself in these descriptions?  How do you cope and use your personality to best advantage?


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Soap: Something to Brag About

Hand sanitizer, soap, anti-bacterial cleanser, which one cleans best? Do you ever feel that your soap might be a little too easy on germs or do potential customers go elsewhere because you don’t offer a soap with an anti-bacterial?


Good news! In a recent study sponsored by ABC news, all of the above products were tested as to efficacy, and regular soap ranked right up there with hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap. In fact, soap ranked better than alcohol-based sanitizer. Furthermore, since the FDA has come out advising consumers not to use anti-bacterial soap because it assists in creating microbes that are increasingly immune to agents used to kill them, soapmakers truly have a product to gloat about. Now we have evidence.


Notice, however, that soap does not kill microbes, but rinses them off the skin and down the drain. The cleansing action of soap is sufficient cleansing. Please do not claim that your soap kills germs! This classes your product as a drug and is therefore subject to the FDA’s drug regulations. Other countries have regulations in place governing their products, as well.


To see the whole story, follow this link:


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Soaps with Swirls, Twirls and Whirls

Have you seen the beautiful cold processed soaps that soapers are creating?


In various places on the internet, you’ll see beautiful multi-color swirls, swirl designs with their own names, peaked tops, cupcake soaps, and soaps that look like cake–and that’s just the beginning, swirls, twirls and whirls abound.  I am impressed daily by what my fellow soapmakers are capable of, most of them better than what I am able to do.  I feel that I make a good quality soap, but not one as gorgeous and imaginative as what I see from some of my colleagues.  It’s truly enjoyable to gaze in wonder and delight at their creations.


It makes me wonder, however, is a plain jane bar of soap acceptable anymore?  Will a bar of one color, no swirls, no peaks and  no design be received with as much joy as the bar that bowls you over with its intricacy?  Might the soaper who makes that plain bar be seen as a lesser soapmaker than her fancier counterpart?  I wonder if the bar has been raised or is in the process thereof (yes, pun intended) to require a soap not only to be well made, but gorgeous, too.


So far, the soapmakers I’ve seen have been very supportive of each other’s work and it makes me pleased to be in the company of such individuals.  I have seen men and women who cheer each other on and who freely pass along hints and favorite suppliers.  I hope that continues and that it is widespread, not just where I hang out.  I do wonder, however, where soapmaking is taking us as an industry and whether this will separate the novice from the professional and whether the customer will eventually demand artistic soap.


What is your opinion on the matter?  What do you make?


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne


Soap, a Vital Player in Human History

I frequently visit a living museum near me, as I am a history enthusiast.

You know, one of those museums where buildings from the region are brought in and set up like a village–homes, businesses, and whatever else a village needs is what I’m referring to.  I like many aspects of the museum, including speaking with the interpreters who add great insight into life in the past century and even earlier.


On one such visit, I was able to talk soap with one of the interpreters, who shed light on life on the American frontier in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  Trees were bigger and denser than I can even imagine and had to be cleared before a home could be begun because there was no room to build, otherwise.  Therefore, wood was in great supply.  Not only was it plentiful, but pioneers had to find uses for all the wood they cut to clear enough land for a home and barn, plus room for animals.  Making lye with ashes was just one of the uses for that wood.  The docent explained that a family would get a pig in the spring and let it mature for butchering in the fall.  Pioneers subsequently used every bit of the pig, and much of the fat was used to make soap that the family would use until the next butchering.


Are you envisioning white, hard bars of soap?  If so, your picture is incorrect.  The resulting soap was more of a semi-solid consistency that was kept in a dish hanging by the door so that the family could wash their hands upon entering the cabin.  My assumption then was that the soap was not only used for bathing and hand washing, but also for household cleaning, but it was explained to me that they didn’t bother with using soap; indeed, they were more likely to use a weak lye solution for general cleaning of the floors, hearth, and other such areas.  Of course!  These practical women were not concerned with the beauty of their soap or the lovely skin feel.  No, they just needed to get their hands clean and keep their homes as clean as possible, and they used the easiest, most expedient method.


I left, impressed and amazed at the fortitude of our forefathers and mothers who underwent such hardships to settle the new land.  Even their soap making is impressive.   I am also awed by the long history of soap and how it has played a vital part in cultures for thousands of years, and now, we soapmakers are carrying on in the craft and carrying it forward.


Yes, soap  has evolved and advanced, and most of us are happy that we make soap now, with our access to supplies and information that allows us to create gentle, yet beautiful soap nearly every batch; but, there is something satisfying to feel a part of history, as well.


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne

Vanilla, the Problem Child of the Soap World

I’ve made a couple of soaps for the summer season.  One is a creamsicle scent and the other smells like cotton candy.  Yum!  They almost smell good enough to eat, and if it weren’t for the fact that vanilla discolors, they would be lovely.  When I first made them, the colors were just what I’d hoped for–the creamsicle was a soft orange and the cotton candy, a bright pink.  I don’t suppose I have to tell you what they look like now, do I?  Yes, the Dreaded Vanilla Brown, scourge of soapmakers everywhere.


 I’m sure that many of you can empathize with my situation and that you have your own “brown” stories to tell.


This is crazy.  We’re landing a rover on Mars, but we can’t have a vanilla scent that doesn’t discolor at all?  Is that really so hard?  Apparently, it is.




It’s true that some clever soapers have found ways around that discoloring, whether it be whipped soap or adding scent to only a portion of the batch so that just part of it turns brown.  Half brown, they feel,  can certainly be more appealing than all brown!


Other wise soapers have learned to embrace the brown and are satisfied with it.  The “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” theory is at play here.  It’s certainly better than stressing over an inevitable result.



What about you?  Do you care if vanilla fragrance turns brown in soap?  Have you found ways to deal with it?  Perhaps you have ideas to share.  We’re all ears!


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Handcrafted Soap: All Shapes and Sizes

Although we most commonly picture bar soap as a rectangle, we know that isn’t always true.  Besides being comfortable to grip, rectangular bars are common because they are also easy to make.  Fill the loaf mold and slice the soaps when they’re ready.  Stand them on their sides to cure and everybody’s happy.  Right?  Of course not; because despite the practicality of the rectangular bar, soapmakers aren’t limited to that and so they can and often do, make other shapes.  And even the rectangular bars vary in their dimensions, with soapers making a wide variety of heights, widths and depth of soap.

Consider round bars.  they are often used for shaving soaps since they can be dropped into a coffee mug.  A small minority of  soapers prefer the round bars or just make them for certain soaps just for something different.

Oval bars are well-liked because they too, fit in the hand well, but are less common because finding or fashioning a mold is a challenge.  Also, soapers are limited in the creative designs afforded them with loaf or slab molds.

We occasionally see square bars and it’s a bit surprising that we don’t see them more often often, since a mold for square soap would be as easy to make as one for rectangles.  This is true with either a loaf or a slab mold, which makes me wonder why this is the case.  Perhaps the soap is more awkward to use or it’s difficult to make the correct weight bar without making it too thick.

Finally, we have the soaps that are made in decorative molds.  Some soapers have difficulty getting their hard traced soap into such a mold without air pockets.  Others have  a hard time getting the soap out.  When it works, however, it yields beautiful, decorative soaps that friends and customers love.

With such a plethora of choices, it’s no wonder that soapmakers differ in their preferences.

What is your preference, and why?


Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.


Beth Byrne


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