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.


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


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Creating Your Signature Soap

Creating your own soap formulas; does the very thought appall you or does it excite you?  Perhaps you’re shrugging your shoulders saying, “I do that all the time.”  or “Been there, done that.  I worked and tweaked and found my own formula a long time ago.”  


If you identify with the former, read on.  If it’s the latter, well, read on to see if  you agree.


My opinion is that every soapmaker should eventually develop her own formula(s).  It’s fine to start out with a well-designed, simple formula, but somewhere along the line, she should become curious about other oils and percentages and manipulating them to create a signature soap that she loves.  Yes, some of us get a bit carried away with this concept and never stop tweaking, but that’s another story for another day.


I’ve known soapmakers who enjoy the experimentation part more than any other component of soapmaking.  I’ve also known a few who found a recipe in a magazine twenty years ago and have used that formula since and that one only.  I suppose that isn’t a bad thing as long as it’s a good formula, but you’ll be a more knowledgeable soaper if you step out of your comfort zone and learn more about various oils and methods by doing some research and experimentation.


If you’re a brand new soapmaker, by all means, get a good formula, follow the directions, and make soap (after after putting your formula through a lye calculator).  If your first batch turns out well, it will encourage you to keep going.


Once you become more familiar with making soap, study various oils to learn more about what they have to offer soap.  Some oils produce lather, some harden the bar and others are skin conditioning.  A balanced bar will include good percentage of each.  From there, you’ll probably look for formulas for specialty soaps, such as facial bars and mechanics soap.  That’s where knowing your oils will come in handy and will save you valuable time and supplies in formulating those bars.


After some time and trials, you’ll consider yourself a knowledgeable soapmaker.  You’ll realize how little you knew at the beginning, and even though your soap was good then, you’re just so much smarter now!


Have you created your own formulas yet?  Are you fearful of doing so, or have you enjoyed the process?  Share with us what you’ve learned.


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


Beth Byrne for the Saponifier

Are You a Mad Scientist or Tried and True?

Oil.  I never thought in my life that I would care so much about oil.  Animal or vegetable, organic or refined, it captures my interest.  And for what reason?  Making soap, of course!  Now, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of oils and enjoy using many of them and experimenting with them in soap and other products.  Do you?


Oil choices and percentages play a major part in making good soap and a soapmaker who wants to be knowledgeable simply cannot remain ignorant of each oil they use and its properties.  Certainly, it’s possible to make soap out of 100% coconut oil or 100% olive oil, and it is common.  In fact, some of the world’s most famous soaps are 100% olive oil.  Yet, to my way of thinking, a truly wonderful bar comes from a mix of oils, each with properties that contribute to a bar that is moisturizing, cleans well without stripping the skin, lathers up well, and is hard enough to last in the tub or shower.


How do we find out which oils do what for soap?  Research and experimentation is the answer.  Begin with an established formula and tweak the oils until you reach what for you, is the perfect soap.  It’s part of the process for becoming a confident soapmaker.  Hint:  recipes that you run across calling for a can of this and a cup of that are best ignored.  Can sizes may change over time, so if it doesn’t state what that can size is by weight, move on.  Cup and other types of non-weighed  measurements are also potential problems. Why?  Because even cup measurements from cup to cup can vary, so a cup of shortening might not weigh eight ounces, and lye calculations are based on the weight of each oil.  You could potentially end up with either a very soft batch or a lye-heavy one.  Soap isn’t as forgiving as cooking and the ingredients were meant to be weighed out.


But what about you?  Perhaps you have a formula that you have used for years and you’re very happy with it, so you see no need to waste time or money on changing it.  You admit that you know just so much about each oil that goes into your soap, but you do know how to produce a consistent product from batch to batch.


Where product production is concerned, I understand the need for a consistent formula, but couldn’t exist without my r&d (research and development) time, but that may not be true for all.


Weigh in (no pun intended).  Are you an experimenter (mad scientist) type or a tried-and-true soap/bath and body maker?


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


Beth Byrne

Oils, Summer, Candles and Capital

This educational issue of the Saponifier is so exciting.  If you didn’t learn anything, then you must know everything!


We’ve all heard facts about soapmaking oils–coconut oil is drying, castor oil produces a hard soap, canola oil causes DOS.  But, is it really true?  Soapmaking Oils; Surprises Afoot, by Beth Byrne is an attempt to answer those questions.  Most people, myself included, learned, believed and repeated what we believed we knew about oils without really testing things out.  After hearing contradictory information,  a single oil soap experiment was born.  Thanks to over twenty soapmakers, we have access to the results of making many kinds soap with one oil and now know the truth.  Is coconut oil drying?  Read the article for yourself!  You’ll also have access here:

If you don’t see an oil listed and want to make a batch to test and add to our work, please contact me,  I am seeking to add more oils.

Armed with your new information, try the formulas listed in Erica Pence’s, Natural Summer Formulary.  You’ll find much more than soap ideas! Likewise, Cindy Noble’s, Summer Product Shape Up will be just the kickstart you need to think about warmth and sunshine. While you’re at it this summer, don’t forget to use Erica’s directions for making sand candles!  Oh, and speaking of soap, what about scum?  Tamara Dourney sheds the light on the “scum” claims of advertisers in, Soap Scum:  A Real Problem or Bad PR.?  Weren’t you glad you read that one?

Last but not least, our money guru, Alexander Sherman offers expert advice in his article, Raising Capital.  What small business doesn’t need that kind of help?  Tell us where you got your capital to start your business and/or to expand it.


Until next time,

Happy bubbles and wax!

Beth Byrne


Coming Right Up!

Have you been wondering what the next issue of the Saponifier will bring?  Here’s a bit of what you have to look forward to:


Education is the theme, and we offer it in spades.  We’ll be offering summer recipes and ideas that you can incorporate into your fair weather sales and activities.  For some of you, this information is none too early.  For others of you, well, let’s just say that you’ll have time to decide what to make and get your supplies before summer plants itself in your town.


We’ll also provide an open source scientist for your learning pleasure, as well as the list of books that you must have.   Want to make a career of your craft?  We’ll have help for that, also.


If that’s not enough, do you know anything about the Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)?  If not, you soon will by reading the herb monograph!


And soap scum:  is it one of those things you simply have to put up with when it comes to handcrafted soap, or is it just a bit of bad PR?  Read and find out.


Finally, is everything you’ve been taught about soapmaking oils true?  Which oils produce a hard bar, soft bar, a lathering bar,or  a white bar?  A Single Soap Oil Swap was conducted to prove or disprove everything we’ve been taught about oils, and I can only say that I think you’ll be surprised at some of the findings; but, you’ll have to wait until March 1st to find out!


Is your appetite whetted?  Good.  Be sure to download and read your issue on Thursday and then tell us what you think.


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


Beth Byrne