Properties of soapmaking oils

On Soap, Oils and Fatty Acids...

Soap is a chemical substance, created by combining fatty acids, an alkali and heat in a water medium. Fatty acids are chemical components of oils ("oils" includes fats and butters, too). There are various fatty acid varieties, each differing in molecular composition. When used in soapmaking, each fatty acid variety will make a soap that has its own unique characteristics. Different oils used in soapmaking have differing proportions of these various fatty acids. Therefore, chosen "recipe" combinations of specific oils mixed together in soapmaking can result in combined fatty acids compositions tailored to make soaps with desired characteristics. An understanding of this ability to tailor our oils mix and thereby control our fatty acids mix is essential in designing successful soap recipe formulas. I know this is a rather "heavy" paragraph, but please read it carefully as understanding this is crucial to being able to best use the information presented below.

Some Fatty Acids and their Resulting Soap Characteristics:

Lauric Acid: Hard bar, excellent cleansing, lots of fluffy lather, can be drying to skin
Linoleic Acid: Conditioning, silky feel
Myristic Acid: Hard bar, cleansing, fluffy lather
Conditioning, slippery feel, stingy lather, kind to skin
Palmitic Acid: Hard bar, cleansing, stable lather
Ricinoleic Acid: Softer bar, conditioning, moisturizing, lots of fluffy, stable lather, kind to skin
Stearic Acid: Hard, long lasting bar, stable lather


Some notes on using this information:

Note that a given oil can have a fairly wide range of percentages of any constituent fatty acid and can be somewhat different from different sources. The fatty acids composition information below is indicative of the properties of each oil listed and of soap made from that oil, but know that oils formulation for soapmaking is an art and not an exact science. Each oil will also have a percentage of "non saponifiable" components that do not become soap themselves, but rather remain in the soap you make and add their own characteristics to that soap. These may include non-oil plant materials, vitamins, minerals, etc. that may nourish the skin or provide other benefits. Two types of information are presented for each oil: Characteristics of soap made with the oil and characteristics of the oil itself when used to superfat soap or in a direct skin contact use such as massage oil. Experience with testing your own recipe formulas is important!

Oils used in soapmaking...  Composition and Characteristics:

Oil Name:
Fatty Acids:
Apricot Kernel Oil
Oleic 58-74%
Linoleic 20-34%
Palmitic 4-7%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing. A smooth and lightweight oil, high in Vitamin A and minerals, Apricot kernel oil is often used for superfatting. Also popular as a massage oil, Known for its ability to penetrate the skin without leaving an oily feel, apricot kernel oil has a superb texture that is great for all skin types.
Avocado Oil
Oleic 36-80%
Palmitic 7-32 %
Linoleic 6-18%
Stearic 1.5%
Often used for superfatting soaps, avocado oil contains vitamins A, D, and E, which makes it healing as well as moisturizing. Also used in massage oils, creams, lotions and hair products.
Babassu Seed Oil
Lauric 50%
Myristic 20%
Palmitic 11%
Oleic 10%
Stearic 3.5%
Contributes to: soap hardness, fluffy lather, quicker trace. Beneficial for both dry and oily complexions, gently moisturizing the skin without contributing to an oily sheen. Especially suitable for eczema, itchy, dry and inflamed skin.
(contains some
Beeswax can help make a somewhat harder bar of soap. Used at 1% to 3% of total oils, acts as an emulsifier while stirring/blending to trace and may help prevent "soap ash" while curing. Inhibits lather at higher amounts.  Natural, unrefined beeswax has the smell of honey which persists through saponification better than if honey itself is used. Beeswax contains a high percentage of unsaponifiables. Also used in creams, lotions, lip balms, candle making, polishes, inks, cosmetics, and ointments. In cosmetics, it is used as a thickener, emulsifier and stiffening agent in creams, lotions, lipsticks, etc. Beeswax has emollient, soothing and softening properties and helps the skin retain moisture.
Borage Seed Oil
Linoleic 40.6%
Gamma Linolenic 20.5%
Oleic 16.8%
Palmitic 10.9% 
Icosenoic 4.2%
Docosenoic 2.5%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning. Goes rancid very quickly. This oil is degraded by heat, light, humidity, and exposure to oxygen. It should be stored in a cool, dark place. Borage oil is one of the richest sources of gamma linolenic acid plus it contains important vitamins and minerals. It is often used in high-end cosmetic formulations to nourish and hydrate the skin. Said to be beneficial for maturing skin and for damaged skin where regeneration of new skin cells is needed.
Butterfat (cow)
Oleic 29%
Palmitic 27%
Stearic 12%
Myristic 11%
Capric 3%
Lauric 3%
Linoleic 2%
Butterfat (goat)
Oleic 27%
Palmitic 25%
Stearic 12%
Myristic 9%
Capric 7%
Lauric 3%
Linoleic 3%
Canola Oil
Oleic 32-62%
Linoleic 15-22%
Alpha Linoleic 10%
Palmitic 1-4%
Stearic 2%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, slower trace, softer soap.  Use it to partially replace more expensive oils like olive. Canola oil is actually from a modified variety of rapeseed. Canola oil from Canada continues to be modified in competition with American soybean oil for increased oleic acid content.
Castor Oil
Ricinoleic 90%
Linoleic 3-4%
Oleic 3-4%
Contributes to: fluffy lather, stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing, quicker trace, softer soap. Often used to superfat soaps. Castor oil is unique in being almost entirely composed of ricinoleic fatty acid, found in no other oils and possessing a high affinity for water molecules. This makes it an excellent humectant, attracting and holding moisture to the skin. Castor oil should be used at low percentages to avoid overly soft soaps. Also often used in balms, shampoos, hair oils, and other thick emulsions for the skin and hair.
Coconut Oil,
76 deg.
Lauric 39-54%
Myristic 15-23%
Palmitic 6-11%
Capric 6%
Oleic 4-11%
Stearic 1-4%
Linoleic 1-2%
Contributes to: soap hardness, fluffy lather, quicker trace. Coconut oil makes soaps lather beautifully but can be drying when it makes up an overly large portion of your soap's fats. It will make a very hard, white bar of soap that lathers well even in very hard water - even in sea water. Coconut oil is light and not greasy and is resistant to spoiling. Used in skin care formulations, coconut oil is emollient, moisturizing, conditioning and protecting to the skin. This oil is solid at room temperatures under 76 degrees and liquid at higher temperatures.
Coconut Oil,
92 deg.
A more hydrogenated/saturated version of coconut oil. Makes a harder bar at cost of some lathering. This oil is solid at room temperatures under 92 degrees and liquid at higher temperatures.
Coconut Oil,
Fractionated coconut oil is processed by steam distillation to increase its proportion of shorter-chain fatty acids. A light, non-greasy, non-staining, liquid oil with an indefinite shelf life. Often used in massage oils and as a carrier for essential oils. It is a good  ubstitute for sweet almond oil in lotions, etc if you are concerned about rancidity or a short shelf life.
Cocoa Butter
Stearic 31-38%
Oleic 32-36%
Palmitic 25-30%
Linoleic 3%
Contributes to: soap hardness, stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing, quicker trace. When used as a superfatting oil it acts to lay down a protective layer which holds moisture to the skin. It has a natural chocolate scent but it is also available in an unscented version. Cocoa butter contains natural antioxidants that help to prevent rancidity. It is an excellent moisturizer that melts at body temperature, leaving the skin feeling soft and silky smooth.
Corn Oil
(maize oil)
Linoleic 45-58%
Oleic 28-37%
Palmitic 11-14%
Stearic 2-3%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, soft soap.
Cottonseed Oil
Linoleic 52-54%
Oleic 18-19%
Palmitic 13-22%
Stearic 3-13%
Myristic 1%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, silky feel. Cottonseed oil produces thick and lasting lather, in addition to having emollient properties. It can be vulnerable to rancidity, depending on storage temperature and humidity.
(Composition varies)
Crisco consists of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, containing canola and/or soybean oil plus palm oil. The proportions of these constituent oils may vary according to market conditions, season and location around the country. This, plus its partial hydrogenation makes the SAP value of Crisco variable. For this reason, results given by lye calculators for soap recipe formulas containing Crisco are only approximate.
Emu Oil
Linoleic 14%
Myristic 0.4%
Oleic 50%
Palmitic 21%
Stearic 9%
Used as a superfatting oil in soapmaking. Emu Oil is reported to help heal skin tissues and help draw other ingredients down into the skin so they are more effective.
Evening Primrose Oil
Linoleic 65-75%
Gamma Linolenic 9-11%
Oleic 7-10%
Palmitic 5-8%
Stearic 1-3%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, emollience. Evening primrose oil is an exceptionally fine textured oil. Absorbed quickly into the skin, it is one of the most popular sources of an essential fatty acid called Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). Evening primrose oil is said to be effective in helping those with dry skin, eczema and psoriasis.
Flax Seed Oil,
(linseed oil)
Alpha Linolenic 53%
Linolenic 16%
Oleic 14-21%
Linoleic 7-19%
Palmitic 3-9%
Stearic 2-7%
Flax seed oil is said to soften and heal skin abrasions and scars and to reduce swelling and redness of rashes and lesions from skin disease. Also used in creams, lotions and balms.
Grapeseed Oil
Linoleic 58-78%
Oleic 12-28%
Palmitic 5-11%
Stearic 3-6%
Used in soaps as a superfatting oil, grapeseed oil is a lightweight oil that absorbs into the skin quickly without leaving a heavy greasy feeling. It has mildly astringent qualities and is said to be useful for acne and other skin complaints.
Hazelnut Oil
Oleic 65-85%
Linoleic 7-11%
Palmitic 4 - 6%
Stearic 1-4%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing, softer soap, slower trace. Hazelnut Oil has a soft, natural, nutty fragrance and contains vitamins, minerals, and protein. An excellent carrier for essential oils, hazelnut oil is very easily absorbed, leaving no oily residue.
Hemp Seed Oil
Linoleic 57%
Linolenic 21%
Oleic 12%
Palmitic 6%
Stearic 2%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, silky feel, softer soap, slower trace.  Hemp seed oil is not as stable as some other oils and can spoil quickly. It creates a silky bar of soap even if it is only used to superfat your batch. Since it is prone to spoilage, keep it as a small percentage  of your mix to avoid having a soft soap that may spoil in a few months. Store unused oil in the freezer or refrigerator. Fresh hemp seed oil has a green color which becomes lighter with age. Hemp seed oil will warn you with a painty smell long before it is actually rancid. It is rich with proteins, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids and is excellent for all skin and hair needs. The hemp seed oil used in cosmetics and skin care products does not contain the psychoactive THC component and is therefore not subject to any legal restriction.
Oleic 10-13%
(in a liquid wax)
Contributes to: stable lather , conditioning, moisturizing, quicker trace. Pronounced "ho-ho-ba".  Actually mostly a liquid wax, jojoba does not lather much of itself, but rather acts to make existing lather from other oils more stable and long lasting.  Jojoba is good at conditioning skin. Because of its expense, it's usually used to superfat soap batches or in shampoo bars. It is said to be an excellent emollient for skin conditions like psoriasis or acne and has a chemical composition very close to the skin's own sebum. Jojoba oil is easily absorbed by the skin and promotes silky smooth skin. Jojoba Oil is stable and long lasting.
Kukui Nut Oil
Linoleic 42%
Oleic 20%
Palmitic 6%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, silky feel.  Kukui nut oil is quickly absorbed into the skin. Excellent for skin conditioning after sun exposure and is said to be beneficial for acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
(contains a very small amount of saponifiables)
Contributes to: soap hardness, conditioning, silky feel, quicker trace. Does not contribute to lather. Lanolin is almost totally unsaponifiable and therefore remains unchanged through the soapmaking process. Lanolin is temperature sensitive, so keep temperatures around 110degF when adding to soap. Lanolin is also used as an emulsifier for lotions and creams. Lanolin is obtained from the wax found on sheep's wool, refined and purified to cosmetic specifications. Excellent emollient, skin lubricant and protectant, capable of absorbing water in an amount equal to 50% of its weight.
(pork fat)
Oleic 44-46%
Palmitic 26-28%
Stearic 13-14%
Linoleic 6-10%
Myristic 1-2%
Contributes to: soap hardness, stable lather, conditioning, quicker trace.  Lard is made from pig fat. Its advantages are that it is cheap, easily obtainable, and makes a nice lathery, white bar of soap. This fat should be combined with vegetable oils such as coconut or palm. Without other oils it can tend to not work very well in cold water.
Macadamia Nut Oil
Oleic 54-63%
Palmitic 7-10%
Stearic 2-6%
Linoleic 1-3%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing, silky feel.  Macadamia has a long shelf life. It is easily absorbed into the skin and acts as an emollient. It is said to protect skin cells from deterioration and thus lead to better skin condition.
Mango Butter
Oleic 34-56%
Stearic 26-57%
Palmitic 3-18%
Linoleic 1-13%
Mango butter is yellowish and has almost no scent. It is a great moisturizer and should be used to superfat soap.
Monoi de Tahiti Oil
Monoi de Tahiti oil is expensive, luxurious product made from coconut oil. It has wonderful moisturizing properties and is great for your skin.
Neem Oil
Oleic 50%
Palmitic 18%
Stearic 15%
Linoleic 13%
Contributes to: stable lather , conditioning. Said to have the ability to treat a variety of skin disorders such as dandruff.
Olive Oil
Oleic 63-81%
Palmitic 7-14%
Linoleic 5-15%
Stearic 3-5%
Contributes to: soap hardness, stable lather, slippery feel, conditioning, moisturizing,  Olive Oil attracts external moisture to your skin, helping to keep skin soft and supple. Traditionally "Castile" soap was made using only olive oil, but the term has loosened now to include soaps that have olive oil as a major proportion of the oils in them.
Olive Oil (pomace)
Pomace olive oil contains a larger proportion of unsaponifiable ingredients. This slightly affects its SAP value and imparts a greenish color to the oil and to soaps made with it. Some prefer pomace oil to grade A olive oil for soapmaking.
Palm Oil
Palmitic 43-45%
Oleic 38-40%
Linoleic 9-11%
Stearic 4-5%
Myristic 1%
Contributes to: soap hardness, stable lather, conditioning, silky feel, quicker trace.  Palm oil makes a hard bar that cleans well and is also mild. It is a good substitute for animal tallow in all-vegetable soaps. Palm oil is processed from the flesh of the fruit of tropical oil palm plants. This oil is solid at cool temperatures, becomes slushy at warm temperatures and a golden, clear liquid at higher temperatures.
Palm Kernel Oil
Lauric 47-48%
Oleic 15-18%
Myristic 14-16%
Palmitic 8-9%
Capric 4%
Stearic 3%
Linoleic 2%

Contributes to: soap hardness, fluffy lather, quicker trace. Palm Kernel oil makes a soap that is very hard and lathers well. Palm kernel oil is processed from the core nut of the fruit of the same tropical oil palm plants that palm oil is derived from, but its composition and properties are not similar to palm oil. It is instead very similar to coconut oil and can be substituted for some of the coconut oil in soap formulas to make a harder bar. This oil is solid at room temperatures.
Palm Kernel Flakes
  A more hydrogenated version of palm kernel oil. Makes a harder bar of soap. This oil is hard and solid at room temperatures and is sold in flakes form.
Peach Kernel Oil
Oleic 55-75%
Linoleic 15-35%
Palmitic 5-8%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing. Can be used as an equivalent to apricot kernel oil.
Peanut Oil
Oleic 48%
Linoleic 32%
Palmitic 11%
Stearic 2%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, softer soap. Peanut oil contributes long-lasting lather to a soap. It is prone to spoilage. Peanut oil has a good amount of vitamin E.
Pine Ta
 (contains some saponifiables)
Pine tar has been used in some soaps "since the old days" and is said to be helpful for psoriasis, dandruff, eczema and other skin irritations. Brown in color, with a distinctive scent. Pine tar will consume some lye in the soapmaking process and for this reason should be considered as one of the base oils or as a superfatting oil in soap formulas.
Rice Bran Oil
Linoleic 32 - 47%
Oleic 32 - 38%
Palmitic 13-23%
Stearic 2-3%
Linolenic 1-3%
Rice bran oil is moisturizing and is a good choice for inclusion in formulations intended for mature, delicate or sensitive skin.
Gum Rosin
(contains approx. 95% saponifiable resins)
Rosin can be dissolved in heated oils as part of solid or liquid soap formulations and adds a voluminous, creamy lather. It saponifies in a manner similar to fatty acids in oils, with the resultant soap referred to as "sodium (or potassium) resinate". Rosin soap was considered to be a foaming agent and dissolved rosin was considered a hair body enhancer in soap shampoos in "the old days". Gum rosin is a residue obtained after distilling turpentine oil from the resin tapped from pine trees. Rosin can also be produced along with turpentine by the heating and distillation of resinous pine wood chips. Color can vary from clear to a deep, reddish brown. Because it can be derived from various species of pine trees around the world and by different methods, its SAP value can vary somewhat.
Safflower Oil
Linoleic 70-80%
Oleic 10-20%
Palmitic 6-7%
Stearic 2%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing, silky feel, softer soap.  Safflower oil is an unsaturated oil, valuable for its moisturizing properties. Limited shelf life. It has an exceptionally high linoleic acid content and is an excellent moisturizing choice for in skin creams and lotions.
Sesame Seed Oil
Linoleic 39-47%
Oleic 37-42%
Palmitic 8-11%
Stearic 4-6%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing, silky feel, softer soap. Sesame oil makes a good superfatting oil. Has a strong nutty scent. Sesame oil has excellent longevity in massage preparations and is said to be good for psoriasis, eczema, rheumatism, and arthritis.
Shea Butter
(karite butter)
Oleic 40-55%
Stearic 35-45%
Linoleic 3-8%
Palmitic 3-7%
Contributes to: soap hardness, stable lather, conditioning, silky, slippery feel, quicker trace. Shea butter is a popular superfatting agent and contains a large percentage of ingredients that do not react with the lye, thus remaining in the soap to nourish your skin. Shea butter is said to be beneficial for treating dry skin, blemishes, skin discoloration, scars and wrinkles.
Soybean Oil
Linoleic 46-54%
Oleic 22-27%
Palmitic 9-12%
Alpha Linoleic 7%
Stearic 4-6%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, slower trace. Soybean oil from America continues to be modified in competition with Canadian canola oil for increased oleic acid content.
Stearic Acid
Stearic 100%
Stearic Acid is a component of many animal and vegetable oils. It can be used by itself in soaps to increase hardness. When derived from palm oil, it is sometimes known as palm stearin. Stearic acid is also used as a thickener in creams and lotions. In candle making, wax with a low melt point is made harder with the addition of stearic acid.
Sunflower Oil
Linoleic 68-70%
Oleic 16-19%
Palmitic 7%
Stearic 4-5%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, silky feel, softer soap, slower trace.  Sunflower oil contains Vitamin E, so it naturally resists going rancid.
Sweet Almond Oil
Oleic 64-82%
Linoleic 8-28%
Palmitic 6-8%
Stearic 2%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning, moisturizing. Often used for superfatting soaps. Sweet almond oil is often used as an emollient in skin creams and balms.
Tallow (beef)
Oleic 37-43%
Palmitic 24-32%
Stearic 19-25%
Myristic 3-6%
Linoleic 2-3%
Contributes to: soap hardness, stable lather, conditioning, quicker trace.
Turkey Red Oil
castor oil)
(contains no saponifiables)
A modified castor oil, turkey red oil is totally unsaponifiable and therefore remains unchanged through the soapmaking process. Turkey red oil also has the unique characteristic of being fully soluble in water, making it the only oil that can be used to superfat clear liquid soaps without clouding the resulting product. Can be used in shampoos for emollience with rinsability. The name "turkey red" derives from its historical use in the preparation of red dyed cloth.
Walnut Oil
Linoleic 51-55%
Oleic 28%
Palmitic 11%
Stearic 5%
Alpha Linoleic 5%
An emollient oil which is said to help regenerate, tone and moisturize damaged dry skin and to aid in preventing wrinkles, controlling eczema, dandruff and rough, dry or sunburned skin.
Wheat Germ Oil
Linoleic 55-60%
Oleic 13-21%
Palmitic 13-20%
Stearic 2%
Contributes to: stable lather, conditioning. Wheat germ oil is emollient, anti-oxidant and rich in natural vitamin E. Can be used to nourish dry or cracked skin and soothes skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. Wheat germ oil should be kept refrigerated.


So what do I do with this information?

Start with our SBM Crafters 3-Oils mix formula. Why? Because it is quite literally an average soap recipe as per a research survey we did of fifty 3-oils recipe formulas we found on the web. Research and find some other soapmakers' soap recipe formulas online. Check the ingredients on the labels of other handcrafted soaps you find in shops, etc. Compare them with our basic 3-oils formula and figure why the soapmakers chose to use the oils and proportions that they did. Better yet, make some basic soap with our SBM Crafters 3-Oils Mix or mix your own from our average formula, Then make some soap using other recipes and compare the results. Trial and error experience counts for a lot. Keep notes (unless your memory is better than mine!). You'll find that you can enter any oils mix formula into our SBM Crafters Soap Calculator and use our Recipe Resizer to fit it to your own mold. Share your findings and your soaps with other soapmakers. You'll find that you'll prefer certain oils and formulas over others and you'll soon develop your own chosen formulas.

Congratulations... You're a Soapmaker!

Enjoy your hobby...Share your knowledge with others... Share your soaps with others...Spread the word!

A safety note... Read this!

Lye dissolving in water releases considerable heat - Almost enough to bring room temperature water to a boil. Therefore, be sure to mix your lye with cold water only and be sure to carefully pour your lye into your water, not the other way around. Always wear proper eye protection, wear protective gloves and work near a source of running water for rinsing when creating, pouring or handling a lye solution.

Always remember...

Proper procedures and safety measures are a must
whenever making handcrafted soap.
Learn how before you start!

[Go to prior page] [Go to next page]