Soapmaking base oil reviews
The type of fat used to make soap makes a big difference in the properties of the soap. Learn about different fats and their effects on soap.
Photo Credit: Mats Tooming
Soap is made out of three essential ingredients: lye, water, and fat. Other ingredients, such as dye, scented oils, orange peel, and herbs, can be added to increase the appeal of the soap, but they are not necessary. Even without adding any extras, soap makers still have a lot of control over the way the soap turns out. Specifically, the type of fat used makes a huge difference in the quality of the soap.
Coconut oil and palm oil are both very commonly used to make soap. Both oils create a hard soap. Coconut oil also produces a soap that lathers extremely well; because a hard bar that lathers easily is typically desired, coconut oil is very well suited for soap making. Palm oil does not lather quite as well, although some people may prefer a soap with a medium lather.
Virgin (also called unrefined) oils are absorbed very well by the skin. Therefore, virgin oils can have a slightly less greasy feel and are preferred by some people. Virgin coconut oil, for example, is fairly common.
Shea butter, mango butter and kukui nut butter all make soaps that are very moisturizing. People with dry skin, people who wash their hands very frequently, and women who want extra soft skin often prefer the soothing qualities of these soaps. However, the soap produced by shea, mango, or kukui nut butter is not very hard, nor does it lather as well as coconut or palm oil soaps. Additionally, shea butter can produce a slightly sticky soap, although shea butter soap is exceptionally soothing and remains a favorite for this reason. Olive oil is also very soothing and moisturizing, and olive oil soap is great for sensitive skin.
Some fats imbue the soap with a pleasant scent. Shea butter and mango butter, for example, smell very nice. However, the base fat is not the only possible source of scent in a soap; essential oils, herbs, spices, and other extras can be added during the soap making process. While the varieties of scents that can be obtained through the fat base are quite limited, the number of scents that are available through other additions to the soap is practically limitless. Therefore, people should usually choose a fat base for other its other properties. However, if absolutely no scent is desired, certain fats, such as kokum butter, are very good.
Soap makers do not need to limit themselves to one fat. Indeed, a combination of fat is usually desirable, since when used alone some fats will produce a soap that is too soft, does not lather well, is too sticky, or has some other major flaw. Combining a more expensive fat with a less expensive fat is also a great to reduce the cost while enjoying the more expensive fat's desirable properties. For example, kukui nut oil and almond oil are both very expensive, but they can be combined with coconut oil or even hydrogenated vegetable oil, to produce a nice but less expensive soap.