Base oil, butter or fat Soft, hard or brittle Properties in soap Recommended usage  Breaking the rules & other notes
Coconut oil Hard large fluffy bubbles, highly cleansing, high   amounts can be too drying, makes a white bar 15-30% Some soapers will use a high amount of coconut oil and bump up the super fat amount.  The higher amount of un-saponified oils in the bar balance out the high cleansing from coconut oil.  Soap making is all   about finding the right balance.  Also a 100% coconut oil soap with a super low or none at all superfat makes a great laundry soap.
Palm oil Hard a great base oil, makes a hard long lasting bar,   stabilizes lather 25-50% Palm oil is the base oil of choice for those who don’t want to use animal fats such as lard or tallow.  I personally do not use palm oil anymore.
Olive oil Soft/Hard makes a very gentle and mild bar, low lotion-like   lather, low cleansing, great for babies and elder folk’s skin, some people   say that high amounts of olive oil make for a slimy or snotty feel in the   shower 25-50% Castile soap is made with 100% olive oil.  I classify this as a soft/hard oil because it makes a very soft bar of soap initially upon unmolding but cures into a rock hard bar.  Soaps high (50%+) in olive oil need longer to cure.
Lard Hard a great base oil, makes a hard bar with a low   creamy lather, makes a white bar, stabilizes lather 25-50% 100% lard soap with no superfat makes a great laundry soap.
Tallow (beef) Hard a great base oil, makes a hard bar with a low   creamy lather, stabilizes lather 25-50% 100% tallow soap with no superfat makes a great laundry soap.
Palm Kernel oil Brittle similar to coconut oil, large fluffy bubbles,   highly cleansing but milder than coconut oil 15-30% Palm kernel oil is a great sub for coconut oil.  You can also use it with coconut oil to add some hardness to your bar.  If you have a recipe that calls for 20% coconut oil…try using 10% coconut oil and 10% palm kernel oil.  I personally do not use palm oil anymore.
Cocoa butter Brittle makes a hard bar of soap, stabilizes lather 5- 15% You can experiment using cocoa butter and other butters in high amounts – up to 80%.  Try a bar made from 60% cocoa butter and 40% coconut oil.  You might like it!
Shea butter Hard makes a hard bar of soap, seems to add a silky   feel to the lather, stabilizes lather 5- 15% Same as cocoa butter.  I typically use 5-15% but occasionally will   experiment with using up to 60%.
Castor oil Soft helps suspend/hold the lather from coconut oil,   adds creaminess, high amounts will cause a bar of soap to be sticky and have   a drag when using it in the shower 5-10% Some soap makers like to use 15-20% castor oil in their shampoo bars or shaving bars.
Apricot Kernel oil Soft a wonderful sub for some or all of the olive oil in a recipe, similar properties to olive oil 5-12% Apricot Kernel is a wonderful sub for some of the olive oil in a recipe.
Avocado oil Soft makes a very gentle and mild bar, low cleansing,   great for babies and elder folk’s skin 5-12%  Avocado oil is a wonderful sub for some of the olive oil in a recipe.
Jojoba oil Soft a liquid wax, stabilizes and suspends lather 5-12% Jojoba oil is too expensive to use now in soap making.  I save it for leave on products like lotions and creams.
Sunflower oil Soft sustains lather, mildly cleansing, creamy and   rich 10-20% Sunflower oil is a wonderful sub for some of the olive oil in a recipe.
Grapeseed oil Soft   5-10% I don’t use grapeseed oil much as it has a very limited shelf life.
Hazelnut oil Soft   5-10% I don’t use hazelnut oil much as it has a very limited shelf life.
Hempseed oil Soft   5-10% I don’t use hempseed oil much as it has a very limited shelf life.
Safflower oil Soft mildly cleansing 5-15% Safflower oil is a wonderful sub for some of the olive oil in a recipe.
Soybean oil Soft sustains lather, mildly cleansing 10-20% Soybean oil is a wonderful sub for some of the olive oil in a recipe.
Rice Bran oil Soft makes a very gentle and mild bar, low cleansing,   great for babies and elder folk’s skin , similar properties to olive oil, can give soap a waxy almost shiny finish 10-25% Rice bran is a wonderful sub for some or all of the olive oil in a recipe.
Almond oil, sweet Soft sustains lather, mildly cleansing 10-20% Sweet Almond oil is a wonderful sub for some of the olive oil in a recipe.

*Just because I don’t like an oil, doesn’t mean you won’t. I recommend trying anything once!

Soft, hard and brittle?  What does that mean?

Oils, fats and butters are generally classified as soft, hard or brittle.  You’ll see that I did so in the soap making oil chart.

Soft oils are generally oils that are liquid at room temperature such as olive oil, castor oil, sweet almond, rice bran…etc.  As a general rule, soap made from a high percentage of these oils will be on the softer side.  The only exception to this rule is olive oil.  Soap made from a high percentages of olive oil is soft upon un-molding but will cure to be a really hard bar of soap.

Hard oils are oils, fats and butters that are solid but scoopable at room temperature such as palm oil, lard, tallow, coconut oil, mango butter and shea butter.  Hard oils make a hard bar of soap.

Brittle oils are oils that are solid at room temperature but require some chipping at or a bit of elbow grease to break them up.  These generally include palm kernel oil and cocoa butter.  Brittle oils make a hard bar of soap.

Here are some general rules when talking about soft, hard and brittle percentages in your recipe.

Hard and brittle oils

Soap made with higher percentages of hard and brittle oils will be easier and quicker to un-mold.  These soaps set up quickly and harden faster than soaps made with high percentages of soft oils.  Recipes high in hard or brittle oils can be hard to swirl or do advanced designs with that take time as the soap can set up too quickly.

Recipes high in hard and brittle oils make un-molding soap easier in single cavity molds.

Soap made with higher percentages of hard and brittle oils will require higher temps when mixing.  If you soap at too low of a temperature you can get what is called false trace.  This is when the solid and brittle oils start thickening up/re-solidifying because of the low temperatures.  It looks similar to trace so you might end up pouring your soap before you reach trace.  Keep the oil temps in the range of 100-120.

Soft oils

Soap made with high percentages of soft oils tend to be softer and stickier when un-molding.  Simply leave them in the mold a day or two longer before un-molding and cutting.  If you are using single cavity molds, you can try freezing them to harden and hopefully the soap will pop out easier.

Soap made with soft oils, especially olive oil, is slower to trace and setup.  This makes them perfect for swirling.  You have more time to color and play with the soap batter.

What are your favorite oil combos and percentages to use?  Do you like to break out of the box and do anything wacky?  Please leave a comment!