So you’ve found a recipe that you love, or you’ve found a recipe that you’d like to try…but you don’t have one of the oils listed. Can you substitute it for something else? It depends on the oil…but yes, usually you can!

How to Substitute an Oil in a Soap Recipe (Cold Process Soap)

Coconut Oil – Coconut oil gives our soap lather. If you don’t have coconut oil, you can substitute in babassu oil or palm kernel oil. Babassu and palm kernel are great if you want to to make a coconut oil free soap (for those allergic). Both lather up like coconut oil and contribute to the hardness of a bar.

Liquid Oils – Most liquid oils are interchangeable. Liquid oils that can be substituted for other liquid oils are avocado oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rice bran oil, hemp seed oil, soybean oil, apricot kernel oil, grapeseed oil and sweet almond oil (see castor oil and olive oil below).

Butters – Most butters are interchangeable. If a recipe calls for shea butter, you can substitute in cocoa butter, mango butter, sal butter, kokum butter or any other cosmetic butter or vice versa.

Oils and butters have different properties in soap. Safflower varies from avocado and grapeseed varies from sweet almond. So your resulting recipe will be slightly different than the original. Will you be able to tell a big difference? Probably not. Soap it and see!

Castor Oil – Castor oil is a unique duck and doesn’t have a good substitute. It is unique in it’s makeup and unique in what it contributes to a soap. If you don’t have any castor, you can usually just replace it with a liquid oil. It will change the feel of the soap, but it won’t be bad.

Olive Oil – Olive oil is another unique duck. It starts out soft but hardens up quite hard (have you tried a castile soap?). So you don’t want to substitute olive oil with another liquid oil such as rice bran or sweet almond oil or your soap won’t harden up as much as soap with olive oil. You can replace a portion of the olive oil in your recipe with another liquid oil. So if your recipe calls for 35% olive oil and you want to add some avocado oil to your recipe, use 30% olive oil and 5% avocado oil. There really isn’t a 1 for 1 substitute for olive oil.

traced soap

Let’s modify this recipe.

Cold Process Soap Recipe

  • Coconut oil – 44%
  • Olive oil – 35%
  • Castor oil – 4%
  • Rice Bran oil – 5%
  • Shea butter – 5%
  • Sunflower oil – 7%

Mod 1: You don’t have sunflower, but you do have avocado oil and apricot kernel oil.

Cold Process Soap Recipe Mod 1

  • Coconut oil – 44%
  • Olive oil – 35%
  • Castor oil – 4%
  • Rice Bran oil – 5%
  • Shea butter – 5%
  • Avocado oil – 7% (You could also use 7% apricot kernel. Or you could even use 3.5% avocado and 3.5% apricot kernel)

Mod 2: You don’t have shea butter but you do have cocoa butter.

Cold Process Soap Recipe Mod 2

  • Coconut oil – 44%
  • Olive oil – 35%
  • Castor oil – 4%
  • Rice Bran oil – 5%
  • Cocoa butter – 5%
  • Sunflower oil – 7%

Mod 3: You don’t have castor oil.

Cold Process Soap Recipe Mod 3

  • Coconut oil – 44%
  • Olive oil – 35%
  • Avocado oil – 4%
  • Rice Bran oil – 5%
  • Shea butter – 5%
  • Sunflower oil – 7%

Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Because each oil has it’s own SAP value, you must run your new recipe through a lye calc to get the new lye amount.

Be sure to check out our Soapmaking Oil Chart and Single Oil Soap Experiment to learn more about oils and their properties. Learn how to modify a recipe here.

Do you need help? Post in the comments with what you’re trying to accomplish.

Happy Soaping!

Amanda Gail

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