Single-Oil Soaps

Learning what you like and don't like is the first step toward discernment. You can read all the soap books you like, but until you've actually worked with an oil, you won't know how you like it. It's like trying to appreciate the latest hit movie without having seen it. You can read all the reviews and pay attention to the publicity, but until you've actually seen it, it's just theory.

Think of single-oil batches as exercises in discernment. Use these to experience each oil in process and how the soap made from them feels. Use the soaps side by side and make observations in your notebook. Observe the color and scent of each oil. If the oil is solid, make a note of its melting point. When mixed with the lye, how quickly does it begin to trace? How long did it take to get to a light, medium, and full trace? Once poured, how did it set up?

There is no requirement that you make these sample batches, of course. They are merely suggested if you want to fully educate yourself about the properties and behaviors of the oils. You can make batch after batch of excellent soap by following a recipe you like.

Keep some of the single-oil soaps as reference material. The recipes for single-oil soaps given here are nearly fully saponified and will have a long shelf life. They will, of course, decay over time. Make them again every so often to refresh your memory.

Table of Single-Oil Soaps

Oil Name

Oil Amount

Water Amount

Lye Amount

Almond oil

3¾ oz.

1½ ounces

½ ounce

Apricot kernel oil

3¾ oz.

1½ ounces

½ ounce

Bacon drippings

1 oz.

½ ounce

½ ounce

Canola oil

3¾ oz.

1½ ounces

½ ounce

Castor oil

4 oz.

1½ ounces

½ ounce

Coconut oil

2¾ oz.

1½ ounces

½ ounce

Corn oil

3¾ oz.

1½ ounces

½ ounce

Single-Oil Soap Basic Recipe

1½ ounces water

½ ounce sodium hydroxide

Desired oil

Since it is easier to measure odd amounts of oils than odd amounts of lye, the recipes are all formulated on ½ ounce of lye. The amount of oil used is within 2 to 3 percent of total saponification, depending on the saponification value of each oil. These micro-batches yield about 6 ounces of soap. A ½-pint milk container works very well as a mold. You can just tear the container off the hardened soap and recycle the paper.

  • Place the water in a small heatproof measuring cup.

  • Add the lye and stir until it's dissolved.

  • Warm the oil over hot water or in the microwave.

  • When both the oil and lye solutions reach 110°F, slowly and carefully pour the lye solution into the oil. (Since the amounts are small, they'll cool to that temperature quite quickly. You're combining them at this relatively high temperature since such small amounts need a little heat boost to get to the gel phase.)

  • Stir the small batch to trace and pour into a tiny mold.

<tgroup cols="4"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" rowsep="1" colsep="0" align="left" colwidth="30%"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" rowsep="1" colsep="0" align="left" colwidth="20%"/> <colspec colname="col3" colnum="3" rowsep="1" colsep="0" align="left" colwidth="25%"/> <colspec colname="col4" colnum="4" rowsep="1" colsep="0" align="left" colwidth="25%"/> <thead> <tr> <td><p>Oil Name</p></td> <td><p>Oil Amount</p></td> <td><p>Water Amount</p></td> <td><p>Lye Amount</p></td> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td><p>Grapeseed oil</p></td> <td><p>4 oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Lard</p></td> <td><p>1 oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Macadamia nut oil</p></td> <td><p>3¾ oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Olive oil, pomace</p></td> <td><p>3¾ oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Olive oil, extra-virgin</p></td> <td><p>3¾ oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Palm oil</p></td> <td><p>3¾ oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Palm kernel oil</p></td> <td><p>3¼ oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Solid vegetable shortening</p></td> <td><p>3¾ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>Soy oil</p></td> <td><p>3¾ oz.</p></td> <td><p>1½ oz.</p></td> <td><p>½ oz.</p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <p>After a three-week cure, set up a trial area. 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