Are you looking over your soap making ingredients for your next batch of soap, wondering if you can substitute one or more of your oils for a different oil? Substituting oils in soap making can be confusing and a little overwhelming, so I’m going to break it down in a simple format for you.

When making soap, you can definitely substitute olive oil in your soap recipe with a different oil. They key is knowing the fatty acid composition of your oils, understanding the other oils in your recipe, and correctly calculating your lye.

Not only will you discover what oils you can use instead of olive oil, but I will break down the properties of each oil so you can choose the oil that best suits your needs. You’ll want to know if some oils will spoil faster or make for a lower quality bar of soap, so you can avoid throwing your soap in the trash!

Substitutes for Olive Oil in Soap Making

  • Canola oil
  • Lard
  • Rice bran oil
  • Safflower Oil (High Oleic)
  • Soybean Oil
  • Sunflower Oil (High Oleic)

Before you swap out any oil in a soap recipe, always double check your lye amount by running it through a soap calculator. If you understand SAP values and how to calculate manually, you can do that.

Why do You Want an Olive Oil Substitute for Soap Making?

Just so you are aware, swapping out olive oil for a different oil in your soap recipe is doable, but it’s not fast or easy. So, if you’re simply out of olive oil and don’t feel like dragging your butt to the store, it may be worth waiting until your next shopping trip.

Think about it. You have to wait 6-8 weeks for your soap to cure anyway. What’s a few more days wait until you can get to the store?

Maybe you want to save money. Great! If you are a hobby soap maker, then it’s probably not worth the headache of reformulating your recipe. (That’s why I have a few olive-oil-free recipes ready to go down below!)

If you have a soap making business and are cranking out the soap, it really might be worth it to substitute at least part of the olive oil in your soap recipe. Small savings can really add up over time!

Another problem you may be dealing with is a supply problem. Either olive oil is super-high priced in your area, or it isn’t even available. Not all countries have ample supplies of the same soap making oils and shipping can be really expensive!

Before we get into choosing the right oil for a substitute, let’s take a quick look at each olive oil substitute to understand it better.

Swapping Olive Oil for Canola Oil in Soap Making

Canola oil comes from a modified form of the rapeseed plant. It originated in Canada in the 1970s and today over 85% of all canola oil is from GMO plants. It’s inexpensive and common. It’s readily available in most grocery store. You will find it sold under brands like Wesson and Crisco.

If you can find organic canola oil, you can be almost certain its non-GMO. According to the USDA, it’s prohibited to include GMO material in organic labeled products. It is reported that the GMO version contains no GMO material after it’s been processed, but buying it supports the GMO industry.

Some suppliers offer a high oleic version that has a longer shelf life, is less likely to go rancid quickly and to develop DOS (dreaded orange spot) in soap. Canola oil makes a very luxurious, creamy later in soap.

Using Lard Instead of Olive Oil in Your Soap Recipe

Lard is the rendered fat from pigs. You can use the “leaf” lard is the whitest fat from around the kidneys, which is available at most butcher shops. Another option is to use the lard you find at the grocery stores, but just know they contain small amounts of preservatives to extend the shelf life, such as BHA and citric acid.

Unlike other solid fats, lard actually slows down trace just like olive oil. That can be helpful if you want to make more intricate designs with your soap recipe. It also has a PH close to our skin, so it’s extremely gentle. Another benefit is how it contributes to a harder, longer lasting soap bar.

As for the downside of lard, it’s off limits to certain religious groups and vegans.

Substituting Rice Bran Oil for Olive Oil in Soap

Rice bran oil is a popular substitute for olive oil because of it’s low price. It has a rich, creamy lather and is often a good choice for those with sensitive skin. It has a moisturizing consistency that’s similar to olive oil.

It has a light golden color, but it’s not dark enough to affect the color of your soap. It adds a silky sheen and feel to your soap.

Replacing Olive Oil with High Oleic Safflower Oil

Safflower oil comes from the seeds of the thistle-like annual plant safflower that is commercially cultivated for it’s oil and as a saffron substitute.

High Oleic Safflower oil is a result of selective hybrid breeding to increase the oleic acid content of the oil for a “healthier” type of safflower oil. For soap makers, the higher the oleic acid content, the better. Why? Because oleic acid is also more shelf stable and heat resistant, meaning it has a longer shelf-life and is less prone to rancidity.

Making Soap with Soybean Oil Instead of Olive Oil

Soybean oil is an inexpensive vegetable oil and it can be found in most grocery stores. It will be labeled as vegetable oil, but will list the soybean oil somewhere on the label.

Look out for vegetable oil blends that include other oils, because you won’t know exactly how much of each oil it has. Different oils require different amounts of lye, so calculating that accurately will be nearly impossible.

Make sure you are buying non-hydrogenated, because it won’t work as well as an olive oil substitute. Soybean oil has a short shelf life and is more likely to get DOS (dreaded orange spot).

Switching Olive Oil for High Oleic Sunflower Oil in Soap

High Oleic Sunflower Oil is made from sunflower seeds. These seeds are from a type of sunflower plant bred to be higher oleic acid, making for a more shelf-stable oil.

To be considered high oleic, it has to have an 80% or higher oleic acid content. It’s similar to safflower oil.

Finding the Best Olive Oil Substitute for Soap

When you go to replace olive oil in your recipe with a different oil, the key to success is finding the most similar oil you can.

What makes oils similar? The thing that makes oils similar is their fatty acid makeup. Each oil is composed of different types of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Both saturated and unsaturated fats are made up of different fatty acids.

Your job is to find an oil that has a fatty acid profile that is close to olive oil and has the characteristics you are looking for. Every oil has pros and cons in soap making. It’s the percentages of fatty acids that make it what it is.

Fatty Acid Profile of Olive Oil

Let’s take a closer look at what makes olive oil so great for soap making. Then, we can compare it to similar oils to find the best substitute for your needs!

Fatty acid profile of olive oil and what it does to your finished soap.

Lauric Acid & Myristic Acid

Olive oil has 14% lauric acid and 14% myristic acid. These two acids have good cleansing properties and create a bubbly lather. They give soap the oil stripping power, and in high percentages can really dry out your skin. SInce olive oil has a lower percentage of these oils, it’s gentler on the skin.

Next, olive oil contains minimal to no palmitic acid and 3% stearic acid. These two fatty acids create soap that is harder and lasts much longer. That’s why palm oil and stearic acid are popular additives to soap recipes. Tallow and lard have much higher percentages of these fatty acids, too. Look at the chart above and see how much lard has!

Oleic Acid and Ricinoleic Acid

Moving on we can see that olive oil has a whopping 71% oleic acid. Oleic acid is slower to trace and takes longer to saponify (or turn to soap). It’s also what makes olive oil gentle with a mild, creamy lather.

Notice how there isn’t any ricinoleic acid in olive oil? In fact, it’s not in ANY of the olive oil substitutes listed. The reason is that it’s only found in castor oil! And unlike oleic acid, it speeds up trace! Castor oil speeds up trace.

Pro Tip: If you really need to have your soap stay at a thin trace longer so you can do more intricate swirls, you’ll want to have a higher percentage of oleic acid and don’t forget to keep castor oil out of your recipe. Even a little bit can really affect how fast your soap thickens!

Linoleic Acid and Alpha-Linolenic Acid

Looking at the last two fatty acids on the list, we can see that olive oil has 10% linoleic acid and 1% alpha-linolenic acid. These fatty acids give your soap a mild, creamy lather. However… they do spoil much faster and if your oil substitution choice has a high percentage of these you will probably have a short shelf life!

Fatty Acid Profile Comparison Chart:

 Lauric AcidMyristic AcidPalmitic AcidStearic AcidOleic AcidRicinoleic AcidLinoleic AcidAlpha-Linolenic Acid
Olive Oil14.0%  3.0%71.0% 10.0%1.0%
Olive Oil Pomace14.0%  3.0%71.0% 10.0%1.0%
Canola Oil  3.2%0.9%60.0% 20.0%10.0%
Lard0.3%1.7%26.2%13.5%42.9% 9.0% 
Rice Bran Oil  15.0%2.0%42.0% 39.0%1.0%
Safflower Oil (High Oleic)  7.0% 80.0% 13.0% 
Soybean Oil0.2%0.1%10.5%3.2%22.3% 50.7%1.0%
Sunflower Oil (High Oleic)  3.0%4.0%83.0% 4.0%1.0%
Comparing the fatty acid profile of olive oil to potential oil substitutes in soap making.

Now that you can see the fatty acid percentages of olive oil and what they actually do in your soap, you can now begin to narrow down your choices to find the substitute that best suits your needs. Don’t be afraid to use combinations of the substitutes or to simply substitute part of your olive oil.

Questions to ask yourself when you substitute olive oil in your recipe:

What’s most important to me in my soap recipe? Is it price? Availability? Quality? Shelf life? Slow trace? Properties it gives the soap?

It might take some experimentation on your part to find a balance you like.

If price is your main concern, then you could compare it to olive oil pomace. It’s a lower grade of olive oil, but has the same properties in the finished bar of soap. The only downside is it tends to speed up trace a little bit more.

Consider Other Oils in Your Soap Recipe When Replacing Olive Oil

Each and every oil and fat in your recipe contributes properties to your finished soap, both positive and negative in nature. You need to take this into consideration when replacing your liquid oils.

If the oil you choose to replace your olive oil with is lower in palmitic acid and stearic acid, you might want to reformulate your recipe and increase other oils with those fatty acids to make up for the loss.

You could increase your palm oil, or add a small amount of stearic acid. Just make sure you run your new recipe through a lye calculator to get the correct amount of lye needed.

How to Find the Fatty Acid Content in an Oil From a Grocery Store Label

If you are shopping at your local grocery store and not from a soap supplier, chances are the fatty acid profiles will not be listed on the label.

So how do you know if an oil is high oleic? (High oleic oil it will have a longer shelf life and is less likely to develop DOS!)

Here’s a little trick… Oleic is a MONOUNSATURATED fat. It’s what you want more of and 70% or higher is considered high oleic or HO.

The linoleic and linolenic acids are your POLYUNSATURATED fats. This is what you want less of. Ideally, 30% or less.

Your label will show total fat grams and a breakdown of each type of fat in grams that will add up to the total fat. All you have to do is calculate the percentage by doing a little math:

Monounsaturated fat รท total fat x 100 = Percentage of oleic acid

You can find a short, but insightful post about understanding your label here.

Final Tips on Substituting Olive Oil in Your Soap Recipe:

  • High oleic safflower oil and high oleic sunflower oil are very similar.
  • Rice bran oil is a popular substitute for olive oil in soap making.
  • Always buy your oils from a store that has a high turnover of inventory to increase your chances of getting fresher oil.
  • Consider innvesting in some rosemary oleoresin extract to mix in with your oils to help extend the shelf life. It also helps prevent DOS. I’ve used it before and it does seem to help. A little goes a long way, so a small bottle will work for most soap makers. Here’s where I get mine.
  • The smaller amount of olive oil your recipe has, the easier it is to substitute. A 100% olive oil recipe is going to be crap if you substitute it with 100% soybean oil.
  • If the SAP value is the same for any oil you are substituting, you shouldn’t have to run it through a lye calculator again. (Of course, it’s always a good idea anyway, just to double check.)
OILSAP VALUE
Olive Oil0.135
Olive Oil Pomace0.134
Canola Oil0.133
Lard0.138
Rice Bran Oil0.128
Safflower Oil0.137
Soybean Oil0.135
Sunflower Oil0.135
SAP values from SoapMaker 3 Software.

3 Soap Recipes that Don’t Use Olive Oil

Soap Recipe #1

  • Coconut oil – 10.8 oz
  • Palm oil – 10.8 oz
  • High oleic safflower oil – 7.5 oz
  • Lard – 3.3 oz
  • Castor oil – 1.4 oz
  • Lye (NaOH) – 4.87 oz (This is a 5% superfat)
  • Distilled water* – 11.2 oz

Soap Recipe #2 (Palm free)

  • Lard – 12.0 oz
  • Coconut oil – 10.0 oz
  • Rice bran oil – 7.0 oz
  • High oleic safflower oil – 7.0 oz
  • Avocado oil – 4.0 oz
  • Lye (NaOH) – 5.55 oz (This is a 5% superfat)
  • Distilled water* – 11.27 oz

Soap Recipe #3

  • Soybean oil – 20 oz
  • Coconut oil – 10.0 oz
  • Palm Oil – 10.0 oz
  • Lye (NaOH) – 5.56 oz (This is a 6% superfat)
  • Distilled water* – 9.0 oz

*To read about using tap water instead of distilled water, check out this post here.

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