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If it seems that coconut oil is in most cold process or hot process soap recipes, you’re right. This hard oil produces bubbly lather and is an effective cleanser. This point is moot if you’re allergic to it, or just plain don’t like it. The good news is that if you’re looking for a cold process soap recipe without coconut oil, you’ve come to the right place!
We’ll share a creamy shea butter recipe below (sans coconut oil of course). Plus, there are two other easy recipes featuring pure olive oil, and pure lard.
It’s still possible to produce great natural soap bars without the use of this popular ingredient. Read on to learn more about what coconut oil does in homemade soap, a few substitutions, and a roundup of our favorite coconut oil free soap.
What does coconut oil do in soap?
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for its cleansing properties and strong lather.
Coconut oil is not prone to oxidation, which provides for a longer shelf life than other softer oils such as hempseed oil.
While there are many varieties of coconut oil, most soapers use refined 76 degree.
Here’s a look at coconut oil’s qualities in soap.
|Soap Properties||Coconut Oil, 76 degree|
|NaOH SAP Value||0.183|
|KOH SAP Value||0.257|
Reasons you may not want to use coconut oil in soap
While this tropical oil is one of the most commonly used base oils in soap making, not everyone is a fan of it.
Coconut oil allergies
While not as common as nut allergies, there are some people who are diagnosed with a coconut oil allergy. Some people suffer from adverse reactions when ingesting foods with coconut oil, while other suffer from contact dermatitis. ¹
People with contact dermatitis to coconut may suffer from symptoms such as itchy skin or rashes after using cosmetics or soap containing coconut oil.
If you or someone you know suffers from contact dermatitis to coconut, take extra precautions before using cosmetics or soap. Coconut oil is used in a lot of products, so be sure to double check the ingredients label of any products before using.
You find it too drying
Coco oil is such an effective cleanser that when used in very high percentages, it strips away skin’s natural oils leaving you feeling dry.
If you had a bad experience using coconut oil in a batch of soap because you found it too drying, a simple fix would be to simply use less!
Although you can make 100 percent coconut oil soap (with a higher superfat to keep your skin happy), most soap recipes use around 30 percent.
If you have sensitive or dry skin, we recommend you use a lower ratio of coconut oil in your soap recipe (10 to 15 percent). You’ll still gain the benefits of coconut oil minus the drying effects.
Coconut oil substitutions
The good news is that there are a few similar soap making oils you could substitute for coconut oil.
While babassu oil and palm kernel flakes are the best coco oil substitutions, as they have a similar fatty acid profile, they are more expensive, and are not as widely available.
Caution: If you have a severe allergy to coconut, use caution before using babassu or palm kernel flakes. Both coconut and babassu are types of palm trees which may contain similar compounds that could cause skin irritation. To stay on the safe side, do a 24 hour patch test with babassu or palm kernel on an inconspicuous area to see if any irritation occurs.
With any substitution, remember to run your numbers through a lye calculator first!
Made from the pressed kernels or seeds of the babassu palm tree, this oil is also high in lauric and myristic acids, like coconut oil. Babassu oil is also great for bubbly lather, adding hardness to soap bars, and is an effective cleanser.
Keep the ratio of babassu to 30 percent or less to avoid over drying the skin.
Palm kernel flakes
Palm kernel flakes are known as a brittle oil as it is high on the hardness scale—much more so than coconut oil. Like coco oil, PKO adds fluffy bubbles and is an emollient.
Palm oil is a controversial oil however due to its connection to environmental deforestation. Use oils that are RSPO-certified (made from sustainable sources).²
Use up to 30 percent PKO in your soap recipe.
Made from the fatty tissue from beef, tallow produces hard bars of soap that are also highly conditioning. If you prefer to use animal-free products, tallow doesn’t make the cut. It also doesn’t provide the same bubbly lather as coconut.
You can use up to 100 percent tallow in recipes, but most people prefer a blend of tallow and other vegetable oils.
There are many skin nourishing butters you could use in soaps including mango butter, shea butter, cocoa butter, and kokum butter in various percentages. While they don’t provide the same properties as coco oil, you can experiment with using a combination of them as alternatives.
3 cold process soap recipes without coconut oil
It’s not easy to find a cold process soap recipe without coconut oil. The first recipe I’m sharing with you comes courtesy of Jan Berry (aka the Nerdy Farmwife) in her book Simple & Natural Soapmaking.³
It’s for a beginner’s bastille soap using olive oil, shea butter, and castor oil.
Olive and shea provide luscious conditioning and moisturizing properties, while castor oil boosts lather.
Note that this recipe contains a water discount as the recipe contains a high percentage of olive oil. This helps speed up trace and makes the soap easier to unmold and cut. The batch of soap is left unscented, but feel free to add your favorite essential oil at trace.
If you’re new to cold process soap making, please read up on lye safety first!
Gather your usual soap making supplies and let’s get started.
- Digital kitchen scale
- Thermometer (digital, infrared, or candy thermometer)
- Immersion blender (stick blender)
- Stainless steel saucepan for melting the solid oils
- A large bowl for measuring the liquid oils into
- Heat-safe jug for the lye solution
- Rubber spatula or non-reactive spoon for stirring and scraping
- Loaf mold
- Safety gear (goggles and gloves)
- Old towel or cloth to insulate soap
1. Coconut free creamy shea butter bastille soap
Yield: 7 to 8 bars of soap (2.5 pounds/1.13 kilograms)
- 8 ounces (227 grams) distilled water
- 3.55 ounces (101 grams) sodium hydroxide lye
- 4.5 ounces (128 grams) shea butter (16 percent)
- 21 ounces (595 grams) olive oil (75 percent)
- 2.5 ounces (71 grams) castor oil (9 percent)
- Prepare the lye solution. Put on your safety gear! Ensure you work in a well-ventilated area. Measure the distilled water and add to heat-safe jug. Measure the sodium hydroxide and slowly add to water. Allow the lye mixture to cool for 30–60 minutes, or until the temperature reaches 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 43 degrees Celsius).
- Measure and melt hard oils in a saucepan. Heat the shea butter in a non-reactive saucepan on low until melted. Next, measure and add liquid oils until well combined.
- Combine and bring to trace. Once the lye mixture has cooled and is of similar temperature to the combined oils, carefully add the lye to the oils. Use an immersion blender (stick blender) to combine the soap batter. Alternate with hand-stirring until the soap mixture reaches trace.
- Pour into mold. Pour the soap batter into a prepared mold. Cover the top of the soap with a small piece of cardboard, or some loosely wrapped wax or freezer paper. Insulate with a towel. Check the soap periodically. If you see a crack develop at the top, it’s a sign of overheating (unwrap and place in a cooler place).
- Cut and cure. Allow the soap batter to harden for 2–3 days. If soap has hardened, unmold and cut into bars. If bars are too soft, allow it to set for several more days. Let the soap bars cure for at least 6 weeks in a well-ventilated room. The longer curing time allows the olive oil to harden.
2. Pure olive oil soap recipe
Rich in vitamins A, D, E, and K, olive oil has a fatty structure similar to skin, which makes it a moisturizing, yet gentle ingredient for handmade soap. A pure olive oil soap is also known as Castile soap, and in the middle East, it’s called Nabulsi soap.
👉 Grab the Nabulsi soap recipe here.
3. Pure lard soap recipe
This back to basics old-fashioned soap uses just three ingredients: lye, distilled water, and lard. This creates a white and creamy bar of soap.
👉 Check out this old-fashioned pure lard soap recipe.
New to making soap? 🧼❓
We have a fantastic overview on the whole soapmaking process here 👉 Read our Timeless Guide To Soapmaking
If you would like to see our soapmaking posts organized by topic type 👉 See our Soapmaking Main Page
- Australasian Society of Clinial Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) , Coconut Allergy, https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/food-allergy/coconut-allergy. Accessed December 2021.
- Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Certification, https://rspo.org/certification. Accessed December 2021.
- Berry, Jan (2017). Simple & Natural Soap Making. Page Street Publishing Co. ISBN-13: 978-1-62414-384-7.