Coconut Oil is the workhorse of our soaps. In fact, we currently use it in 29 of our 30 bath soap recipes. It provides 3 main characteristics to our soap, strong cleansing, big lather and a firm bar of soap. Now of course the other oils contribute some of these properties also, but there are not many oils that provide all of these properties to the soap.
There are many types of coconut oil. There is a 76 degree coconut oil and a 92 degree oil. The degrees refer to the oil melting point. The 92 degree oil is hydrogenated to give it a higher melting point. There is also a fractionated coconut oil and a virgin coconut oil but these are not generally used for soap-making. We use the 76 degree oil and it is also the most common oil used for soap-making.
The usage rate for coconut oil is generally 20-30%, although it can be used at higher percentages. This oil is very beneficial and moisturizing at the 20-30% rate but at higher rates can be drying. If this oil is used at a higher rate, the soap must be superfatted at least 20% so that the soap does not become drying or irritating. Superfatting is a process of adding more oils or butters than the lye can make into soap. This allows the soap to be more moisturizing while still doing the job of soap, which is cleaning. I will go more into this process in a later blog.
Coconut oil is so good at lathering that it is used to make a salt soap, that is, a soap that lathers in sea water or salt water. Some soapmakers make this soap for seamen on the east coast at rates as high as 100%.
The reason that coconut oil is so important for soapmaking is that it cleanses and lathers so well. The only oil that has similar properties is babassu palm oil from the Amazon area. But this oil is very expensive so coconut oil remains the favorite.
All of the soapmaking oils contain different types of fatty acids, which do different things. Coconut oil has very large percentages of lauric fatty acids at around 48% and myristic fatty acids at around 17%. There are many more fatty acids in soapmaking oils but these are the ones that are dominant in coconut oil. These fatty acids are what make a soap cleanse well, have large, fluffy lather and is reasonably hard as well. Our soap recipes typically have over 30% total of these 2 fatty acids, so you can be sure that our bars will clean and lather well while still lasting a good, long time.
We hope this short description of coconut oil will help you understand its benefits and why we use it. I’ll be doing similar writeups for our other oils in the future. So stay tuned.