Jasmine cute view stackedSo you’ve read every book, bought your supplies, set out your equipment and now you’re ready to whip up a batch, but first you’ve got to work out which oils to use.  So what’s it going to be, the well-known Trinity? A Trinity +1?  Maybe step well off the beaten path and try something bold, something new, something…..different from everyone else.  Maybe you’re a huge fan of emu, neem or other exotic oils and think it might be fun to try that in a soap.  Let’s look at this a bit deeper and I won’t go into the minutiae of the fatty acids, molecular makeup and molecules.  Let’s just make this clear , clean and simple.

First, lets look at the fragrance.  What is it?  Has it been tested for performance in a trinity soap, which is typically palm, olive and coconut. sometimes it’s a plus one that includes a bit of castor. Well, think about the notes in your fragrance.  Are they more citrus or are they heavier on the floral side?  Though there are exceptions to every rule (and Hana No Kaori being a new one) florals love to gallop to the finish line well ahead of the soaper trying to work her mystical magic on a batch of soap batter.  It often is an exercise in frustration.  We end up with the famous plop-drop swirl in it rather than the lovely ethereal wisps of colour we’re aiming for.  If you truly want your soap to be swirled like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the origins of lye, you’ll need to steer your formulation towards oils that will keep trace at bay for a bit longer.

Without going into gory details, a list here would work best so I’ll keep it simple.  Let’s see which ones work at keeping things as a reasonable pace.


One that is widely available in many places on and off line is Canola oil.  Be sure to get the freshest available, check those “Best if used by..” dates, maybe even consider keeping it in the fridge if space allows.  It’s a slow-to-trace oil,a reasonable replacement for olive oil if you happen to run out,, but be aware that it can make for a very soft bar.  It will keep trace at bay for swirls, but keep the amount used to well below 30%.  Some sources state 50%, but that seems a bit high to me.   The SAP value is .123, has a shelf life of about 1 year, and provides a stable creamy lather.  It contains a high amount of oleic fatty acids, which is what gives the lather that creamy feel.

Some might suggest corn oil, but I will have to pass that one by.  Why?  It’s very prone to rancidity, having a very short shelf life of about 6 months.  Nothing is worth risking all your hard work on a lovely swirl only to see DOS in your bars in a  matter of weeks!


Hemp seed oil is a lovely one that also slows trace, but be aware that it’s prone to rancidity as well, with a shelf life of about 6 months to 1 year.  Treat it with rosemary oleoresin and refrigerate after opening.  It’s typically a dark green colour, but creates a deeply conditioning bar with stable lather, so consider working with the colour rather than against it. It’s a great superfatting oil for your soap, though the lye will decide which oils it will take up, not you.  It’s sometimes a costly oil to use in a wash-off product, so it might be best to save it for butter, lotions, or balms, but if you want a line of hemp products, keep in mind the short shelf life & that while it can reduce the trace time, it might also create a softer bar.  Keep the amount used below 15% of your oils. SAP value is  .135

Sunflower  Oil (high oleic) also slows trace, but like the others, it too, has a short shelf life.  (beginning to see a pattern?)Be sure to find a Sunflower oil that is High Oleic as it will be less prone to rancidity and provide stability to the oil.  Typically it has a shelf life of about 6 months, but adding rosemary oleoresin will extend it a bit. SAP value is  .134

Soybean Oil is inexpensive and slows trace as well, provides extra moisturizing, and has a shelf life of about 1 year.  Hydrogenated will give you a harder bar but the non-hydrogenated will give you better conditioning although it reduces lather. Of course some might have soy allergies so bear your shopper market in mind when choosing this oil for your formulations.Its SAP value is .134 .

Neem Oil, a popular oil for many soapers, though a pungent one, is long lived on the shelf with a span of about 2 years.  If you keep the percentage of use down to around 5% in your soaps, the odor it naturally has will be easily masked by other ingredients and your fragrance.  It’s an excellent addition to a conditioning bar with terrific stable lather.  It has an odor that is strong, slightly bitter and discourages pests, so it might be good for something that deters pests from biting during the warm weather months.  It has a SAP value of  .134

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Keep in mind these are just the slow to trace oils!  You will need to use other oils that will work as cleansing oils such as coconut, palm or babassu and some that will contribute hardness to your bars such as the palm, palm kernel, or even tallow.  A well-balanced bar of soap will offer all three characteristics with a decent portion of bubbles as well, so run your oils through a soap calculator.  There’s one available on the Fragrance Laboratory web site. Click here for the calculator. Fragrance Laboratory does test all of their fragrance oils for performance so make sure to read about the results in the description so that you can better prepare your soap strategy in advance.


So now you have a short list of oils that will allow you a bit more play time for swirling with a floral fragrance oil, so now to choose one you’d like to try out.  I highly recommend the Hana No Kaori,  Jasmine Neroli, Dragonfly Moonflower or Violet Fae.  These have all been tried out previously and they stick extremely well in the high pH of cold process soap!

  1. Thank you for this interesting article. I’ve also read that lard will slow trace for what it is worth.

    You shared recommended ranges for canola and hemp but not the sunflower soy and neem. What range would you recommend for these 3 ?

    • Pam, thanks for your input on the oils you’ve heard about as well as those I omitted the ranges for. In answer to that I offer the following:

      Neem oil has a usage range of 10-30%, Staying at the lower end will keep the natural odor it has from being too much for the fragrance to overcome.

      For soybean, 5% or less is best as its shelf life is about 1 year. Hydrogenated soy oil will produce a harder bar whereas the non-hydrogenated will be better conditioning although less bubbly.

      Sunflower oil should be kept at 15-20% or less. Going over this might produce too soft a bar. It also has a short shelf life so using the lower end of the range would be safer.

      Thanks, Pam, for the excellent question!

  2. Good to know. Every once in a while I like to play with swirling and my regular recipe is much too hard for swirling. I’ll sub in some of these low trace oils when I want to play next time.

  3. I usually swirl with lavender essential oil and the Holy Trinity & Shea butter. The pictures you posted along with this blog are beautiful, I may give soybean oil a try and see how it goes.

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