Traditional soap uses lard, tallow. Read more!

I didn’t want to have to address this, but frequently it comes up with otherwise well meaning people who don’t know any better. I’ve also had quite a few questions in the past about the use of animal products (lard, tallow) in my soaps, so I thought I would add this informational page on why I do it, and for other soapers out there, what the alternatives are if you’re morally opposed to using lard or tallow. 

I mostly use lard or tallow as the one of the hardening fats in my soaps—it’s what makes the bar hard so it doesn’t turn into a pile of glop the second it gets wet in your shower. Both have a long and esteemed history in soap making, and are still used as the primary fats in many cheap, mass-produced soaps today, albeit by other names. You’re more likely to see things like stearic acid, which is usually made from animal fat, in mass produced soap, than lard or tallow itself, and so on. 

For those looking for an alternative, here are your options (quoted from Humble bee & Me)

  1. Palm/ Palm Kernel Oil: These oils are the most popular plant-based alternative to tallow or lard when it comes to hardening a bar of soap. However, if you’re shying away from tallow and lard for reasons of animal welfare or the environment, you should really think twice about using palm products. Palm oil is used heavily in food and cosmetics production as it is very cheap—and it’s cheap thanks to very unsustainable harvesting practices that are destroying rain forest, exploiting workers in foreign countries, and leaving endangered species like the orangutan without habitat. Read more here, and do your own research (that source is quite biased but will definitely educate you on the negatives).TRADE OFF: Environmental concerns.
  2. Cocoa or Shea butter: Other hardening plant-based fats, though not as hard as tallow/lard or palm/palm kernel. I’ve found I need to leave these bars to age for at least six months before they get nice and hard. They’re also substantially more expensive. That said, bars made with these oils can be absolutely wonderful once they’ve finished aging. I have some shea butter pumpkin pie bars leftover from the holidays that I’m hoarding and they truly just get better the older they are! 
  3. TRADE OFF: Price & time.
  4. Make liquid soap instead. That’ll solve the problem of needing hard fats, but obviously you’ll then have liquid soap, not bar soap. TRADE OFF: Not the same thing, but still awesome.
  5. Forego hard fats and age for years. This is common practice with castile soap, which is traditionally made from 100% olive oil. I’ve read that a 5 year aging time gives you a great bar of soap, so if you’ve got half a decade, go for it (2 years would probably be sufficient, though, and you may be able to trim that down if you hot process it and use sodium lactate).  TRADE OFF: Lots of time.

I understand that many of you are vegetarian or vegan, or are just kind of turned off by the thought of, as one person put it,  “rubbing animal fat all over your body”. Let me remind you on that last point that all fats in soap are broken down to their most basic fatty acids and then chemically altered into the final product; soap, so you’re in no way rubbing yourself with animal fat anymore than you’re rubbing yourself with coconut oil or any other oil used in the soap. It’s all undergone saponification and the chemical reaction.

Consider this: I can buy scraps of fat, very cheap, at a nearby grass fed ranch in 40 lb boxes. This provides me with an abundant source of tallow. Every other day of the year, that gets thrown out. Think of all that waste. The animal has already been killed, and all we’re doing is using the meat, and throwing out everything else. That’s ridiculous. So, I feel like by using tallow I am:

  1. Reducing waste
  2. Helping use the rest of an animal that was killed for other reasons, and would be dead regardless of whether or not I rescued some of its fat from the trash bin
  3. Paying homage to my Native roots, where it was anathema for any part of an animal to be wasted

As a result, I believe if you eat meat you shouldn’t have a problem with using lard or tallow in your soap. You may even be able to save the fat from meat you eat to render for soap if you’d like to try that. And even if you’re a vegetarian you should consider what the animal gave its life for and how we can respect that by using every part of the animal. If it is simply too much for you as a vegetarian or a vegan, I suggest you consider using method number two as outlined before (avoid palm products!). 

But please understand that unless I directly note that a soap from me is vegetarian, all my soaps contain between 15-30% lard or tallow as a rule, and my laundry soap is 75% lard or tallow.