Cleaning Beeswax for Projects
Beeswax can be used for many great projects. A natural product produced by honey bees- it has a lot of potential. However before we can use it, we must learn the proper techniques for cleaning beeswax.
Any beekeeper will tell you that beeswax is valuable. Excess wax represents months of hard work by the honey bee colony.
But raw just harvested wax is not ready for your craft projects. It needs to be cleaned of excess honey and other residues.
How Do Bees Make Beeswax?
Raw beeswax is one of the most fascinating substances on earth. Where does it come from? Do bees collect wax? No, bees actually make the wax!
Worker bees produce wax and build it into the structure we know as “honeycomb”.
Wax is made by honey bees using special glands on their abdomen, beeswax is an integral part of the beehive. In fact, it actually forms the structure of the hive.
Hexagonal cells of wax “honeycomb” are used to hold baby bees. Food storage is another way wax cells are used.
The wax honey cappings are our prize choice wax for projects. Beeswax cappings are the cleanest wax in the hive.
Producing beeswax is an expensive process for the bees. Bees must consume a lot of honey to promote wax gland production. This is why wax is a valuable by-product of a hive.
Once the beekeeper collects the excess honey crop, some beeswax will be available to use.
Many beekeepers extract their honey crop. This requires cutting beeswax cappings off the top of honey cells. Why?
We have to remove the beeswax cap to allow removal of liquid honey using our honey extractors. These machines sling the honey out of the honeycomb.
Even beekeepers who do not use an extractor to harvest honey have excess wax. In fact, they have more wax because they crush the entire piece of honeycomb freeing the golden liquid.
Crush & strain honey harvesting results in less honey being produced next year. This is because the bees must rebuild all of the honeycomb.
Now the task of processing cappings or cleaning beeswax begins.
Beeswax Cappings Are the Cleanest
Time is invested in processing beeswax cappings because they yield the cleanest beeswax.
Cappings are made from the freshest beeswax and they typical spend the least amount of time in the hive.
When they are cut from the comb surface, cappings still retain some honey. This honey should not be wasted.
The beeswax cappings are collected and placed in a container with small holes in the bottom.
The remaining honey is allowed to drip down into a clean chamber. Some beekeepers use a capping tank like this one.
Left to drain overnight – most of the honey drips through into the clean bottom container.
This can also be accomplished using a filter bag to hold the cappings. Then, liquid honey drips into a bucket below.
After all the honey is collected, the wax cappings are less sticky . Now the process of cleaning beeswax begins. This is necessary before using it for candles or other neat projects.
Beeswax can be used in many crafts and home applications. But the beeswax must be clean to be used in lip balms, candles and similar projects.
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How to Clean Beeswax Step by Step
- collect excess beeswax – cappings are best
- drain any good honey from the wax – cappings hold a lot
- rinse beeswax in cool clean water – not your kitchen sink!
- melting is the next step for cleaning beeswax- I use water
- pour clean wax through a filter (such as nylon curtain pieces or cheesecloth or sweatshirt material
- leave your clean wax to cool in some type of flexible container
Collecting Beeswax to Use
The best beeswax is rendered from the cappings over cells of honey.
Older used comb from the hive can be processed but the wax collected will be darker. Light yellow beeswax is the natural color that brings the best price for resale.
The first step in cleaning beeswax cappings is to remove them from the comb. Most beekeepers use an electric hot knife (or a cold knife warmed in hot water) to slice the wax cap off the frame of honey.
The beekeeping industry is constantly trying to come up with easier ways to harvest honey.
If you only have a couple of boxes to harvest, it’s fun. Once you have 10 or more boxes, it’s work! The uncapping needle roller is one of the newer gadgets in use.
The roller can be faster to use and is preferred by some folks. But, you will not get as much beeswax for you and the little pieces of wax in the honey will quickly clog your honey strainers.
Separating Beeswax from Honey
Sticky beeswax needs to sit in a bucket and drain. (It will contain some honey too !). Or perhaps you will use a strainer bag to drain out the good honey.
When using a strainer bag, transfer the cappings from your uncapping bucket into the bag. Suspend it over a clean bucket that will catch the residual honey.
Warning – It will be heavy! Tie the bag to something sturdy enough to handle the weight. (P.S. This is also how honey is harvested by beekeepers without extractor.)
Usually, honey has ceased to drip from the bag by the next day. This must be done in a warm, bee tight location.
I often use a 2 bucket process to separate my beeswax from honey. A large 5 gallon bucket has a slightly small bucket placed inside. The smaller bucket has many holes drilled in the bottom.
I can uncap directly into the small bucket and excess honey drips down into the bottom of the larger bucket.
With either method, I am usually ready to proceed with cleaning my beeswax by the next day.
The time needed will depend on the amount of honey remaining in your wax and the temperature of the room.
Washing Your Beeswax
This part of the process is often referred to as rendering beeswax. At this point, the beeswax is still sticky and some beekeepers will choose to wash them.
Only use cool clear water to clean your beeswax cappings. It is as simple as placing your cappings in a bucket and adding water. ( Kinda like washing green beans. 🙂
Large strainer bags with a coarse mesh are very useful for washing residual honey out of beeswax . I place a clean strainer bag in a 5 gallon pail – then add my wax.
Fill 3/4 of the bucket with cool water and hand wash the wax . When I think I have most of the honey out, I grab the top of the filter bag and lift – allowing the water to drain out of the cappings.
Our goal is to remove residual honey and stickiness-cleaning beeswax . And for heavens sake don’t wash them in your kitchen sink! How do you spell clogged drain? One way is B-E-E-S-W-A-X.
** A note about open air cleaning. A beekeeper may spread the cappings out on a flat surface outside and let the bees find and clean the beeswax.
The value of this method is that the bees are making use of every bit of honey.
Also, it is frightening and fascinating to watch. There is a danger of this activity causing robbing back at the hive.
For this reason, I never put out wet cappings for cleaning. If you choose to do so, be sure to place the wet cappings as far away from your bee yard as possible. **
Melting Beeswax Cappings
Now that our beeswax is less sticky it is time to get serious. Melting beeswax down into a usable form is easy.
And, getting the beeswax in a liquid form allows it to be cleaned even further.
Once clean, it make be used for to create beeswax candles or other products immediately. Or it can be poured into molds and stored for later use.
Several different methods are used for rendering beeswax cappings and they are as varied as the beekeepers who use them. Some of them are effective and based on sound practices.
And, some of them are dangerous and can actually damage the integrity of pure beeswax. Do your research before trying questionable techniques with your wax.
Cleaning Beeswax With a Solar Melter
Melting beeswax in a solar melter is a common practice. My larger solar melter is made from an old steel box with a heavy piece of glass on top. It is really ugly and looks gross but it does the job well.
Cappings are placed into a pan inside the box, a tray with a small amount of water collects the dripping beeswax. Over a couple of days the heat of the sun will melt all the cappings.
As temperatures drop, the wax will cool into solid form in the tray. Once cooled, I can remove the piece of beeswax and discard any water.
The water will be dirty and have honey residue – do NOT feed it to your bees.
If you only have a small amount of cappings, you may choose to use a home-made melter. I made my own solar small solar melter for cleaning beeswax.
This is a Styrofoam cooler made into a wax melter. These coolers are not very sturdy but they are inexpensive and easy to find. A container is placed in the bottom of the cooler with a bit of water.
Place your cappings in a sling made of cheesecloth, terrycloth, a honey strainer bag or sturdy paper towels. The cappings should hang several inches above your bottom tray.
As it melts, liquid beeswax collects in the bottom pan. Any debris will remain on top of your cloth sling.
Our last step, place a piece of glass on top of the cooler (instead of the lid) and set in a sunny location.
At the end of the day, you will have rendered clean beeswax. If you want to make your own solar melter – its easy.
Perhaps you would like to build a larger solar melter of your own to use for cleaning beeswax. You can find many plans and instructions for wax melter construction online.
Processing Wax with Water
If the solar melter option isn’t possible, you can choose to clean or melt your beeswax in water. This method of processing beeswax is okay if you are careful.
I always clean beeswax in water. It works well because beeswax will float on top of water. When the liquid wax cools, you have clean wax on top and dirty water below.
It is important to remember that you do not want to overheat your beeswax. One reason is that overheating with degrade the value of your wax.
Too much heat will reduce the nice beeswax aroma and darken the color. Also beeswax is flammable.
At a temperature of about 490 degrees F, beeswax will flare and burn. **Be careful – always take proper precautions to prevent burns and fire**
Melting Beeswax in a Double Boiler
A double boiler is the safest method for melting beeswax. You have 1 pot on the stove that containers water. A smaller pot sits inside the water pot and holds your wax.
This allows the heat to be transferred from the water to spread uniformly around the pot holding your wax. You have less chances of over heating the wax or causing a fire!
If you don’t have a double boiler, one of these inserts can help you create one. If you already have a double boiler and want to dedicate it to wax melting, you are ready to get to work.
Fill water in the bottom half – to the halfway mark, add beeswax in the top half.
(Note: This pan is now for beeswax only. ) Heat the water and melt the beeswax in the top pot.
Once the wax is liquid, carefully pour it through a straining material. Use cheese cloth, nylons, paint strainers or old sweatshirt material for straining.
Cooling And Storing Beeswax For Later
You can pour the liquid wax into any type of mold. I like to use Styrofoam cups because when the wax cools and shrinks, it pops out easily.
Cooled wax will NOT easily come out of any type of container. Leave your wax to cool and harden over night.
Now you have clean, sweet smelling beeswax to use for many different projects.
You may decide to that the benefits of making candles with beeswax is worth the effort! Or perhaps a healing ointment with a wax base or even soap! There are so many options for creativity with beeswax.
Local beekeeping associations have competitions for the best beeswax display.
Maybe you can enter and win! But win or not, you will have some beautiful clean beeswax to use.