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Cleaning Raw Beeswax
Learning how to clean beeswax may sound difficult but it really is not. Your wax can be cleaned with some simple materials you probably already have around the house. When we gather wax from the hive, it is mixed in with honey and other substances. Before using raw wax for your crafting projects, we need to clean the wax.
Any beekeeper will tell you that beeswax is valuable due to the many ways it can be used. In fact, per pound it is more valuable than honey. Excess wax represents months of hard work by the honey bee colony.
One of the most popular ways to use beeswax involves making candles. Beeswax candles require very clean wax to burn well-otherwise the wick will clog and. No matter the project though, the first step in the process is rendering (or cleaning) debris out of the natural wax.
But, raw just harvested wax is not ready for your craft projects. It needs to be cleaned of excess honey, trash, dirt and other residues. The wax may look clean but it can contain substances that prevent clean candle burning etc.
What Does Rendering Beeswax Mean?
Rendering beeswax is just another term for cleaning. It means the same thing and was used more frequently in years past. Most beekeepers harvest wax that is left over from honey extraction, scrapings from boxes, colonies that die, etc.
This raw wax can contain: honey, wood splinters, propolis, pollen, bee cocoons etc. Raw wax containing these “impurities” is not suitable for every project.
How Do Bees Make Beeswax?
Wax is made by honey bees using special glands on their abdomen. Young worker bees are the best producers of wax. They consume large amounts of food and shape the wax scales into hexagonal cells that make up honeycomb.
Honeycomb is an integral part of the beehive and is used to store food and rear young. It is one of the most fascinating substances on earth. And humans have not been able to replicate it exactly.
Making wax is an expensive process for the bees. They must consume a lot of honey to promote wax gland production.
A beekeeper that plans to harvest a lot of wax may produce less honey. This is why wax is such a valuable by-product of a hive.
How Beeswax is Collected from the Hives
Once the beekeeper collects the honey crop, the wax and honey must be separated. Many beekeepers extract their honey crop using a machine. This requires cutting beeswax cappings off the top of honey cells with a knife or similar too.
Cappings are made from the freshest beeswax so they will be light in color. Spending less time in the hive, cappings wax has less time to absorb stains from honey, pollen, propolis and thousands of little bee feet stomping around on the comb.
As the wax cappings are cut from the comb surface, they still retain some honey. This honey should not be wasted. Cut 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 an uncapping tank . 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. The clean honey can be sealed in an air tight container and used.
After all the honey is drained out, your wax cappings are less sticky. However, your beeswax is still not clean enough to use for most projects.
Crush & Strain Honey Harvest Produces More Wax
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 inside.
There is a tradeoff for this method of honey harvesting though. The beekeeper gets more wax to use but may face a reduced honey crop next year. This is because the bees must rebuild all of the honeycomb in the frame – not just a new cap.
Cleaning Your Beeswax Step by Step
- collect excess beeswax – remove cappings
- 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
Light yellow beeswax is the natural color that brings the best price for resale. 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.
If you only have a couple of boxes to harvest, it’s fun. Once you have 10 or more boxes, it’s work!
Separating Beeswax from Honey
Fresh cappings are sticky. The amount of honey in the cappings can be quite significant. There are 2 common methods of separating the wax and honey.
- use a strainer bag
- use a double bucket system
When using a strainer bag, transfer the cappings from your uncapping bucket into the bag. You can buy honey strainer bags, use paint bags or make your own with cheese cloth.
Suspend it over a clean bucket that will catch the residual honey. This clean honey can be used as long as you practice good hygiene . Warning – It will be heavy! Tie the bag to something sturdy enough to handle the weight.
Usually, honey has ceased to drip from the bag by the next day. This must be done in a warm, bee tight location.
Double Bucket System of Separating Honey and Wax
I often use a 2 bucket process to separate my beeswax from honey. A large clean 5 gallon bucket is the base. A slightly smaller bucket is placed inside the large bucket.
Because of the top rims of both buckets, this usually results in a space of several inches being open in the bottom of the larger bucket. This is the collection space for honey.
The smaller bucket has many holes drilled in the bottom. As I uncapp directly into the small bucket, excess honey drips down into the bottom of the larger bucket.
With either method, most of the honey will be drained out by the next day. The time needed will depend on the amount of honey remaining in your wax and the temperature of the room.
Wash the Cappings
After most of the residual honey has dripped out, the beeswax is still sticky. As part of my cleanup regime, I like to rinse the stickiness out of the cappings wax.
Only use cool clear water. It is as simple as placing your cappings in a bucket and adding water. ( similar to washing green beans. 🙂
Large strainer bags with a coarse mesh are very useful for washing cappings as it holds them together.
Place a clean strainer bag in a 5 gallon pail – then add wax. Fill 3/4 of the bucket with cool water and hand wash the wax .
When you think you have most of the honey out, grab the top of the filter bag and lift – allowing the water to drain out of the clean wax cappings.
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.
Letting Your Bees Clean Your Wax
Often, a beekeeper may spread the cappings out on a flat surface outside and let the bees find and clean them.
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. However, this plan is not without serious risks to your bees.
There is a danger of this activity causing robbing back at the hive – even if the cleaning takes place a far distance away.
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. **
Final Cleaning with Water
Cleaning raw wax with water is my final steps in preparing wax for candle making. When you clean or melt your beeswax in water, you are removing impurities such as dirt, pollen, pieces of wood and remaining honey.
Then method works so well because liquid beeswax floats 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. Too much heat will reduce the nice 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 contains 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. I have several of these- they are awesome for projects.
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 recycled takeout cups because when the wax cools and shrinks, it pops out easily.
Cooled wax will NOT easily come out of any type of container use something that is flexible. Leave your wax to cool and harden over night.
Using the Solar Wax Melter Method for Beeswax
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 wax. 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 solid chunk 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. Using an inexpensive Styrofoam cooler and a sheet of glass, the melter is set in a sunny location.
Recap on Cleaning Raw Beeswax
Though a common material that everyone has seen, there are still questions about beeswax that pop up from time to time and the answers may just surprise you.
Clean, sweet smelling beeswax is great to use for many different projects. You can even make your own beeswax crayons. And the best thing is that your beeswax will never spoil so you don’t have to be in a hurry.
Now that you have a chunk of nice beeswax – anything is possible. Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.