How to Clean Beeswax – Rendering Beeswax for Use
Honey bees produce wax for use in their hives. But, we humans can use it too! Beeswax uses go far beyond the beehive. However before we can use it, we must learn how to clean beeswax and remove any impurities.
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, trash, dirt and other residues.
Once the final product is clean, it can be used for many home projects – even health and beauty aids.
We must “render the beeswax” or separate the pure wax from dirt, propolis, cocoons and other impurities.
How Do Bees Make Beeswax?
To understand why we have excess wax, we need to understand where it come from.
Raw beeswax is one of the most fascinating substances on earth. 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.
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.
Honeycomb Cells are Storage Vaults
Hexagonal cells of wax “honeycomb” are used to hold food for the colony and even baby bees. All the important resources stored by the colony is kept inside beeswax cells.
Individual wax cells hold pollen that bees have gathered . This will provide a protein source for the bees during times when plants are not blooming.
Plant nectar is gathered and converted into honey. Stored honey feeds the bees during the cold Winter months.
After bees make honey and place it in storage cells, they use the freshest wax to cap the cells.
Collecting Beeswax from Hives
Once the beekeeper harvests the excess honey crop, some beeswax will be available to use.
The new wax honey cappings are our prize choice wax for projects. Beeswax cappings are the cleanest wax in the hive.
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.
Crush & Strain 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.
Crush & strain honey harvesting results in less honey being produced next year. This is because the bees must rebuild all of the honeycomb.
Beeswax Cappings Are the Cleanest
Extra time is invested in processing beeswax cappings. Cappings are made from the freshest beeswax.
This is because they typically spend the least amount of time in the hive. This results in less time to absorb stains from honey, pollen, propolis and thousands of little bee feet stomping around on the comb.
As they are cut from the comb surface, cappings 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 (see on Amazon).
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 projects. Wax must be clean to be used in lip balms, candles, etc.
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
Cappings are best for most projects. If older comb is processed 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.
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
Sticky beeswax needs to sit in a bucket and drain. 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. 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. (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.
How to Wash Beeswax Cappings?
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. **
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.
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.
How to Clean 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.
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.
You can find many plans and instructions for wax melter construction online.
Cleaning Beeswax 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 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. 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.