Washing Bee Suits

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One of the joys of beekeeping is a pristine clean beekeeping suit – but if you use it, it will get dirty. Therefore, you need to know how to wash a bee suit to keep it fresh and relatively clean. This is important for several reasons – looking good is only one of them. In this guide, I share with you my process for how I wash my beekeeping suit and some tips to use for yours.

Preparing to wash a dirty beekeeping suit.

As a Master Beekeeper with several years experience, I have used several different varieties of protective wear. You should choose the style of beekeeping clothing you desire – keep in mind that cheaper versions will not last as long. Regardless of the money spent – you want to protect your investment.

How to Clean a Beekeeping Suit or Jacket

When shopping for a beekeeping suit, you will notice that several different materials are used in their construction. Most of my suits are cotton (cotton/poly) and of course my favorite Ultra Breeze ventilated jacket.

The challenge in cleaning a bee suit is to get it as fresh as possible and not damage the delicate veil. That veil is important in beekeeping safety – the bees can and will find even a small hole.

Also, the elastic found in the cuffs of the arms and legs can deteriorate when exposed to harsh chemicals.

A new beekeeping suit is the cleanest it will ever be. In my experience, they never truly become clean and white again. But, we can improve its condition and smell with only a bit of effort.

** Important disclaimer – This information is made available to show you how I wash my beekeeping suits. I am not responsible for any negative effects this might cause on your own clothing. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions.**

Materials

  • water
  • gentle soap (dawn or similar) & oxiclean or a little bleach
  • brush
  • container for soak (or washing machine)

Hand Wash Your Bee Suit or Jacket (Mostly)

In most cases, I do not recommend just throwing your bee suit or jacket in the washing machine to clean it. This is more of a hand-washing project (with maybe a bit of machine help-optional).

Double zipper on cotton bee suit that allows removal before cleaning.

Remove the Veil

My first steps in cleaning a bee suit or jacket is to remove the veil. Today, most veils zip on and off the suit. Veils (even top quality ones) need special care to avoid tears.

Also, except for the area near the zippers – they don’t get as dirty as other parts of the suit. My advice – always hand wash your beekeeping veils.

Dirty beekeeping suit with leg zippers and velcro closed.

Close Zippers

If your bee suit has leg zippers, zip them up. And, zip the front zipper of your suit or jacket closed as well. This helps prevent zipper damage as you wash the suit (either by hand or brief soaks in the washing machine.

Items to remove from pockets of bee suit prior to washing.

Empty Pockets

Be sure to empty your pockets of anything you may find in there. Sticks, dirt, pine needles (bee smoker fuel) and other various stuff finds its way into those pockets. They will be cleaned better without any additional stuff.

Pre-treat Stains

Pretreating stains on bee suit with brush and cleaner.

Before placing the garment in the washer – bathtub (or any soaking tub), it is a good idea to pretreat the dirtiest parts.

I often do this outside and lay my beekeeping suit down on the driveway. If you are not as messy as me, this can be accomplished in the shower or tub.

Using oxiclean and brush to scrub stains of a beekeeping suit prior to washing.

In a small pail, I mix some very warm water, a small amount of laundry detergent (I use Tide) and just a little bleach (perhaps 1/4 cup per gallon of water.)

Scrub the Dirtiest Areas First : Using a brush wet with the contents of the pail, I scrub a little Oxiclean into the areas dirtiest areas. This is commonly the area around the pockets, sleeve ends and leg cuffs.

Using the Washer (Carefully)

After pre-treating all the stains, and letting them soak for 10-15 minutes. Add the suit to the washing machine. Use a generous amount of cold water in the wash with a little laundry detergent.

I presoak the suit about 30 minutes before starting the washer on regular cycle – with a normal amount of detergent for the load size. (Again – follow the manufacturers cleaning instructions for YOUR suit. – I am sharing my experience but accept no responsibility for yours)

Do NOT wash your veil in the machine. The veil is completely hand washed and rinsed well. I do sometimes let the cotton portion of the hood rest in the machine for a pre-soak – likewise, I soak my ventilated veil but remove it before using the washer agitation.

After removing that veil, I run a normal light wash and rinse cycle for the suit or jacket parts. Be sure to rinse well – twice if needed to remove any soap residue.

Dirty beekeeping suit in a washing machine with veil only during pre-soak.

Hang to Dry

Once the wash cycle is complete, remove the bee suit from the washer. The veil is zipped back on and they are hung up to dry. A nice shady location is a good choice – a little sun is okay. Do not use a dryer to tumble dry-as your beekeeping suit may be damaged or shrink!

Clean beekeeping suit and jacket hanging outside to dry

Special Tips

Always consult the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions because there are many different types of materials used in construction. These common tips apply to most.

  • some stains will never come out – that’s okay
  • the use of bleach does cause elastic to deteriorate-use sparingly if at all
  • do not use fabric softener – bees are very sensitive to smell
  • use cold/cool water in the washer not hot – you may have wax in the washer
  • use the regular or gentle cycle on the washer
  • as a caution – don’t wash your beekeeping clothing with other family clothing

Main Benefit of Cleaning Your Bee Suits – Fewer Stings

Periodic cleaning of your beekeeping suit or jacket prevents problems due to odor in the fabric. It also feels much better to put on a freshly laundered jacket. But, dirty suits cause more problems.

When I say dirty, I am not just referring to actual dirt but rather “stank”. After days of sweat and work in the apiary – your protective gear can get rather odorous.

Honey bees are very sensitive to odor. You don’t want to smell like a stinky ole bear when you inspect your beehives. And, it is not just dirt and sweat that irritates them.

If any bees have stung your suit in defense previously, they leave behind sting or alarm bee pheromones.

When the bees in the hive detect this odor, along with a giant dressed in white taking off the top of their house – they may react in a negative way.

Storage

If at all possible, it is good to store your beekeeper suit by hanging it up. I keep mine in an outdoor building near my other equipment.

This is also a good time to make a close inspection for any small “bee-sized” rips or tears. A little duct tape can often be a lifesaver.

You can also keep the suit safe in a storage box with lid. However, first make sure it is completely dry or water or sweat – or it will mold.

Don’t throw your beekeeping wear in a pile in the shed and leave it over Winter. You may find that the mice have made a nice cozy home of it!

FAQs

How often should you wash your bee suit?

The frequency of washing a beekeeping suit depends on several factors. Like any piece of clothing, washing it too often may speed up it’s demise. You do want to clean it at least twice a season.

How to get mildew out of a beekeeping suit?

In most cases, mildew can be removed from a beekeeping suit by making a mixture 50/50 of white vinegar and water. Gently scrub into the stains with a soft brush. Be sure to rinse well and allow to dry.

What should I wash my bee suit in?

After pre-treating any especially dirty spots, wash your suit in a small amount of regular laundry detergent or gentle cleanser like Dawn dish-washing liquid. Avoid strong smelling cleaning products.

Can I wash my beekeeping suit in the washing machine?

Yes, perhaps. Most beekeeper suits are machine washable – check the garment label. But even so, I would use the gentle cycle and never put wash the veil with the machine.

Can I put my beekeeper suit in the washer with other clothing?

No, it is best to wash your beekeeper suit alone – do not mix it in with other pieces of family clothing due to the possibility of allergies.

A Final Word

Washing your beekeeper suit a couple of times a season is a great way to protect your investment. The accumulation of dirt, grime and sweat can make you and your bees unhappy. Take your time and do a proper job and your suit or jacket should last for many years.

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