Oh the joy of a pristine white beekeeper suit, it is one of benefits of being new to beekeeping. But, if you use it, it will get dirty. The time will come when you wonder how to wash your beekeeping suit. Protective clothing is an important part of most beekeeping endeavors. A good full suit can easily cost over $150, a good reason to take care of your investment.
How to Clean Your Beekeeping Suit or Jacket
In general, beekeeping suits come in 2 price ranges in regards to quality. Less expensive options that are good for light use and not expected to last for years.
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You can find some economy models for around $50. These are appropriate for the new beekeeper on a budget.
They also come in handy as an extra bee suit for visiting friends that want to “see the bees.” Extra wear for visitors won’t get very dirty because they are not usually doing any real hive management.
However, with beekeeper suits and jackets – sometimes you do get what you pay for. Less expensive suits, can be easier to tear and the veils are often fragile. They may also be harder to see through but this is not always the case.
If you didn’t pay too much for it, you might be tempted to forgo washing the beekeeping suit and just get a new one.
What about those high quality suits that cost between $100-$200? If you invested in more heavy duty and expensive beekeeper clothing, there will be a time when you certainly want to at least attempt to clean it.
But understand this, a new beekeeping suit is the cleanest it will ever be. In my experience, they never truly become clean and white again.
How Often Should You Wash Your Beekeeping 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.
The number of beehives you manage, how often you wear the suit and environmental conditions play a role.
If you live in the hot South and in an area with red clay — attempting to clean the bee suit at least twice a season is common.
Even then the red clay will never come out of my white suit. But, our attempt to freshen our bee wear is about more than just dirt.
Dirty Beekeeper Suits Increase the Risk of Bee Stings
When I say dirty, I am not referring to actual dirt but rather “stank”. After days or sweat and work in the bee yard – 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 during hive inspections. But, it is not just dirt and sweat that irritates the bees of the hive.
If any bees have stung your suit during previous trips to the bee yard, they leave behind 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.
Periodic cleaning of your beekeeping suit or jacket prevents problems due to odor in the fabric of your clothing. It also feels much better to put on a freshly laundered jacket.
Washing a Beekeepers Suit or Jacket – Step by Step
** 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.**
Remove Veil and Empty Pockets: Remove the veil from your suit. Be sure to empty your pockets of anything you may find in there. Sticks, dirt, pine needles and other various stuff finds its way into those pockets.
If your suit has leg zippers, zip them up. And zip the front zipper closed as well. This helps prevent zipper damage as you wash the suit.
Pretreat Stains: Before the suit is placed in a washer (or bathtub for you hand scrubbers), 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.
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: After pre-treating all the stains, add the suit to the washing machine. Use a generous amount of cold water in the wash with very little laundry detergent.
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 with the suit.
I presoak the suit about 30 minutes before washing on regular cycle. (Again – follow the manufacturers cleaning instructions for YOUR suit. – I am sharing my experience but accept no responsibility for yours)
Rinse Well and Dry: Once the beekeeping suit has completed the wash cycle, it is removed from the washer. The veil is zipped back on to the suit and they are hung up to dry.
A nice shady location is a good choice. Do not tumble dry as your suit may be damaged or shrink!
Special Tips for Cleaning Your Beekeeper Clothing
Always consult the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions because there are many different types of materials used in bee suit construction. But, 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 gently cycle on the washer
- as a caution – don’t wash your beekeeping clothing with other family clothing
Cleaning your beekeeping suit a couple of times a season is a great way to protect your investment. 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.
Where to Store Your Beekeeper Clothing
If at all possible, it is good to store your beekeeper suit by hanging it up. I keep mine in an outdoor shed near my other equipment.
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 until Spring. You may find that the mice have made a nice cozy home of it! Of course, don’t forget to properly store your honey supers and drawn comb over Winter too!
I honestly enjoy putting on a clean beekeeping suit and I’m sure the bees may like it as well.
Having several suits, my favorites are a heavy cotton suit and my Ultra Breeze Ventilated Jacket. Give some thoughts to washing your beekeeping suit a few times a year.