How to Wash a Beekeeping Suit

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Oh the joy of a pristine white beekeeper suit, it is one of benefits of being new to beekeeping. Enjoy it – that unblemished color won’t last long. If you use it, it will get dirty. And the time will come when you want to know how to wash your beekeeping suit. There are several reasons this is a good idea and looks is only one of them.

Preparing to wash a dirty beekeeping suit image.

You chose the best beekeeping suit possible to use in your new adventure with honey bees. This often represents a substantial part of the cost to start beekeeping. You want to protect your investment. And keeping everything clean and in working order is a big part of that.

How to Clean a Beekeeping Suit or Jacket

The challenge in caring for your bee wear is to get it as fresh as possible and not damage the delicate veil.

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

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).

A new 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.

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.**

1. Remove the Veil

Remove the veil from your beekeeping suit or jacket. It needs special care and does not require the degree of washing needed by other parts. Most of the time, a zipper is used to attach and remove it.

2. Empty Pockets

Be sure to empty your pockets of anything you may find in there. Sticks, dirt, pine needles (smoker fuel) and other various stuff finds its way into those pockets.

Empty pockets of beekeeping suit.

3. Close Zippers

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 (either by hand or brief soaks in the washing machine.

4. Pre-treat Stains

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.

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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.)

Dirty beekeeping suit being treated with bucket of stain remover prior to washing.

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

5. Using the Washer (Carefully)

After pre-treating all the stains, and letting them soak for 15-20 minutes. 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..

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

Be sure to rinse well – twice if needed to remove an soap residue.

Dirty beekeeping suit in a washing machine.

6. Hang to Dry

Once the wash cycle is complete, remove the garment from the washer. The veil is zipped back on 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!

Clean beekeeping suit hanging outside to dry

Special Tips for Cleaning

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 gently cycle on the washer
  • as a caution – don’t wash your beekeeping clothing with other family clothing

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.

How many 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 your beekeeper suit at least twice a season is common.

Even then, the red clay stain will never completely come out of my white suit. But, our attempt to freshen our bee wear is about more than just dirt.

Smelly Beekeeper Suits Increase the Risk of Bee Stings

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 during hive inspections. But, 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 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.

Honey bees also vary in their defensiveness, it is common for a hive to be rather aggressive late in the season. Why make things worse?

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.

Used beekeeping clothing stored hanging on a wall.

Store Your Clean Bee Suit

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 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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