Processing beeswax is as natural as following just a few simple steps. When harvesting honey, the first step involves removing the wax caps from the frames to allow access to the honey. When processing beeswax, the wax caps first drop into a straining system, and the honey separates (somewhat) from the wax caps.
Below you'll learn more how to clean beeswax, how to process beeswax, and more. Let's jump right in.
Processing Beeswax is a Labor of Love
I’m writing this article to save you lots of wasted effort if you're interested in learning how to process beeswax on your own. I’ve tried quite a few different “recipes” that I’ve found on web searches and some have been a disaster. Following is a step-by-step approach to processing my wax in small batches.
I joyfully saved a large freezer bag of wax caps from my second harvest and stored them in my freezer. If you are wondering why I stored the caps in my freezer, it was to prevent the caps from fermenting. Honey contains about 18% water. If left out in the open without being cleaned, filtered, and dried, the caps will ferment. This makes quite the mess, so make sure you prepare your caps before you do anything else.
Use only wax caps when processing your beeswax. Brood wax is the wax that comes from the bottom portion of managed beehives. The brood is where the family is made: collecting this wax is destructive to the hive, and requires too much work to remove impurities. I've done this once before, and it's not a process I'm looking to repeat.
Our Tips For Beeswax Processing and More
Step One: How to clean beeswax
Remove the caps and drain honey from the hive frame. Place caps in a fine metal sieve. Rinse and drain warm water over wax caps a few times. Next, shake as much water as possible from the caps before allowing to air dry.
Like I mentioned before, if you skip out on rinsing and drying your caps, they'll be a big fermented mess. Cleaning beeswax is an essential part of the entire process!
Step Two: Freezing wax before processing
Now that you know how to clean beeswax, it's time to begin the prep work for beeswax processing. After the caps have dried, place them into bags and store them in the freezer. It's important to keep the air out of your caps, just to prevent any humidity build-up. When you fill your bags with caps, remove as much air as possible before freezing.
Step Three: Melting the beeswax
Place your frozen caps into a crockpot, and fill the vessel to top with water. You are about to “slow cook” your wax until some of the impurities separate from the wax.
Step Four: Heating the beeswax
If you have a crockpot that allows you to set the temperature, put it to 155 degrees F. If yours doesn’t have that feature, set manually on “keep warm.” Let cook for 4-12 hours (depending on your crockpot). Note: if you overheat the wax it will be useless for painting, check on progress periodically.
Step Five: Cooling, part one
Turn off the heat and allow the wax to cool. It will float on the top of the crockpot. Once it is solid, remove it from the water, and pour off the dirty water.
Step Six: Beeswax processing by filtering
Break the wax into small chunks and stuff inside of a new stocking. This will act as a filter, allowing the wax to escape once you continue to the next beeswax processing step.
Step Seven: Re-melt
Drop the stocking into the crockpot and fill it to the top with water. Set the temperature back to 155 degrees F, and allow the wax to re-melt.
Step Eight: Processing beeswax by hand
Once the wax has been melting, carefully remove the stocking from the crockpot. Allow it to cool a little, and then wring out the wax, leaving impurities in the stocking.
Step Nine: Rinse and repeat
Repeat Steps 4 through 8 (no need to repeat the cleaning beeswax step), processing beeswax until it is free from any visible impurities. In my experience, it will take at least 3 cycles through this process before the impurities are removed.
How to Process Beeswax for Home Projects
Beeswax has a light, pollen-like smell and is a beautiful and vibrant shade of yellow. I prefer the natural color for making a medium for my encaustic paintings. It gives the paintings a natural warm yellow glow.
Please note, the raw beeswax that results from this process is wonderful for beeswax candles. I do not recommend using this beeswax for cosmetic preparations, as there can be invisible impurities in it. You are far better off using cosmetic-grade beeswax for bath and body products. That beeswax has been through a charcoal filtering process that makes it safe to use in body products.
Is Cleaning Beeswax Really Important?
Yes, cleaning beeswax is important as it helps remove impurities like debris and bee parts, ensuring a cleaner and purer final product. Cleaning also enhances the quality of beeswax for various applications, such as candle-making.
How do I Remove the Color or Scent From Beeswax?
I personally love the natural color and scent of beeswax— again, I adore it for my paintings. But, if you wish to remove it, you can follow these steps:
- Melt the beeswax in a heat-resistant container using a double boiler or a wax melter.
- Add activated charcoal or activated carbon powder to the melted beeswax. The amount of charcoal or carbon powder needed depends on the quantity of beeswax you are working with. Start with small amounts and gradually increase as needed.
- Stir the mixture well to distribute the charcoal or carbon powder evenly.
- Continue heating the mixture for a short period, ensuring that the wax and powder are thoroughly mixed.
- Carefully pour the mixture through a fine mesh filter to remove the charcoal or carbon particles, as well as any remaining impurities.
- Allow the filtered beeswax to cool and solidify. The resulting beeswax will have reduced color and scent.
It's important to note that the natural color and scent of beeswax can vary depending on the type of flowers or plants the bees collected nectar from, so complete removal may not be possible.
How Should I Store Processed Beeswax?
Place the beeswax in airtight containers to prevent dust, moisture, or contaminants from affecting its quality. Store them in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing beeswax near strong odors or chemicals, as it can absorb scents and become contaminated.
How Can I Keep Beeswax From Overheating or Catching Fire During Processing?
It's important to handle beeswax with care! Here are some safety tips:
- Always use a heat-resistant container, like a crockpot when melting beeswax.
- Avoid direct heat sources, such as stovetop burners, to prevent the wax from overheating or catching fire.
- Set the temperature of your crockpot to 155 degrees F and monitor it closely.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.
- If any wax accidentally catches fire, carefully smother the flames with a fire-resistant lid or use a fire extinguisher. Never use water to extinguish a beeswax fire.
My Beekeeping Journey
The whole reason why I wanted to become a beekeeper was to collect beeswax for my encaustic painting. In the bigger picture of beekeeping, beeswax is the smallest gift from the hive. Maintaining the integrity of the drawn comb is tantamount. The less the bees have to focus on drawing comb, the more they can focus on making honey. As time goes on and beekeeping operations get larger, processing beeswax looks entirely different.