Are you a beekeeper? Have you been wondering how to render beeswax or how to clean dirty beeswax you have at home?
We’re beekeepers here at the Making Life. If you’re interested in starting your own hive, you can check out our video about How to Package Honeybees.
As most beekeepers know, over time you can accumulate old honeycomb that the bees are no longer using. You may collect it from cleaning off cross comb or it may be left over after you’ve extracted the honey. However it comes your way, eventually, you’ll have some extra beeswax that you can either throw away or render into usable beeswax. I vote for the second option!
If you have some dirty old yucky bee bits filled honeycomb that you want to turn into gorgeous beeswax that you can use for many other projects — you’ve found the right place! Here’s how to render beeswax and turn it into something beautiful!
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What Do You Need to Render Beeswax?
- Beeswax or honeycomb
- Double boiler
- OR homemade double boiler (we use a pot of water and a wax pouring pitcher)
- Beeswax molds
- Mesh strainer
Here’s a video showing the process or you can read on for a step-by-step tutorial.
Important Things to Know About Rendering Beeswax
A couple of important things to keep in mind about rendering beeswax.
- Never leave your beeswax unsupervised. Beeswax is flammable and you don’t want to start a beeswax kitchen fire :). It’s also a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher on hand just in case.
- Use an electric heating element if possible. An electric heating element is safer because you’re not exposing the wax to an open flame. If you have a gas stove you can use an electric hot plate.
- Designate your pots and utensils to beeswax. It’s extremely difficult to remove beeswax from any pots or utensils that you use. That’s why you should use equipment specifically dedicated to cleaning beeswax.
- Don’t pour wax or wax water down the drain. This is really important. When you’re cleaning up from your wax rendering DO NOT POUR ANYTHING DOWN THE DRAIN. Beeswax is meant to last a long time and it will last a long time in your drains. Don’t clog your drains.
Step #1: Wrap Up the Beeswax
There’s more than one way to render beeswax, but one way that’s pretty effective when your beeswax is dirty and full of bee bits is to wrap your beeswax in cheesecloth.
In many instances when rendering beeswax you would boil it directly in water. When you do this, it separates the wax from other undesirable bits. While this method works somewhat effectively, wrapping it in cheesecloth works even better.
To do this, cut a square of cheesecloth and place some of your dirty beeswax in the center. Tie two corners together and then tie the other two corners together.
Place it in a pot of simmering water and wait until all of the beeswax has melted and floated out of the cheesecloth. When you think it has all melted you can pick up the sack and use two spoons to squeeze out as much as you can of the good wax.
Repeat this step until you’ve worked through all of the dirty honeycombs.
Step #2: Let the Beeswax Cool
All of the semi-cleaned wax will rise to the top of your pot. Wait until this has completely cooled down before you remove it. When it does cool, it will be a disk of yellow beeswax that has floated to the top. The water will be murky — don’t pour it down the drain. It might have beeswax particles in it that will clog your sink drains.
When you remove the beeswax, break it up into smaller pieces so it can fit into your double boiler (or makeshift double boiler). If it already fits in yours, skip this step and move on.
Step #3: Melt the Beeswax in Your Double Boiler
The initial simmering process removes a lot of the unwanted debris from your wax, but it still isn’t as clean as I like it. That’s why you next need to re-melt the beeswax in a double boiler.
We used a candle wax melting pitcher and a pot of simmering water to make ours.
Keep the wax in the double boiler until it’s all melted.
Step #4: Pour the Wax Through a Filter and Into a Mold
The last step is to carefully pour the wax through a filter and into your desired mold. I like to use a metal mesh strainer AND cheesecloth to keep out any extra bits I don’t want in the clean beeswax.
We used a variety of molds to pour our beeswax into including a plastic one from Michaels that was in the shape of honey bees, a silicone one from Amazon, and a silicone LEGO Minifigure one also from Amazon (just for fun).
I chose to melt the wax down and strain it twice to remove as much dark gritty bits as possible. With a home straining method, you’re probably not going to get absolutely everything out (bits of honey are hard to remove), but you can do a pretty good job.
Just from experience, the last bit at the bottom of the pitcher is probably going to have the most debris. So your last pour will be the least pure.
Step #5: Allow the Beeswax to Fully Cool in the Molds
The last step is to not get antsy-pants like I do and try to remove the cleaned beeswax too soon. I start to think surely it’s cooled down enough and I can remove it from the mold — but it takes more time than you might think to cool down enough.
I did notice that the beeswax started to pull a little from the sides once it was completely hardened.
The silicone molds are the easiest to remove so I would recommend using them, but the bee-shaped ones are A-DOR-able. So there’s that.
What to Do With Clean Beeswax that has Been Rendered
You’ve taken that dirty honeycomb and turned it into beautiful beeswax. You can hardly believe that the former beeswax could turn out so pretty — but what should you do with it now?
There are a lot of things you can do with beeswax, and I will recommend two books that go into great detail about different things you can make:
I really enjoyed the way that author Petra Ahnert not only shared a lot of beeswax projects and recipes, but she also broke down the science behind beeswax.
Some of the projects included in Beehive Alchemy are:
- Basic lip balm
- Heel balm
- Furniture polish
- Beeswax cream
Her book also includes how to make things from honey, propolis, and pollen.
The Beeswax Workshop also includes a lot of projects for beeswax. Some of the interesting ones that stood out to me are:
- Rolled taper candles
- Cool mint lip balm
- Lip balm sunscreen
- Bug bite relief stick
- Magnesium lotion
- Car wax
- Beeswax crayons
But without having to purchase any books (or get it at the library as I did!) There are quite a few things you can make with beeswax. Here’s a list of some things that might inspire you to get us and make something.
- Homemade suntan lotion
- Use beeswax to make it easier to thread a needle
- Wood polish
- Beeswax food wraps
- Beeswax can work as a waterproofer
- Lip balm
- Shea body balm
- Hair balm
- Beeswax pastels
- Beard wax
- Hair pomade
- Grafting wax for fruit trees
- Shoe polish
- Sealing wax for letters
- Preserve wood (such as for garden beds)
- Make foundation sheets for beehives
- Encaustic painting
Some people also choose to sell their clean beeswax. I’ve seen beeswax listed for anywhere from $8 to $30 a pound. To give you an idea of how much beeswax it takes to make a pound, all the beeswax in the picture below weighs less than one pound. So you’re looking at a good bit of work before you’d be able to turn a big profit from a home beeswax cleaning operation. Still might be able to fetch some quick cash at a craft fair or farmer’s market!
What IS Beeswax and How do Honeybees Make Beeswax?
Honeybees live in hives made up of hexagonal cells made of beeswax. As with everything they do, honeybees work really hard to create the homes they live in. But if you were like me and wondering what exactly beeswax is made of, let me tell you.
We put honeybees into hives and let them build their own homes there. Wild honey bees find other locations like hollow trees or rock crevices to build their nests, but our honeybees live in bee boxes we’ve made (or bought) for them. In our bee boxes, we supply them with wooden or plastic frames that they can use to store their brood or their honey. Not all frames are made the same — some have the beginning foundation for honeycomb and others are foundationless. Regardless of how it starts, once you put a colony into a bee box they begin drawing out the comb with beeswax.
So what exactly is beeswax? Beeswax starts when worker bees leave the hive and search for food and nectar on flowering plants. They carry the nectar back to the hive in something called a pollen pouch. When they return home, they pass the nectar to another worker bee. The honeybees store the honey into honeycomb cells where they fan it until the liquid from the nectar evaporates and what remains is honey.
Honeybees have a special wax-producing gland in the abdomen of their bodies. Young honey bees are responsible for making the wax hives as the older honey bees gland atrophies and they’re no longer able to produce beeswax. The special gland takes the honey and converts it into the flaky substance. The other bees chew on this substance until it becomes soft and malleable and turn into the beeswax they use to make honeycomb.
Fun Facts About Beeswax
OK so now that I’ve talked through some of the science of beeswax, now I’ll share some random fun facts about beeswax:
- Beeswax is antibacterial and antifungal against certain strains. Just as honey can last a long time, studies have shown that beeswax antibacterial and antifungal activity against some strains of bacteria. The strains most sensitive to beeswax were E. coli, A. niger, and C. tropicalis. (Sorry, more science!)
- You can eat beeswax. Some people enjoy eating beeswax and it turns out it is in fact edible. I don’t love eating beeswax but it’s good to know it’s food save which makes it OK for things like lip balm.
- It takes a lot of honey to make beeswax. Some sources claim that it takes 6-8 lbs of honey to produce 1 lb of wax.
- It’s a lot of work to make beeswax. It’s also estimated that honeybees fly 150,000 miles to produce one lb of beeswax.
- Honeycomb comes in different colors. Honeycomb is not all the same color. Sometimes the comb is quite dark in color. I just recently found out that the different colors may have to do with how the comb was used. Honeycomb that was used for brood is often darker than comb used for honey only. This is probably due to the increased activity in the brood area compared to the activity in the honey storage areas. The darker color may also be attributed to debris left by brood as they’re stored and emerge from the cocoon. A final reason is the propolis that the worker bees use to line the inside of the brood cells.
Historical Uses of Beeswax
We’ve covered the science of beeswax, why not talk a little bit about the historical uses of beeswax?
- One of the earliest recorded uses of beeswax was by ancient Egyptians. Ancient Egyptians used beeswax for the embalming process of mummification. They also used it to preserve writings on papyrus and cave walls. In addition, ancient Egyptians used beeswax for medical use, jewelry, and perfume.
- In Greek mythology, Icarus and his inventor father Daedalus used wings made from features and beeswax to escape from King Minos’ prison tower.
- Ancient Romans used beeswax for a way for subjugated people to pay tribute or taxes. They thought it would help with dysentery and used beeswax for bows, musical instruments, and cosmetics.
- In Ancient times, beeswax was used to make wax tablets that people could scratch characters into.
- In the first century BC (or perhaps earlier), a form of painting called “encaustic art” emerged. It’s the process of melting beeswax, adding pigments, and then shaping the hot wax on wood or canvas. It’s believed that the Greeks invented encaustic painting.
Here’s a captivating video created by artist Alicia Tormey explaining how she uses encaustic painting.
- The first beeswax candles are believed to be from around 40 BC and first originated in Europe.
- People in the middle ages used beeswax for sealing wax used to ensure that letters had not been opened.
- Beeswax has been used in shoe polish since the 18th century.
How Are You Going to Use Rendered Beeswax?
Now that you’ve learned how to render beeswax, what are you going to do with it? Do you have old honeycomb at home that you’d like to clean? Do you know a beekeeper looking to get rid of some dirty honeycomb? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below.