How to collect, clean, and use wax cappings
The first honey harvest is a milestone for any new beekeeper. After buying the equipment, watching videos or reading guides, making a few mistakes and a bit of a mess, you end up with your own crop of delicious, homegrown honey.
But honey isn’t the only useful substance made by bees. Beeswax, which is used to store and cover honey in the hive, is a valuable beekeeping by-product. The wax cappings used to seal in honey are removed during honey collection, but can be kept, cleaned, and used to make products like candles, lip balms, and skincare products.
Even if you’re not interested in using the wax yourself, it’s worth collecting and clarifying your wax for resale, or to give to friends. After all, your bees expend so much energy making and using wax, it seems wasteful to simply throw it away.
Here’s our guide to managing your wax cappings:
1: Cut and collect
Most home beekeepers use the scrape and drain method to collect their honey. In this process, wax cappings are scraped from the comb using a special ‘hot knife’ then set aside while the honey is extracted.
Use a large metal collection tray – similar to an oven tray – to hold your wax cappings while you deal with the honey. If you want to process your cappings later on, you can store them in a cool, dark place, sealed in an airtight container.
2: Strain remaining honey
It’s impossible to cut wax cappings without inadvertently collecting some honey in the process. You don’t want to waste this honey, so the first step in processing your wax is straining. Collect all your wax scrapings in a large mesh bag, then suspend over a clean bucket.
Honey will slowly drip through the mesh and into the bucket. Usually, it will stop dripping by the following day, leaving you with drier wax and a few jars of honey.
3: Clean the cappings
Even after straining, some honey will be clinging to your wax. You can clean it by rinsing in cool water, or by spreading the wax onto a clean, flat surface near the hive and leaving it up to your bees. They will land on the wax and collect every tiny bit of honey left, effectively recycling it.
4: Melt and clarify
There are a couple of ways to melt and refine your beeswax. Because beeswax is both flammable and sensitive to overheating, it’s essential to use a gentle method.
A solar melter is one of the simplest ways to go. The wax is placed inside the melter on a perforated tray, and the glass lid is closed over the top. Heat from the sun gently melts the wax, and it drips down into a lower container filled with water. As the air cools in the evening, the wax solidifies so the water can be poured off, along with any dirt and residue that was trapped in the wax. Large solar melters are a good option for hobbyists with a few hives, while smaller versions work well if you only have one or two.
A double boiler, or water bath melter, is another way to indirectly heat your wax. This style of melter is a double walled metal container, with water between the two walls. Wax is placed in the inner container, then the water is heated gently. The wax melts and drips through a strainer into a collection bucket.
5: Pour and pop
When your beeswax is in liquid form, it can be poured into containers of your choice. Leave it to harden overnight, then ease it out of the container and store in a cool, dry place for later use.
Flexible plastic moulds make it easy, as wax can be popped out once it’s set. If you’re not expecting large amounts of wax, using smaller containers – such as Styrofoam or plastic cups – makes sense. Simply break the Styrofoam cup to remove the wax, or squeeze the plastic to pop it out.
6: Ready to use
When you’ve finished the fiddly process of collection, you’re left with a pale yellow, beautifully scented product to use as you wish. Melt gently to make the wax into candles, use small amounts – along with essential oils or other scents – to make lip balms or healing balms, use to make natural skincare products, soaps, deodorants, or food wraps – the possibilities are endless. Even if you don’t want to melt and process any further, you can use the plain wax to moisturise skin, soothe itches, or loosen a stuck drawer.
Because beeswax can be stored indefinitely – as long as it’s kept cool and dry – you can experiment with different products and uses over time, or pass it on to friends and family. If you end up with a large amount of processed wax, you could even look into selling it – after all, it’s a valuable product.
Make the most of bee energy
Whether you’re a beginner beekeeper, or an old hand, harvesting your beeswax is worth the effort. You get a beautiful, natural product with a huge number of uses, and your bees’ energy won’t go to waste.