Honey refractometers are a helpful tool for measuring the moisture content in honey. While they’re a simple tool, it’s easy to get an incorrect reading if you’re unfamiliar with the process.
This article shares some handy tips for using a honey refractometer effectively. Whether you’re a beekeeping beginner or an expert, this advice will help you consistently harvest high-quality honey.
1. Understand the basics
Before getting started, take some time to read how to use a honey refractometer. It’s a big help to understand concepts like the refractive index and how it relates to the sugar content of honey. Read the instruction manual carefully to know how to operate the specific tool.
2. Choose the right tool
Refractometers have a range of uses and don’t just measure water content in honey. Before buying, check the device has the correct scale and is fit for purpose. Check out our guide to the best honey refractometers to learn more.
3. Calibrate for accuracy
Most refractometers include a vial of liquid labeled with its accurate reading. Test that your new device provides a precise reading and adjust the calibrator if needed.
4. Use a clean sample
For accurate results, the honey sample should be free from debris, propolis, or wax. Impurities will return a false reading.
5. Use a small sample size
Loading a big glob of honey on the daylight plate is unnecessary, messy, and may impact the reading. Instead, use a few small drops to cover the prism in a thin layer.
6. Avoid air bubbles
Air bubbles often find their way into honey samples and influence the outcome. Fix this issue by gently moving the plate until they burst.
7. Take multiple readings
Taking multiple readings doesn’t require much extra work, but the results will be more reliable. Take honey from different sections of the frame, then calculate an average.
8. Keep your refractometer clean
Keeping a clean, well-maintained refractometer is essential for getting reliable results. Keep a clean, oil-free cloth on hand to clean the face plate with cold water after every reading. Dry tissues are excellent for wiping off excess water.
9. Store the device properly
Keep your refractometer in a dry, cool place to prevent damage and ensure accuracy. The box it came in will do an excellent job of protecting this tool. Don’t leave the device next to a heat source or exposed to direct sunlight for too long.
10. Take advantage of Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC)
Automatic temperature compensation ensures that the readings are accurate even if the temperature of the honey sample changes.
11. Use a refractometer with a digital display
While not an essential requirement, digital displays make it easier to view the reading. This will be especially helpful if you have a big operation or your eyesight isn’t strong.
12. Multiple tests may be needed
Test your honey at different stages of the production process to ensure that it meets the required standards. This is especially important when harvesting honey and storing it for jarring months later.
13. Test honey from every hive
Never take one sample and assume it reflects all the hives in the apiary. Test every hive to ensure that the quality is consistent. Even different frames from within the same hive will vary.
14. Record all data
Keeping records of water content readings allows beekeepers to compare to previous seasons.
15. Avoid organic solvents and metal
Never use solvents like gasoline, paint thinner, or benzene to clean the instrument. It will severely damage the tool’s casing. Applying honey with a metal object could scratch the optical glass.
16. Operate the tool in the right environment
Avoid using a refractometer in dusty conditions. Take readings at ambient temperatures, and don’t change rooms that vary in temperature.
17. Make sure the honey is at the right temperature
The honey sample’s temperature should be the same as the room temp. If it’s too cold, give it time to adjust before starting.
18. Mix large amounts of honey first
Mix buckets or large containers of honey before taking a reading. Otherwise, there will be a disparity between the moisture content at the top and bottom of the vessel.
Want to learn more? Read more about what a refractometer is here.