Beeswax is a fascinating substance you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever seen honeycomb. In this guide, we’ll walk you through what beeswax is, how it’s made, and much more.
What is beeswax?
Beeswax is a natural wax that worker bees secrete from glands under their abdomen. The substance is produced as waxy scales that form thin sheets. It can be chewed up by the worker bee and molded into any shape they choose.
Bees produce beeswax mainly to create honeycomb cells for storing honey and protecting eggs and larvae. The wax acts as a valuable barrier to water and keeps out cold.
Beeswax has a chemical makeup comprising various long-chain alcohols and fatty acid esters.
Check out our guide to worker bees to find out about their roles, anatomy, and more.
The properties of beeswax
Beeswax has a unique, complex chemical composition comprising over 250 compounds. These include seters, acids, polyesters, and long-chain alkanes, to name a few.
Beeswax’s impermeability to water and stability is thanks to hentriacontane. This compound makes up roughly 9% of the beeswax.
- The wax burns clean and smokeless, making it ideal for candle making.
- Beeswax is water-insoluble, so it’s handy for sealing off liquid.
- The melting point of beeswax is low, meaning it will turn from solid to liquid without much heating required.
How to separate beeswax from honeycomb
A popular method for separating beeswax is the melt and strain method. For extracting small amounts of wax in a non-commercial operation, follow these steps to get pure wax the easy way.
1. Collect the cappings and comb
Start by gathering all the cappings you collected when harvesting the honey. These are excellent for beeswax, so get these along with any comb you extracted from foundationless hives. The comb can be broken into pieces and placed on a cheesecloth with the cappings.
2. Clean and freeze the beeswax
Place the caps into a fine metal sieve and rinse with warm water. Shake away as much water as possible, then let the caps air dry. Once the caps are thoroughly dried, bag them and remove any air before transferring them to the freezer.
3. Separate the wax
After freezing, heat a pot of water until simmering, then add the cheesecloth containing the beeswax. Push it down gently to help break up the wax.
Allow the water to boil, and remove the pot from the heat once the wax is completely melted. Fish out the cheesecloth and squeeze out any remaining water into the pot, then set aside.
The remaining water in the pot is your wax water. Pour it into a suitable container and allow it to cool. The wax rises to the top and solidifies, leaving dirty water underneath.
Quick tip: Melting honeycomb is messy, and the utensils you use will be ruined from the process. Choose cheap, old tools that you can use for this one job.
4. Clean the wax cake
Melt the wax in a double boiler until it transforms into liquid. Pour it through a filter again while still hot.
You’ll find that there isn’t a lot of debris in wax cappings, while dark honeycomb has a lot of extra cocoons.
5. Pour into a mold
Once you’re happy with the beeswax, it’s time to pour it into a mold. The wax should now be perfectly clean.
Choose a silicone mold or use parchment paper to line a bowl or muffin trays. After the wax has been added to a mold, it dries quickly.
How to Store Beeswax
Store beeswax in a cool, dry place away from potential contaminants and dust. It is best to use plastic storage containers for storing blocks of beeswax. Keep them tightly sealed and avoid warm areas, as the wax will quickly melt and stick to the container.
- Beeswax attracts dirt and dust, so always store it in a container.
- Melting wax into small blocks is much easier than managing one large block.
- While beeswax doesn’t have an expiry, it may collect bloom, a powdery substance that can be removed with a clean cloth.
Commonly asked questions
Does harvesting beeswax harm the bees?
Bees work hard to make beeswax for their colony, not for humans. When we take it without concern for sustainability, this heavily impacts the bee colony. They may not be able to create enough food for winter if the honeycomb is plundered.
It is possible to harvest surplus beeswax without overworking the bees. Excess wax collection allows the bees to build fresh honeycomb that is free from disease and best for nurturing future bee generations.
What is beeswax used for?
Beeswax has a wide range of uses, including candle-making, environmentally-friendly food wrap, and skincare products. It is also good for conditioning wood, rust prevention, and unsticking zippers.
Are bees killed for beeswax?
Beeswax removal from a hive does not kill any bees. When beekeepers use sustainable practices, they only take excess wax that won’t strain the colony.
Is beeswax the same as honey?
Beeswax and honey are not the same, but they often go hand in hand. Bees produce honey as a food source for the colony, while beeswax is used to construct honeycomb and other parts of the hive, like queen cells. To extract honey from a beehive, you’ll also need to take the honeycomb.
Beeswax is extremely valuable to the colony, and bees couldn’t survive without it. The wax is produced naturally by worker bees and is crucial for building the hive.
When honeycomb is collected using ethical and cruelty-free methods, mankind and bees can benefit each other. We get a high-quality resource that has many excellent uses. Bee colonies get old honeycomb removed from the hive, which can be replaced by fresh, disease-free beeswax.
Maintaining the delicate balance is the challenge as we look ahead. With bee populations declining worldwide, practices like honeycomb collection will be looked at more closely.