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What Is Beeswax? An Essential Guide

A pile of beeswax honeycomb

Beeswax is a fascinating substance that 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. Let’s dive in.

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.  

The main reason bees produce beeswax is to create honeycomb cells for storing honey and protecting eggs and larvae. The wax acts as a useful barrier to water and keeps out cold.

Beeswax has a chemical makeup that consists of various long-chain alcohols and fatty acid esters. 

You can also 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, 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 which is what makes it ideal for candle making.
  • Beeswax is water-insoluble, making it handy for sealing off liquid.
  • The melting point of beeswax is low, meaning it will turn from solid to liquid without much heating required.
A box containing five beeswax candles
Beeswax is smokeless and clean-burning.

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 capping 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 you can then let the caps air dry. Once the caps are fully dried, bag them and remove any air, before transferring 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 come to a 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. You’ll notice the wax rises to the top and solidifies, leaving dirty water underneath. 

Quick tip: Melting honeycomb is a messy job 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, you’ll find 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 easily melt and stick to the container.

  • Beeswax attracts dirt and dust so always keep it stored in a container.
  • Melting wax into small blocks is much easier to manage than one large block.
  • While beeswax doesn’t have an expiry, it may collect bloom which is a powdery substance that can be removed with a clean cloth.

Commonly asked questions

Does harvesting beeswax harm the bees?

Bees work very hard to make beeswax for their colony, not for humans. When we take it without concern for sustainability, this will heavily impact the bee colony. They may not be able to create enough food for winter if their 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’s free from disease and best for nurturing future bee generations. 

What is beeswax used for?

Bee colonies use beeswax to build 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 will only take excess wax that won’t put a strain on the colony.

Is beeswax the same as honey?

Beeswax and honey are not the same things, but they often go hand in hand. Honey is produced by bees 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 need to take the honeycomb as well.

Summing up

Beeswax is extremely valuable to the colony and bees couldn’t survive without it. The wax gets produced naturally by worker bees and is crucial for building out 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 around the world, practices like honeycomb collection will be looked at more closely.    

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