Processing Beeswax for Beginners

Where does beeswax come from? Photo credit Debbe Krape via honeybeesuite.com

Processing beeswax is as easy as following just a few simple steps. When harvesting honey, the first step involves removing the wax caps from the frames to allow access to the honey. When processing beeswax, the wax caps first drop into a straining system and the honey separates (somewhat) from the wax caps.

I joyfully saved a large freezer bag of wax caps from my second harvest and stored them in my freezer. If you are wondering why I stored the caps in my freezer, it was to prevent the caps from fermenting. Honey contains about 20% water. If left out in the open without being cleaned, filtered, and dried, the caps will begin to ferment. This is a no-go, and it makes quite the mess, so make sure you prepare your caps before you do anything else.

Raw beeswax out of the hive dripping with honey photo by Kirsten Elstner

Our tips on processing beeswax

The whole reason why I wanted to become a beekeeper was to collect beeswax for my encaustic painting. In the bigger picture of beekeeping, beeswax is the smallest gift from the hive. Maintaining the integrity of the drawn comb is tantamount. The less the bees have to focus on drawing comb, the more they can focus on making honey.

Black and White Study 3 Artwork
Black and White Study 3 Artwork

This is all a labor of love

I’m writing this to save you lots of wasted effort when you process on your own. I’ve tried quite a few different “recipes” that I’ve found on web searches. Some have been a disaster. Following is a step-by-step approach to processing my wax in small batches.

Use only wax caps when processing your beeswax. Brood wax is the wax that comes from the bottom portion of managed beehives. The brood is where the family is made: collecting this wax is destructive to the hive, and requires too much work to remove impurities. I’ve done this once before, and it’s not a process I’m looking to repeat.

Step 1: How to clean beeswax

Remove caps and drain honey from the hive frame. Place caps in a fine metal sieve. Rinse and drain warm water over wax caps a few times. Next, shake as much water as possible from the caps before allowing to air dry. Like I mentioned before, if you skip out on rinsing and drying your caps, they’ll be a big fermented mess.

processing beeswax rinsing wax caps

Step 2: Freezing wax before processing

After the caps have dried, place them into bags and store in the freezer. It’s important to keep the air of of your caps, just to prevent any humidity build up. When you fill your bags with caps, remove as much air as possible before freezing.

processing beeswax frozen wax caps

Step 3: Melting the beeswax

Place your frozen caps into a crock pot, and fill the vessel to top with water. You are about to “slow cook” your wax until some of the impurities separate from the wax.

processing beeswax soaking caps

Step 4: Heating the beeswax

If you have a crock pot that allows you to set the temperature, put it to 155 degrees F. If yours doesn’t have that feature, set manually on “keep warm”. Let cook for 4-12 hours (depending on your crock pot). Note: if you overheat the wax it will be useless for painting, check on progress periodically.

processing beeswax in crockpot

Step 5: Cooling, part one

Turn off the heat and allow the wax to cool. The wax will float on the top of the crock pot. Once it is solid, remove this from the water, and pour off the dirty water.

processing beeswax stage 1

Step 6: Processing Beeswax by filtering

Break the wax into small chunks and stuff inside of a new stocking. This will act as a filter, allowing the wax to escape once you continue to the next step.

Drop the stocking into crock pot and fill to the top with water. Set the temperature back to 155 degrees, and allow the wax to re-melt.

processing beeswax stage 2

Step 8: Processing Beeswax by hand

Once the wax has been melting, carefully remove the stocking from the crockpot. Allow it to cool a little, and then wring out the wax, leaving impurities in the stocking.

Step 9: Rinse and repeat

Repeat Steps 4 through 8, processing beeswax until the it is free from any visible impurities. In my experience, it will take at least 3 cycles through this process before the impurities are removed.

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Picture showing disc of filtered beeswax

Processing beeswax for home projects

Beeswax has a light, pollen-like smell and is a beautiful and vibrant shade of yellow. I prefer the natural color for making medium for my encaustic paintings. It gives the paintings a natural warm yellow glow.

Please note, the raw beeswax that results from this process is wonderful for beeswax candles. I do not recommend using this beeswax for cosmetic preparations, as there can be invisible impurities in it. You are far better off using cosmetic grade beeswax for bath and body products. That beeswax has been through a charcoal filtering process that makes it safe to use in body products.

As our business has grown, we’ve changed our methods of filtering beeswax to a grander scale. Check out this blog on growing the wax filtering operation.

Want to know more about how to use beeswax or where beeswax comes from? Well, you’re in luck! Check out other articles on our blog for our musings on the bees and all the ways we use honey and wax.

Raw Beeswax from our farm

Follow us on Instagram to keep up with our ventures, and subscribe to our mailing list to stay in-the-know on everything we do.Next: My First Bee Inspection

About the Author

kara

Kara waxes about the bees, creates and tests recipes with her friend Joyce, and does her best to share what she’s learned and continues to learn about the bees, honey, ingredients we use and more.

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17 thoughts on “Processing Beeswax for Beginners

  1. Hi.. that was a great article, love it :)

    I have a few chunk of organic beeswax, its yellow and have a very strong scent, do you have any Idea, how to remove the dye and odor naturally?

    In result I want it stay sticky, no color (white) and no scent.

    Thank you in advance :)

    1. Beeswax color and odor are impacted by pollen types, region, season and climate in the area where it was created. I personally enjoy the diversity that natural beeswax offers, as is, out-of-the-hive. In theory you could go through this process a number of times until you achieve the desired results, but each time you heat the wax up, you want to make sure that you don’t go over 140 degrees or the wax will not be useful. Another option would be to find a beekeeper that has professional equipment and have them batch process your wax with theirs. Good luck and thanks for writing.

  2. Brilliant! Processing my beeswax now! So much better than on a double boiler…do this do that ….method. Thank you.

  3. I’m very interested in using naturally yellow beeswax for encaustic painting (I’ve only used white as yet).
    Could you tell me if you combine it with damar resin and at what ratio?
    Thank you!

    1. Hey Erin, Thanks for writing me! I do combine the wax with the damar resin to make my own encaustic medium. I have written a blog on this subject at my other site that’s focused on my encaustic painting. The address is here: http://www.karabrookart.com/2011/07/making-encaustic-medium/ Let me know how you do! Best of luck to you. Kara

  4. Do you know of any products that are comprised of the raw, beeswax caps or anyone who can sell me some caps? I would like to get some.

    1. Hi Scot, I am afraid that I don’t have any resources for caps. Your best bet is to get in touch with your local beekeeping society or association and ask there. I process my caps and use the wax in my paintings. Sorry that I can’t be of more assistance. Best, kb

  5. Kara, I recently purchased some beeswax pastilles online. I tried to make a batch of lotion bars, BUT IT SMELLS HORRIBLE! Like smoky, burnt something. My daughters hate it! I read many comments regarding other beeswax products having same issue. What gives? Is there anything I can do to reverse this?

    1. Hey Sabrina, Thanks for writing. While I don’t know what you bought, or where you bought it I can tell you that the market for pharmaceutical/cosmetic grade beeswax (which is the kind you should be using for your bar project) is having a hard time keeping up with supply and demand. The folks that I was once very happily buying from doesn’t always have what I need in stock but I really love the company and trust them as a resource.

      There are so many issues with knowing where your beeswax is coming from. For instance, I would not buy beeswax that is not from the USA. I would not buy beeswax from someone that I didn’t know or at least not know their reputation.

      I am sharing this article with you because I handle beeswax quite a bit in my painting projects and this for me was a great resource for handling wax with caution. http://www.lauratyler.com/art-blog/beeswax-and-breasts-do-you-know-whats-in-yours/

      My best advice, return the wax you bought and find a cosmetic grade supplier with a solid reputation, or get to know a local beekeeper and buy directly, and do your own “cleaning” a few times to be sure to get bee parts, etc. out. Good luck with your project!

  6. Dang! That WAS a really nice crock pot! Not so much anymore! I would suggest that you purchase your crock pot from Goodwill or Salvation Army. Anything you use for this will be only be useful in the future for processing wax. I do it in the garage as well.

    1. Shannon, I agree. Once you use the crock pot it must be designated your wax cap crock pot. The issue is, I bet it will be hard to find a crock pot that has a thermostat control with a digital display that can be incrementally set at goodwill quite yet. In fact, I have found that good will crockpots don’t have a very reliable heating element and I don’t know that it’s the best way to obtain a crock pot for wax processing. Thanks for your note!

  7. My dad was a beekeeper and rendered his own wax. Upon cleaning out his old store room I found several blocks of beeswax (approx. 50 lbs.). It is probably about 20 – 30 years old. Are there any uses for it? Is there any thing I can do with it (I don’t know how it was processed).

    1. John, If it looks good and clean, then you are likely ready to make candles! We have equipment over here that helps us in the melting process, and you have to be careful not to get it too hot, or it will be useless, or worse, it can be a fire-hazzard if it reaches the flash-point. I predict a candle-making class in your future! ;0) Thanks for writing us! It’s great to hear from you and I bet the memories are wonderful.

  8. Hi! Ok, this is a little late to the game but here goes. A few years ago a beekeeper gave me a BUCKET FULL of raw beeswax. They had no use for it the knew I would use it for lotions, etc. I covered the bucket and put it in my cellar and forgot about it. I just came across the bucket and started melting it bit by bit to get the wax clean….but am having a hard time because there is SO MUCH honey in it! I can do this in multi steps to separate the wax from the honey, but is the honey any good or should I just toss it? Thanks!!!

    1. Yes, take it in steps. Work with this wax in warm water. Use a double boiler if you can, or a makeshift one to protect wax from overheating. The wax will float to the top. Don’t over heat. If you boil wax, it’s ruined. You can’t get higher than about 165 degrees. Allow the wax that floats to the top to cool, break into pieces, use fine cheesecloth or nylon pantyhose to further filter the wax. Clean the dirty water/honey in the pot in-between steps. Throw away the cheesecloth/pantyhose between steps. That honey is not in any way edible. The remaining water and sludge is called slum-gum. Dispose of it outside somewhere. Good luck.

  9. How long can beeswax be kept frozen?

    1. For a long time.

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