Saturday, 18 January 2014

Purifying beeswax collected during honey processing

The only good thing about the recent Melbourne heatwave is that it presented a perfect opportunity to try out the low impact, solar method for purifying beeswax.

We use the 'crush and strain' method for processing our honey. It's a simple, low-cost, and low-tech method that's well suited to those with a small number of hives. You can read about the honey harvesting process we use here, here and here. At the end of this process we're left with the wax from the honeycomb. In order to be able to use this wax for other purposes such as candles or cosmetics, it needs to be purified. The picture below shows the gunk stuck to the wax after it had come out of the oven and cooled down:

We first tried using a double boiler on the stove to clean the wax. This is shown in the picture below. The wax is put in a heat proof dish with water and then placed on top of a saucepan containing boiling water.

the double boiler process in action

As the wax melts you need to scoop the impurities out. Once the you've scooped them all out, turn off the heat and let the wax cool.  The end result is a disc of wax floating on the water in the bowl.  With this method there's a reasonable amount of time and effort required standing in front of the stove keeping an eye on things. We found it pretty hard to get all the impurities out. At the end of the process our wax still contained some gunk as you can see below.

upper side of wax

underside of the wax

A much easier, low-impact way of cleaning the wax is to use a solar extraction method.  This is simple to do and only requires some very basic equipment.

You'll need the following:

- a polystyrene broccoli box (free from the green grocer)
- a sheet of glass that covers the whole top of the box
- a stainless steel strainer
- 2 sheets of paper towel
- a pyrex (or similar) ovenproof vessel with some water in it.

the equipment required (the sheet of glass is resting against table in foreground)

Wait for a warm day and set up your system. Layer the 2 sheets of paper towel in the strainer and place the wax in it. Break the wax up into pieces as required. The wax must be dry as you don't want the paper towel to get wet.

Sit the strainer holding the wax over the oven-proof vessel containing the water. Our oven-proof vessel wasn't deep enough to rest the strainer directly on it, so we had to improvise. We used 2 metal tins to suspend the strainer above the vessel.  (If you find you have to do this, select something that won't melt as it could get quite hot inside the box)

Our improvised set up before it went into the box

Place the lot in the polystyrene box and top with the glass.  You'll notice in the picture below that we've used a brick to make sure the supporting tins didn't move.

Leave the box out in the sun and let the sun do it's thing.  The paper towel will catch any impurities as the wax melts through it.  That's it - easy, huh?

So how well did it work?  The results speak for themselves as you can see below.

some hours later

When the glass is removed you can see the paper towel has done an excellent job of filtering the impurities.

 the impurities left behind

Here's the result - lovely, pure liquid wax:

The purified liquid wax

And here's what it looks like after it has cooled down and solidified:


Lo and behold, the final product:

As you can see you're left with a beautiful clean disc of wax. The whole process couldn't have been easier.  All it took was a few minutes to set up and the energy for the process was supplied free from the sun. I know how we'll be cleaning our beeswax in the future :)

The technique worked just as well for all the bits of wax scrapings left from cleaning frames,  the burr comb from the top of frames etc, all of which contained a lot more impurities. It's worth collecting those little bits and pieces as we found they really add up when it comes to how much wax you can extract from them.

We came across this method from the lovely folk that run the Collingwood Children's Farm Apiary (thanks Barry!)


  1. Maree, this is great indeed! Congratulations.

    1. Thanks Andrew - we thought it was worth sharing since it worked so well :)

  2. Maree, many thanks for taking the time to post this: I really like it and it looks fool proof!