What’s Wrong with My Filtered Beeswax?
Ask the Expert
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Backyard Beekeeping Reader asks: No matter how many times I filtered my beeswax, the color of the bottom side did not match the top side.
And there were bubbles on top of the wax too.
And when I tried to filter and process it again, the color changed and it absorbed water.
Kristi Cook replies:
Filtering beeswax can take a bit of trial and error as you get a feel for the process. However, with a bit of practice, you’ll be an old pro in no time. So first, let’s talk about the bubbles you’re seeing in your wax as that’s the first indicator of what is most likely the underlying cause of your multi-shaded wax.
Based on the photos, those bubbles look to be what most of us refer to as “slumgum” or sludge. Basically, it’s just bits and pieces of debris that didn’t get completely filtered out of the beeswax. This is also seen quite often in honey jars when the filtering process wasn’t quite as clean as it could have been. The debris that creates these bubbles can be so tiny that you won’t be able to see individual pieces. Basically, the sludge forms a foamy type of residue that rises to the top of either honey or cooling wax, thus creating this bubble-like appearance. Most often, it will have an off-white to tan color which is a dead giveaway that it’s slum gum. Not a big deal, and has an easy fix even in the batches you’ve already filtered. More on that shortly.
As for the multi-colored wax, most likely it’s the same issue that is causing the slumgum — incomplete filtering. Debris, even minuscule pieces of debris, will separate from the lighter yellow honey and will collect in various locations in the wax causing a darkening of wax. In your case, it appears to be collecting on the sides and possibly the bottom, leaving the light-colored wax more in the center and top, so the overall debris appears to be heavier than the lighter-colored portions of clean wax. Again, an easy fix.
The other possibility that I see for the darkened wax is that the wax may be scorching and thereby turning portions of the wax a darker color. Wax melts at around 140ºF and must be melted in a double boiler, solar wax melter, or other similar equipment that keeps the wax from becoming too hot. When using a double boiler, ensure the bottom of the pot is not resting directly on the bottom of the second pot which helps keep the wax from burning. Also, it helps to add a significant amount of water to the pot holding the wax in addition to the water in the second bottom pot. This additional water works to keep the wax from getting too hot while it melts. Any water will be separated from the wax as it cools.
However, I’d be willing to bet this darkening is debris. Simply select a much finer material to strain your wax through. I find thick paper towels to be superior to the more commonly recommended cheesecloth layers when I have wax with a lot of debris, particularly wax from the brood comb. Personally, I use paper towels even in my solar oven when melting large batches with great success. There are times I have to switch out the paper towels, though due to clogging and saturation of the paper. You can also use a very tightly woven pillowcase with great results as the finer weave captures those tiny pieces of debris with ease. So with the wax you’ve already melted and filtered, it’s a simple process of remelting and filtering again with a tighter weave.
Do keep in mind that wax that has already darkened, like brood comb or very old comb, will almost always be darker than wax cappings and wax from newer comb even after adequate filtering. However, when melting this older comb simultaneously with the lighter wax, you’ll discover the waxes simply meld together forming a well-blended, mostly uniform color throughout that entire batch, at least in my own experience.
Hope this helps! And enjoy the process and the beautiful aroma of melting wax — it’s one of my favorites.