How to Clean a Beehive Smoker

How to Clean a Beehive Smoker

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by Jessica Quinn – Mama on the Homestead  Have you noticed that your smoker isn’t working as well as it used to? Maybe it isn’t giving off much smoke or it is burning hotter than normal …  If so, it is probably past time to clean your beehive smoker. 

What is a Beehive Smoker? 

A smoker is one of the most common beekeeping tools. It is used to blow puffs of cool smoke into the hive during a hive inspection, honey extraction, and any other time a beekeeper needs to get into the hive.  

This cool, white smoke doesn’t harm the bees, but it does interfere with the communication within the hive. The smoke disrupts the bees’ ability to smell and reacting to the alarm pheromone that is released when the hive feels threatened. 

The smoke also causes the bees to think that there is a fire so they start to fill up on honey in case they have to find a new home. A full belly makes it less likely for the bees to exhibit their defensive behavior toward the beekeeper. 

Not all professional beekeepers use smokers, but I have found it to be one of my most important tools. It all comes down to the personal preference of each beekeeper. 

Why Should You Clean Your Smoker? 

Most beekeepers use natural materials as their fire starter: rotten wood, wood pellets, wood chips, wood shavings, pine needles, paper scraps, cotton smoker fuel, etc. These materials produce a cool white smoke that is safe for the bees.  

Over time, the starter material being burned inside the smoker results in thick layers of creosote on the interior walls of the smoker. 

If this creosote isn’t cleaned out, the smoker will be more difficult to use. The lid won’t open or close easily and the smoke will burn hotter and smellier which could agitate the bees instead of calming them. 

Two Ways to Clean a Beehive Smoker 

There are two common ways to clean a beehive smoker … One with fire and one with water.  

A smoker can be cleaned by soaking in a bucket of water and vinegar or by burning the creosote with a propane torch.  

You can maintain your smoker a couple of times per year with a vinegar soak and bring out the propane torch if the buildup is too much for the soak to handle. 

How to Clean a Beehive Smoker Using a Propane Torch 

This smoker cleaning method is similar to a self-cleaning oven. An oven heats up to a high temperature to turn all of the stuck-on food into ash making it easy to wipe clean. The propane torch does the same thing to the creosote inside of the beehive smoker.  

4 Steps to Clean a Smoker with Fire: 

  1. Scrape the Hardened Creosote 

First, you will need to scrape the loose creosote out of the inside of the smoker. To do this, use a scraping tool such as a stainless steel wire brush, a flat-head screwdriver, or a hive tool. 

  1. Burn to Ash 

The next step is to use your propane torch to heat up the remaining creosote. Burn the inside of the smoker body (fire chamber) and the lid for about one to two minutes. This will turn the rest of the creosote into ash making it easy to scrape out.  

  1. Cool the Metal 

Let the hot smoker cool off before you pick it up to finish cleaning. After burning the creosote, the metal will be very hot. 

  1. Scrape and Wipe  

After the metal has cooled, use your scraping tool to scrape the sides of the smoker once more. Then use a wet cloth to wipe it out.  

How to Clean a Beehive Smoker Using a Vinegar Soak 

3 Steps to Clean a Smoker with Water: 

  1. Scrape the Hardened Creosote 

First, you will need to scrape the loose creosote out of the inside of the smoker. To do this, use a scraping tool such as a stainless steel wire brush, a flat-head screwdriver, or a hive tool. 

  1. Soak in Vinegar Solution 

Gather a bucket (a 5-gallon bucket or a mop bucket will work), white vinegar, warm/hot water, and some twine.  

Pour one cup of white vinegar into the bottom of the bucket. Fill the rest of the bucket with warm water. Remove the grate from the bottom of the smoker and put it in the vinegar solution. 

Tie a piece of twine around the smoker’s handle or heat shield and the other end to the bucket. Do this on each side to keep the bellows above water level.   

You will also want to tape off the air tube to keep water from entering the bellows. You could also remove the bellows if you prefer. You can do this by removing the screws that connect the bellows to the smoker body.  

Soak your beehive smoker and the grate in the vinegar solution for eight to 10 hours. 

  1. Wipe Clean 

After eight to 10 hours of soaking, use a rag to wipe the softened creosote out of the smoker. Most of the soot will come out easily, however, you may need to scrape a little bit. Also, some soot stains are bound to stick, so don’t worry about trying to make your smoker look new.  

JESSICA QUINN is a single mother of five who is building a homestead from scratch in West Tennesse. She has over 15 years of experience in the garden, raising livestock, and keeping honey bees. Jessica is also the face behind Mama on the Homestead and The Homestead Management Binder. 

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