Solar Bleaching Beeswax: The Safest Method for Lighter Wax
How to Lighten Beeswax — Reader-Suggested Story
Reading Time: 4 minutes
The practice of bleaching beeswax has been around for thousands of years. And while modern science has developed various chemical processes to lighten beeswax, most of these methods are beyond the ability of most beekeepers. Solar bleaching, on the other hand, has been around for thousands of years and is still the most common and safest method of bleaching wax with a negligible learning curve, promising a lighter wax on your first attempt with just a few steps to keep in mind.
On my very first attempt at bleaching beeswax, I discovered a thing or two to help with the process, but overall, I discovered just how simple this process really is.
+ First, the lightest end product comes from the wax cappings removed during the extraction process with the final product very closely resembling the whiteness of virgin wax.
+ The second-best end product came from the entire frame of this year’s beeswax found in the honey supers where brood had never been raised. As the wax darkened through various seasons of honey collection and/or brood rearing, the bleaching process became less satisfactory when compared to first season honey super beeswax. However, in all but the most severely darkened wax, when prepared properly, all of the waxes experienced bleaching.
Regardless of the specific wax used, the best results are achieved only when the wax is cleaned and filtered properly. Any residual slum gum or other contaminants remaining in the wax will prevent the wax from achieving its lightest possible color. For this reason, it’s advisable to learn how to properly filter your wax and to do so as many times as needed to produce the highest quality of bleached beeswax possible, especially if the finished product is intended for sale.
Once the wax is filtered, cut it into chunks or grate into flakes. Chunks of beeswax bleach quite well provided the sun’s rays are at their strongest and there’s enough time to allow for a longer bleaching process. The disadvantage to chunks of any size is the inability of the sun to penetrate deeply into the wax. Depending on how thick and how dark the chunks are, the inside may have experienced little to no bleaching. If this happens, you can either melt the chunks down to distribute the bleached portions evenly amongst the darker wax to produce a lighter, creamy color, or cut the chunks down further to allow more surface area to be reached by the sun for the next few days for a second round of bleaching. Repeat this process until the wax has achieved the desired effect or it no longer shows improvement.
On the other hand, if you’d like a speedy process or simply don’t have a lot of strong sunlight, grating the filtered beeswax into little pieces will be required. This produced the whitest wax for me when I used cappings wax and is my preferred method for bleaching my own beeswax. I have also found that even the autumn sunlight in my area is strong enough to thoroughly bleach the wax provided it is finely grated, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t have what you think of as strong sunlight. Give it a try anyway and take notes as to what works and what doesn’t in your area.
The set up for solar bleaching is as simple or as complex as you’d like to make it. I’ve used an old cookie sheet, an uncapping tank, a hive body lid, and my solar wax melter with the lid left open as various containers for the wax. All work quite well and produce bleached wax within a week or two as late as October. However, my favorite for small batches is the cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. The wax on the foil bleaches within a matter of days, making the process extremely fast. For larger batches, a larger container such as the uncapping tank or the solar wax melter (with the lid left open to prevent melting) or a plastic tote, all lined in aluminum foil will hold several pounds of wax, thus shortening the overall process if a lot of wax needs to bleached.
One note to remember when setting up your system is the low melting point of beeswax at 143-147ºF. The key here is to bleach the wax, not to melt it. As such, during the heat of summer provide some shade in the form of netting or a light, airy cloth laid upon the wax. Also, don’t forget the wax sitting outside when a rainstorm comes. If it’s a heavy rain, wax may float out of the container, resulting in lost wax. (Don’t ask me how I know this—twice.)
After the bleaching process has ended, store your wax until ready to use. Depending on how you plan to use your beeswax, you may find you need to alter your storage plan. For instance, if you intend to use your bleached beeswax in cosmetics that require small amounts of wax, storing the wax in flakes will make melting the wax down much simpler. If, however, you plan to make candles or sell blocks of bleached beeswax, chunks, and blocks may suit the situation better.
When storing beeswax, whether bleached or not, be aware that beeswax does “bloom,” meaning a white frosty look may appear over time to the outside of the bars or end products. This is a harmless collection of oils within the beeswax that simply migrates to the surface and appears to dust the outside with a white, powdery substance. This bloom may take months or even a year or longer to appear, but the product is left entirely unaffected by the bloom. To remove, simply rub the wax with a soft cloth or very gently apply light heat to the wax. Once removed, bloom will often take several months to a year or longer to return.
Discovering how to bleach beeswax opens up new avenues for using your beeswax. Now, you can make beeswax candles in both the traditional yellow hue as well as in white or cream. Beeswax based creams, soaps and other cosmetics may be colored with lighter pigments more readily. And as an added bonus, if selling beeswax, you can now offer various price points with bleached wax demanding higher prices than traditionally colored wax.
As with all things honey bee related, learning to bleach your own beeswax is both a fun skill and a skill worth having as you grow with your bees.
Now the next question is, what will you learn next?