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Cleaning Bee Equipment: 6 Tips to Do It Right (and How Often You Should)

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10 Tips for Cleaning Your Beekeeping Equipment

Did you know that there are three different types of bees in a hive? There is only one queen, drones, and a bunch of worker bees. Also, were you aware that a drone is nothing more than an unfertilized egg? Bees are fascinating creatures, aren’t they?

So if you are a beekeeper, I can understand why. I am a ‘beekeeping assistant.’ I say that jokingly because I do get in there with my husband. But he is really fascinated by them which means I don’t get as much hands on time with them.

Either way, I do get a lot of up close and personal time with cleaning our gear. Which led me to wonder if everyone knew how easy it is to maintain your beekeeping gear?

The gear for beekeeping can be quite an investment. So taking a few moments to care for it should definitely make the list of priorities.

Here is how you keep your beekeeping gear clean:

1. Take Care of That Suit

When you buy a bee suit, you are making an investment. If you take care of it, it should last. You’ll begin caring for it by reading the instructions. My husband has gone through quite a few different suits (he is 6’8” so it took us a while to find one that fit him just right.)

So believe me when I tell you, they can get expensive. But after I got over the sticker shock of the one that did fit him, I began to baby it because I didn’t want to have to pay for another one any time soon.

His can be machine washed. He has one of those ventilated suits. We love it because they breathe so he doesn’t get nearly as hot.

Plus, he hasn’t been stung since he got it. I haven’t broken down and made the investment for a ventilated suit for myself as of yet, but I see it coming in the near future.

So I just toss his in the washing machine. However, because I am afraid of it shrinking, we do line dry it.

But again, it is best if you just follow the instructions on the tag. It might tell you to machine wash it cold or even to hand wash it. Since most suits are cotton material, they should be pretty durable.

2. The Veil is Your Shield

Photo by Bee Basic LTD

Photo by Bee Basic LTD

Your veil needs to be very well cared for because it is your shield between the bees and their stingers.

Plus, the veil catches most of the sweat because of the heat and your head being covered.

So I hand wash the veils. The reason is I don’t want anything to happen to it in the washer and me not notice until we are knee deep in bees.

Which means, I just put a little soap and warm water in the sink and let it soak. I gently rub the material together to work any dirt out.

Then I let it line dry so nothing happens to the material in the dryer.

3. The Smoker Needs Attention

Photo by Pop's Shack

Photo by Pop's Shack

The smoker is a very important tool. You put pine needles or other material inside of it and set them on fire. This creates smoke which in turn makes the bees go the opposite direction of the smoke. The idea is to keep you from getting stung.

So you’ll want to take care of it (though thankfully, most of them are not very expensive.) You’ll do this by cleaning out any left over burnt material out of the smoker. Please be sure to wait until the smoker and the material within it has cooled completely.

Then you’ll want to take some warm water (and maybe a little soap if the burnt residue is being stubborn) and wash it out with a sponge or soft cloth.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that the smoker is completely dry before putting it away to keep any discoloration from happening.

Again, this is just a generalization. When you buy your smoker check the specific cleaning guidelines in case it is made with a different material than ours.

4. Your Hive Tool is Key

Your hive tool is key to beekeeping. If you don’t have one you will have one difficult time trying to go through your bees.

However, with that, the hive tool gets all kinds of bee material on it from propolis to honey. So it needs to be cleaned every now and then.

If you have a metal hive tool (which our hive tools are) you can throw it in the dishwasher if you are in a hurry, or you can simply wash it with soap, warm water, and a cloth.

Again, this is just to get all of the bee material off and prolong the life of your hive tool. Hive tools aren’t particularly expensive but every little bit saved helps.

Plus, I just like working with clean gear.

5. Take Care of the Honey Extractor Every Time

We don’t have our own personal honey extractor. The same wonderful couple that got us into bees allow us to use their honey extractor every time we need to. We are very fortunate.

But with every use we make sure the extractor is cleaned up. Otherwise you have a big, goopy mess on your hands that will only get worse with time.

So hosing the extractor down with warm water is usually the best route to take. Then you can wipe it down with a soapy wash cloth and rinse it thoroughly to get all of the honey and residue off of it.

However, let me share with you what will happen if you don’t clean up old honey. In case you all haven’t gathered by now, I’m super clean, but my husband and boys aren’t the cleanest in the world.

So my husband had cut some honeycomb out of a hive that was in someone’s yard, and they didn’t want it there. We brought the bees home with us and gave them a new place to live where they were definitely wanted.

Well, he put this comb in a pot and set it out on the back porch. I didn’t make the trip with him when he did this so I didn’t know it was there. A few months go by ( I was a little busy apparently) and I finally stop to see what is in this pot I had walked by a million times.

Much to my surprise, it was filled with comb, honey, and lots of nasty bugs that had set up shop in there. That pot got the scrubbing of its life!

So I told you that to simply remind you anytime there is honey it will draw other bugs because it’s sweet and it’s food. Honey extractors are not cheap so be sure to take care of it.

6. You Can’t Close Up the Bees Without Caring for the Hive Boxes

Photo by Wired.com

Photo by Wired.com

This is the final step we take in cleaning our bee gear each year. I won’t roll into winter without doing it because it will wreck your hives for the upcoming year.

So before you put your bees to bed for the winter, it is important to go through all of your leftover hive boxes and frames. You’ll have some left because the hives shrink before going into winter.

Well, you will need to gather all of your hive bodies, frames, and leave the comb in it from the present year.

Then you’ll place them inside a mattress cover with moth crystals in them. This is what they call ‘the gas chamber.’ It sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Well, it isn’t. Really it just keeps wax moths out of your hives. Do not use moth balls because it is too strong and will turn the bees off of your equipment.

However, the moth crystals do a fine job. Just be sure to let your equipment air out for a day or two the following year before you use it again.

How Often Should I Clean My Gear?

I’ve covered how to clean your equipment, but how often should you do this? It depends upon you and the equipment really.

1. The Bee Suit

You can get away with cleaning the bee suit every 3-4 uses. In reality, I guess it depends upon how dirty your suit gets when you work with your bees.

Plus, it depends upon how much you sweat. Also, consider how you feel about putting it on each time.

Now, my husband is the type that he could care less how clean it is. He’ll wear it until I snatch it from him and refuse to let him wear it until it’s clean again.

Granted, you do wear clothing under the suit so I can kind of see his point.

However, for me, I prefer to wash mine every use or two. So it is personal preference. And for the people out there like my husband, try to be patient if you have loved ones around you like me. We only wash everything to death because we care.

2. The Veil

I would wash the veil as frequently as I wash the suit. I understand it gets nastier faster probably because you can’t help but sweat a lot in your face when working with bees, and you don’t have layers of clothing between the veil and your sweat.

So if you feel like it needs to be washed after every use, since it is being hand washed, I don’t think it would hurt much. You’ll know if you’re over washing items because the fibers will start to wear out. Just keep an eye out for that.

3. Your Tools

The hive tool and smoker need to be washed on an ‘as needed’ basis. You’ll know when they need it.

But again, it will be based around your personal preferences. I’m the type that doesn’t like to work with a lot of left over material on my tools.

However, my husband could care less. So it’s up to you.

4. The Hives

You all can breathe a sigh of relief. I’m not going to tell you I wash our hives every time we’re done with them (though you were probably expecting it, weren’t you?)

No, instead, you only put them in the ‘gas chamber’ once a year and that is at the very end of the season. There is no need to do anything besides just clean up the propolis on the hives in between uses during the same season.

But I do recommend storing your bee equipment where it has plenty of shelter. Make sure it is in a building, a barn (we actually store our equipment in our pole barn), or if you don’t have room for it just yet make sure it has a tarp over it to protect it from the elements. This will help with the longevity of your equipment for sure.

Well, I really hope that this information will help you all to protect your bee equipment. As I said, it is quite the investment so it needs to be taken care of.

But I want to hear from you. How do you clean your beekeeping equipment? Do you have any special tricks to getting things super clean and sanitized?

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