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Filtering Beeswax

To produce candles and polishes we need clean wax (a good colour helps as well).

If we are making cosmetics for human use, or foundation for our bees then sterility is also a desirable property.

There are many ways of "cleaning" beeswax... And some of the earlier stages are dealt with on the page entitled Melting Beeswax. The rest of this document assumes that our starting point is beeswax blocks with a small amount of dark inclusions on the under surface.

Beeswax is a mixture or alloy of long chain hydrocarbons produced by the bees from carbohydrates. By the time we beekeepers come to use it, the pollen and propolis that has come into contact with it has stained it various shades of yellow through to orange. The temperature at which we process it can also affect the colour.

Temperatures should be kept low, just a few degrees above the wax melting point (63° C). say 75° C. Beeswax is permanently damaged and turns a chocolate brown colour at about 120° C. I have tried many methods to recover the original wax colour, however I have never managed to achieve anything, but a slight lightening after many repeated attempts.

Bleaching and removal/degrading of chemical residues is dealt with on the page decontaminating wax.

Steaming the wax to melt it gradually with the steam and condensed hot water coming into contact with all the wax as the melted surface runs off under the influence of gravity is a pretty good method with light wax resulting. This is described in the Syston steam melter.

I have a temperature controlled honey warming cabinet that I use instead of an oven. I use a large metal funnel (400 mm dia) with the stem filled with cotton wool. This is very slow, but gives superb quality.

Dissolving... Beeswax readily dissolves in Carbon Tetrachloride (CCl4)

A honey warming cabinet can be utilised or an electric domestic oven, providing that the thermostat can be set to about 75° C. This can be used to liquefy the wax and convenient filters may be made using empty food cans that have had both top and bottom removed using a tin opener, and any sharp edges have been hammered flat. Pierce two holes at one end just inside the rim and 180 degrees apart. Pass a piece of string through the holes to form a handle and knot the ends, These tubes of tinplate then have a filter membrane stretched over the bottom end which can be a square of surgical lint (fluffy side up) (lint used on wounds that are to be bandaged), some sorts of paper towel or "Nappy Liners" are also suitable for this process. Hold this membrane in place temporarily with a rubber band and secure firmly with twine so that it cannot leak. To use... fill each prepared tin can 'bucket' with chunks of wax broken from your large blocks that have been through the first stage of the process. Use smart blows from a hammer on a cold and frosty day to create your fragments. Repeat this about 24 times and hang the 'buckets' from one of the oven shelves or place the cans on a grid shelf in the upper part of the oven or warming cabinet with a large meat tray in the bottom portion to catch the drips of wax as it slowly melts and filters through the cloth or nappy liner. As the wax melts add fresh chunks to each bucket. The used filter pads make excellent fire lighters.

Graded Filters

The MD wax extractor

Hydrogen Peroxide
In the past dark wax has been lightened by warming the wax over water at just below boiling and then hydrogen peroxide is added, which boils forming millions of very small bubbles that rise through the molten wax. This action "wets" water soluble particles that were suspended in the wax and allows them to separate. There is also a bleaching action as the "spare" oxygen is released.

Another method used for cleaning wax is melting and admixture of "Bentonite" particles followed by filtration under pressure.

A third method that is used is filtration through a filter bed that is made of "diatomaceous earth".

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Written... August 2001, Revised... 08 February, 10 November 2002