Why Filter Beeswax?
Here’s a question we don’t get asked often enough. Why bother with filtering your own wax? Commercially filtered beeswax is a thing already, why go the extra mile? Well, curious reader, I’ll tell you.
Why filter at all?
This is a step that you really can’t skip. Because beeswax is being used constantly by the bees, the wax is going to get dirty and stained. Think of all the bee foot gunk in your Khala Cloth if we didn’t filter it first – hundreds of little insect feet pitter pattering over the wax. There are areas of the hive that get dirtier than others, like the wax used to house larvae (which get coated continually in propolis, or ‘bee glue’). Add in the plant and bark bits, the sticky but wonderfully sweet mess that is honey... If all of that gets mixed into the beeswax, well, then it wouldn’t make a very useful wax. That’s why it must be filtered first.
What part of the honeycomb is getting used?
Beekeeper’s choice! Most beekeepers are maintaining hives for both their honey and their wax, so harvesting one will change how you harvest the other. In the minimally invasive method of harvesting honey, the caps of the honeycomb are cut off for easy access and pouring. These caps are usually the lightest in color, as they haven’t been stained with use yet. The wax and honey yield aren’t going to be high, but that might not be the point for a small producer.
To get all that you can get though, beekeepers can choose to crush the entire honeycomb structure using a press, which will get all the honey out. The wax from this processing ends up taking from areas all over the hive, including more stained parts of the hive, like the wax used to raise larvae; the color will be darker because of this. This method is more invasive, but high yield. It just depends on what scale the beekeeper needs honey and beeswax.
Wait, isn’t beeswax color a signifier of quality?
That’s actually not true! The importance of the wax color is arbitrary. That’s not to say that the color of the beeswax isn’t desirable, but it is more or less important depending on the intended application. If you were trying to make a colored lip balm, you’d want the lightest beeswax color you could get so the color of the final product isn’t competing with the yellow undertones of a standard beeswax. Unless you’re getting the wax directly from the bee before it’s used in the hive, there’s no way you’re getting a light enough wax for applications like that. In this case, beeswax must be bleached.
Just like a brunette to a blonde, yes. There are a couple of ways to do that, one of which is chemical processing to remove the golden hue. On a smaller scale, beeswax can be bleached with UV light (literally put a pan of it in the sun, and make sure it’s not getting dust in it).
Does Khala bleach its beeswax?
When applying beeswax to a re-usable Khala Cloth, cleanliness is the most important thing to us. Bleaching would be a choice based purely on aesthetics then, and we don’t feel there’s a need to alter the wax more than absolutely necessary, so bleaching it is not in the cards. Besides the golden color lends a bit of a sepia tone to the finished wrap, which is pretty neat!
But wait… why do you filter your wax again if the beekeeper already filtered it? Wouldn’t it be easier to just skip that extra step?
The beekeeper starts off the process by getting the honey and any big detritus out of the wax, but there’s still gunk in there like excess propolis and pollen particles that have to go. Not to mention, we still need to mix in a few other ingredients to make our signature, award winning beeswax blend. Some of those ingredients, like tree resin, has bits and pieces in there too. So even if we were to buy commercially processed beeswax, pure and perfectly filtered, once we mix everything together it would need to get filtered again anyways! Below is a picture of the beeswax filtering cloth after use - not very pretty.
If that wasn’t reason enough, when we filter in house, we have more control over the temperature and process, all of which are important to preserving any anti-bacterial properties that the beeswax has (you can read more about that over here). It’s also great to establish a relationship with another local business, where we know the beekeeper and the area the bees are gathering pollen from – we get to support our local economy that way, and support another entrepreneur. There really are more reasons to do it in house than there are reasons to buy it from someone else.
Hopefully this gives you a peak at our thought process - every little detail matters when it comes to making a sustainable and high-quality wax wrap, we love to gush about the intricacies of making them! If nothing else, hopefully you learned something new about beeswax.
For the nerds, your party fact for this week is: The slurry of detritus removed from beeswax during the filtering process is called “slumgum”.