For centuries, civilizations in all parts of the world use beeswax for various reasons. It has remarkable properties, making it extremely versatile. One of its most notable characteristics is that it virtually never decomposes without the help of other substances.
While it can be an advantage, beeswax is a hydrophobic substance, meaning it repels water, so it’s not that easy to decompose. So, how can you decompose beeswax?
Beeswax won’t decompose on its own, neither will it dissolve in water. You’ll have to use organic solvents to dissolve it, such as acetone, benzene, ether, or xylol. However, many of those substances aren’t safe for human use, so you need to be careful.
There’s a lot of misconceptions about beeswax and what it is. And, if you don’t know what it is, you can’t possibly know how to use it properly. Here’s everything you need to know about beeswax: what it is, how it decomposes, how to dissolve it, ways to use it, what’s the difference between honey and beeswax, and more.
What is beeswax?
Beeswax is a natural wax compound that’s a byproduct of a bee’s everyday life. Worker bees have glands that produce beeswax, which is then formed into combs, scales, and other formations in a beehive. It’s a clear substance when it’s freshly produced, turning white to yellow, light brown to brown in the end.
The color change is influenced primarily by honey, propolis, and pollen stored inside the combs. The species of the bees and the type of flowers they used also influence the properties and type of beeswax. For instance, honeycomb beeswax is less exposed to pollutants and impurities than brood combs (combs where eggs are laid in to grow and produce offspring), so it remains lighter in color. It’s also more elastic and easier to mold.
As I mentioned, worker bees produce the wax and then use it to make combs and other hive structures. It’s an incredibly light but sturdy material with plastic-like properties when it’s heated to around 30-35 degrees Celsius (which is approximately the working temperature of a regular beehive.
There are several comb types that the worker bees make using beeswax. However, the most distinct difference is between the two: honeycombs and brood combs.
Honeycombs are the most common type that takes the highest volume of the hive. Bees use these combs to story honey within them in a safe manner. Bees use honey just like humans do. They use it for food, but they like to store it for the winter months when they tend to stay in the hive and not leave at all.
The species of the bees and the size of the beehive will determine how much honey the wax can hold in. Some research suggests that a kilogram of beeswax formed in a comb-shaped manner can store between 22 and 30 kilograms of honey.
Worker bees use honey stored in their fat cells and metabolize it in their wax glands to produce beeswax. It is unsure how much honey is used to produce the wax, but it’s believed that a kilogram of wax is produced from at least six kilograms of honey.
The other type of wax combs in a beehive are the brood combs. Brood combs are very similar to honeycombs, only they don’t store honey but rather eggs. The queen bee lays eggs inside the brood combs, where offspring starts its life. The entire colony takes care of the brood and raises it.
Every hive has many brood combs because a single queen bee can lay up to 2000 eggs in a day during the summer. Each new bee remains in the comb for three weeks before developing into a young bee.
You can easily distinguish honeycombs from brood combs with your naked eye. Brood combs tend to be a lot darker, as more impurities come in contact with the beeswax, along with more propolis, pollen, etc.
Physical properties of beeswax
Beeswax is a solid substance at room temperature, with color going from white to brown. It’s a tough wax but very light. Many chemical compounds make beeswax, and the exact formula depends on the species and the type of wax. However, the three main elements creating it are carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, as with all other organic matter.
The melting point is relatively low, at around 63 degrees Celsius, while heating it above 85 causes discoloration. Also, beeswax burns cleanly and brightly, which is why people have used it for candles for centuries, even millenniums.
It’s a hydrophobic substance, which means it repels water rather than absorbing it. That’s why it’s great for preventing decomposition and mold, but we’ll get into that a bit later.
Does beeswax dissolve?
All organic compounds contain carbon, and they are very prone to decomposition and dissolving in water. However, beeswax is quite different. It will never dissolve, rot, or decompose under normal conditions (without the help of another substance), even though it’s an organic substance. There’s a good explanation of why that’s the case.
Decomposition usually happens due to bacteria, air, and water. However, beeswax isn’t viable for the bacteria cultures and is highly hydrophobic, so it actually prevents decomposition instead of decomposing itself. Ancient Egyptians realized that too, which is why they used beeswax in the embalming process to keep corpses from decomposing.
It also doesn’t dissolve in water, which is logical considering that bees use it as a structural material in their beehives. Imagine a hive made out of a material that easily dissolves in water. It wouldn’t survive the first rainfall, right?
All these characteristics are great for some beeswax uses, but it can be really tricky for others. For instance, if you wish to extract beeswax from a natural beehive, it will be quite difficult to achieve without disturbing or harming the bees or destroying the integrity of the hive. That’s why you shouldn’t extract it from natural hives.
Beekeepers make it easier by providing frames for the bees to create wax combs on. One frame can contain around 100 grams of beeswax on average, depending on the size of the frame. That way, the bees have a safe place to create their hive, while it’s a lot easier to simply take the frame out of the slot and extract honey and wax for the beekeeper.
Before getting to the wax, though, you need to separate it from the honey first. The best way to do it is to simply let the honey drain after taking the frame out of the hive. After it’s drained, you can extract the beeswax and place the frame back in the hive, only to repeat the process when it’s ready again.
It can also get tricky to dissolve beeswax if you’re using it on your body. As it can’t dissolve in water, but rather other organic solvents, it’s not that easy to remove, especially because most of the compounds that can dissolve beeswax are harmful to humans.
For instance, some people use beeswax to make dreadlocks. While it is a better solution than the infamous “burning,” it can be quite difficult to get the wax out of your hair without having to cut it off. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that dissolving beeswax is impossible. Let’s take a look at how you can do it.
Best ways to dissolve beeswax
There are ways to dissolve beeswax, but they all require either heat or an additional chemical substance. Beeswax dissolves in organic solvents, but you should be careful when using them, as some of them are quite strong chemicals that you should handle with care.
The only way to dissolve beeswax completely, though, is with heat. You need to expose it to temperatures that exceed its melting point (around 63 degrees Celsius). As I mentioned, beeswax burns clean and bright, and exposing it to such heats will completely dissolve it.
However, that might not be possible in some cases. For instance, the excessive heat might harm the surface where the wax is on, be it your body or something else. That’s when chemical solvents come into play. I want to stress once again that you should be careful when using them because they can be quite harmful.
Beeswax is often used in lip balms or depilation strips. If you’re using it on your body and wish to dissolve it right there for some reason, using acetone can help you. It will also dissolve in chloroform, benzene, xylol, and tetrachloromethane. Classic paint thinner, also known as turpentine, might also work.
Some natural oils and ointments have the properties to dissolve beeswax too, but not completely, only to a degree where it loses its room-temperature properties.
Frequently asked questions about beeswax?
There are still some misconceptions about what beeswax is and how it is produced. Namely, people either believe it’s the same thing as honey, or they believe it’s bee poop. However, neither of those claims is true. Let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions about beeswax.
Is beeswax the same thing as honey?
While one can’t exist without the other, beeswax and honey are not the same thing. In fact, bees use honey to produce beeswax, and they are two completely different products. Beekeepers harvest both, but for bees, they serve a completely different purpose.
Worker bees have special wax glands in their abdominal area. They use honey to refine it inside their wax glands and then secrete the wax into the hive. Then they mold the wax into combs, which are then used to store extra honey supplies, lay eggs, spawn offspring, and more.
You can say that beeswax is the side-product, while honey is the main reason why bees create beeswax in the first place. They consume honey as food and store extra supplies inside the combs for the winter months. Both are essential for the life of the hive, but not the same in any way.
Although bees also secrete honey from their bodies, the two aren’t the same thing, neither texture-wise nor function-wise. However, the fact that bees extricate honey and wax from their bodies, another misconception is born, and that’s the belief that these substances are bee poop.
Is beeswax bee feces?
People believe that beeswax is actually bee poop because the bees secrete it out of their bodies. The same thing goes for honey, except they say that bees throw up digested pollen and nectar to create it. However, that’s simply not true, as the bee’s main digestive tract, including bowels and feces, are entirely separated.
It’s easy to see why some people believe that it’s the same thing. Bees secrete beeswax from their bodies as a byproduct of digestion. It’s virtually what your bowels do, too, but feces are completely different from wax. Bees poop, too, and there’s a lot of documented info about it, too.
Bee feces is sticky, yellow, and completely separated from the wax. You can sometimes find it around the hive and very rare inside, as bees like to keep their hive clean and up to a high standard. Also, having another substance in the hive might damage its integrity, so bees tend to do their business outside of the hive.
You’ll often be able to find bee poop around the hive in late spring and early summer when the colony moves outside the hive the most. During the winter months, bees can hold their bowel movements for months to prevent damaging the integrity of the hive by pooping inside and avoiding leaving the hive in the cold weather.
Is the beeswax edible?
While it might not be as tasty as honey, nor would you enjoy the texture, beeswax is edible. It’s a non-toxic compound just like honey, and your digestive system would be able to digest it without a problem.
Remember, even though you couldn’t dissolve it in water, beeswax is still an organic compound. It is a mixture of over 280 compounds, mostly enzymes, long-chained alkanes, acids, and esters. Be that as it may, it’s still formulated from only three stable elements: hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon.
Note that wax doesn’t have to be in the comb form to be harvested or consumed. It can be melted, pressed, and many other things, making it highly adjustable and usable, even in the kitchen.
One of the most well-known edible recipes containing beeswax is Caneles, French pastries that are extremely delicious and sweet, mainly consumed as a dessert. The molds for the pastry are coated with beeswax and butter and then frozen before use. It allows the pastry to gain a crusty, sweet exterior when baked while staying puffy and custardy on the inside.
Can beeswax rot?
As I mentioned, beeswax repels water and is great at keeping bacteria away. When you combine those two things, you can conclude that beeswax doesn’t ever naturally rot or decompose, even though it’s an organic compound.
Decomposing mainly happens because of bacteria or mold. However, both need hydrophilic surfaces to live, either because they need hydration or to absorb oxygen from the moisture. Due to beeswax being highly water-repellent, mold and rot can’t develop due to the lack of moisture.
That’s why beeswax cannot rot or become moldy, like another food can. It will never “decompose” as a forgotten piece of meat in your refrigerator. It can decompose in other ways, either by melting or using a solvent, but it won’t ever naturally rot or get moldy.
8 ways to use beeswax
You probably figured out already that beeswax is a highly versatile substance that we can use in many ways. It’s been in human use for thousands of years. As we progress and technology advances, we’re figuring out more ways to keep using it as an ecologically friendly solution to many of our problems. Here are some of the best ways we can use beeswax.
1. Making beeswax candles
Beeswax candles have been around virtually since the first great civilizations. There are records of ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and even the Persians using beeswax for candlemaking. Unlike other types of wax, beeswax candles burn a lot cleaner and brighter. They also burn longer and have little to no effect on the environment, making it an incredible option.
Mixing it with other ingredients, such as aromatic or essential oils, makes perfect natural scented candles to make any room comfortable. It’s quite simple to make candles out of beeswax, too.
I’m not going to lie – making your beeswax candles will probably cost about the same as going to the store and buying them, but making them yourself is a very fulfilling experience that many love using as therapy. Plus, you get to control what ingredients go into your candles, making it easier to make the scents suit your desires.
2. Polishing surfaces and furniture
Beeswax is often used to refresh old furniture or protect a new one. It’s a non-toxic, non-corrosive compound that works on virtually any material – wood, leather, textile, whatever. Making furniture polish out of beeswax is also simple, but you can find it in stores too, if you don’t feel like making it alone.
Polishing your furniture with beeswax polish will give them a new shine and a smooth surface, straightening all the scratches or small indentations. If you want to make it yourself, you need only a few ingredients.
First, slowly heat and melt beeswax and coconut oil in a one-to-three ratio. After it completely melts, leave it to cool down and go hard. It should be textured as a balm. Next, take a piece of clean cloth, dip it into the polish, and rub it onto the furniture you wish to polish.
After you put a nice layer of polish onto the furniture, take another clean cloth and remove the excess residue, and you’re all done!
3. Making natural lip balm
Beeswax has many health benefits, and one of the most well-known benefits is the soft-tissue repair capabilities. That’s why many lip balms have beeswax as one of the main ingredients. Not only does it provide a great texture to the balm, but it also helps to keep water molecules from evaporating through skin pores and repairs damaged tissue.
Even factory-made cosmetics use beeswax, but you can make your lip balm at home, too. There are tons of DIY beeswax lip balm recipes online, but you can virtually add any ingredient you like, depending on the scent, taste, or benefits for your health. You’ll need some sort of natural oil, though, such as coconut oil, shea oil, etc.
4. Embalming and keeping organic matter from decomposing
One of the first civilizations to discover how beeswax can slow down – even prevent decomposition, was the ancient Egyptians. They used beeswax as an ingredient for their embalming of the dead, keeping their bodies from decomposing over time.
That’s a bit of a morbid example, but beeswax works this way with other organic matter, too, especially foods such as fruits and veggies. Keep in mind that beeswax is 100% edible, and it can help prolong the life of fruits and other food.
A nice, thin layer of beeswax around an apple can keep it from rotting and molding for at least twice as long, if not more, depending on the conditions where the apple is stored (temperature, moisture, etc.)
5. Shoe polish and waterproof coating
One of my favorite uses for beeswax is shoe polish and waterproof coating. The process of making shoe polish from beeswax is highly similar to making furniture polish. You’ll need a couple of ingredients, but it’s very simple if you have natural beeswax at hand.
It will keep your shoes protected and shiny, even if they were slightly damaged before you applied the polish. It will make them look newer and better. But, what’s even better, it will protect them from all external influences, including rain.
I’ve mentioned numerous times how beeswax repels water. Well, it comes in quite handy when you use it as shoe polish because it will also provide you with a waterproof coating for your shoes.
6. Eco-friendly replacement for plastic
Remember how I told you that beeswax obtains similar properties to plastics when heated to around 30-35 degrees Celsius? Adding a few more natural ingredients can make those properties last, making beeswax an excellent eco-friendly solution to replace plastic soon.
Plastic is terrible for the planet, and using plastic bags pollutes our Mother Earth more than you can even imagine. Turning to a more sustainable, eco-friendly solution can help save our planet from unnecessary harm.
Making your beeswax wraps can be the first step towards that goal. It’s handy, but it will also keep your food fresh, unlike any other plastic wrap you can buy. It’s washable, and reusable too, making it even better to use daily. All you need is some cotton, some beeswax, and a few other natural ingredients like vegetable oils, etc.
If you don’t feel like making one yourself, you can buy one online and replace those horrible plastic wraps once and for all.
7. Make body butter
Just as it works great for your lips, it also works great for your body. While beeswax body butter doesn’t have hydrating characteristics itself, it’s great at keeping water inside your cells, making your skin beautifully hydrated, fresh, supple, and elastic.
Many store-bought body butters and lotions use beeswax as one of the main ingredients due to its natural ability to lock in moisture, but making it yourself is easier than it seems, too.
8. Make safe crayons
If you’re anything like me, you got kids that love to draw stuff with crayons. However, they also love putting everything they can find in their mouth, which makes it tricky to leave them playing with crayons while I’m not there to keep a close eye on them. Enter – beeswax crayons.
First of all, it can be incredibly fun to turn it into a fun family activity and make crayons together with your kids. It’ll make them feel like they accomplished something and enjoy their crayons even more. Plus, you won’t have to worry if they swallow a piece – beeswax is safe to eat, making it perfect for smaller children.
Secondly, it’s not even hard to make crayons out of beeswax. Mix a one-to-one ratio of beeswax and hard soap shavings and slowly melt them together. Once they completely melt, pour them into crayon molds.
Add a few drops of food coloring into each mode. The quantity of the food coloring will determine the crayon shade, while the color of the food coloring drop will determine the primary color.
9. Keep tools and metal objects from rusting
Adding a small layer of beeswax on metal surfaces will prevent the metal from reacting with the oxygen in the air, which will ultimately prevent the surface from rusting. You can use it on your tools, outdoor furniture, and any other metal surface that is prone to rust.