This year I had the opportunity to get into beekeeping. I was able to get a lot of used equipment from a neighbor who retired from the hobby several years ago. His equipment was not used for several years and unfortunately mice, ants and other invaders had gotten into the old frames and comb. There were a lot of Plastic Frames that I hated to send to a landfill or incinerate. I wanted to see if I could clean and disinfect these hive frames and make them suitable, safe and sanitary for use.
Step 1: First Cleaning Process
For this step you will need some sawhorses, some boards to span the sawhorses and a few C-Clamps.
Before Power washing, take a putty knife to remove the old comb, mouse nests and whatever scrapes off easily. Then clamp the frames to the board that spans the sawhorses. The board I used was a 2 X 8 about 7 feet long. Use the power washer and wash over the entire surface of the frame. I wash in 2 directions. I go left and right , and then I go top to bottom. Make sure to have the proper safety equipment and be prepared to get wet. The design of these combs will deflect the water in every direction. Blast out the nooks and crannies as best as possible. I spend typically 2 or 3 minutes per side. Bees are pretty good at making the wax stick to the plastic frames. You will not get all of it blasted off with the power washer. You will get 70 to 90% of the old wax and comb cleaned off and the frames look much better.
Step 2: Sanitize and Soak
In this step you will need a container to hold the frames you power washed, Some powered Lye and water.
There are a lot of diseases and parasites that can kill or weaken a bee colony. I did not want to introduce any of this vermin in my hives so I wanted to be sure the frames are clean and sanitary. I also needed to find a way to soften the wax that the first power washing did not remove. After a little research I found that lye would soften wax and as a bonus disinfect and kill any bad stuff that might be remaining in the frames. I have a large square plastic tub that I put in 10 gallons of water, one pound of lye and filled it with the frames that were just power washed. When mixing the lye in the water, follow the directions very carefully. It is very caustic, wear eye protection and gloves. I let the frames soak in the lye solution for at least a week. This does a very good job of loosening anything on the frames.
Step 3: Final Power Wash
For this step you will need the sawhorses, Boards, C-Clamps, Power Washer and the Frames that have been soaking.
Take the frames that have been soaking in the Lye solution and clamp them to the boards with the C-Clamps. Again go over the entire frame in a couple of directions to wash the remaining wax off of the frames. Blast into all of the nooks and crannies to clean any wax or comb that remains in these areas. The frames will clean up pretty well. There will be a little bit of wax stuck here and there, but 95 to 99% of the frame will be pristine. Put them out in the sun to dry and they will be ready for use.
Step 4: Final Result
With a little work, you now have frames that are ready for the bees to use. I have been able to salvage around 50 frames using this method. They are relatively inexpensive to purchase, but I enjoy the fact that I can reuse something that would normally be discarded. They were not tossed into a landfill or incinerated.
To get the bees to accept the new frames, some people spray them with a sugar syrup solution. I have also heard of people taking beeswax and rubbing it on the plastic foundation and depositing a film of wax. I melt beeswax in a container, take a foam brush, and paint a film of wax on the plastic foundation.
My bees seem happy with these frames. They are working hard building comb, gathering pollen and nectar. The plastic frames have worked out very well for me and my hives.