Beekeeping can be a messy business. Every time you go into a hive your hands get covered in propolis, wax, dirt, and all sorts of debris. You are left with a sticky mess and the obvious need to clean your beekeeping gloves before your next hive inspection.
IMPORTANT FACT: Beekeepers tend to use three different kinds of gloves: leather, fabric, and synthetic (rubber, nitrate, neoprene, etc.). Each material cleans up differently. Rest assured that you can effectively clean your beekeeping gloves no matter which kind you use. This post will explain how.
As someone with knowledge and experience in beekeeping, I am familiar with all three kinds of gloves. My personal preference is leather. Leather is the hardest to clean, but it lasts the longest and offers, in my opinion, the most protection against stings.
I am actually going to start with synthetic gloves and work backward. Why? Because synthetic gloves are the easiest to clean. Synthetic gloves can be made from:
- Nitrile – a synthetic rubber made from an organic compound
- Neoprene – a synthetic foam rubber made from chloroprene
- Latex – a natural rubber made from a rubber tree polymer.
Note that there are synthetic latex rubbers as well. Your cheaper latex gloves are going to be synthetic rather than natural. No matter, though. They all clean up rather nicely.
Nitrile, neoprene, and latex all clean up with warm water and soap. There are some beekeepers who keep a bucket of warm water nearby so that they can quickly rinse off multiple times as they work their hives. This sort of thing makes final clean up a bit easier.
Synthetic gloves can be thrown in the washing machine with the rest of your laundry if that is easier. However, never put synthetic gloves in the dryer. The high heat will damage them – if not outright melt them. You definitely don’t want melted synthetic gloves all over the rest of your clothes.
Disposing of Synthetic Gloves
You might also take note that some people use synthetic gloves because they are cheap enough to dispose of after a single use. There are others who are not fond of the waste that it generates, so they continue cleaning their synthetic gloves for as long as they last.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. Feel free to bypass having to clean synthetic gloves by disposing of them after each use. It is unlikely you will go broke doing so. If you do want to eliminate waste, warm water and a hand washing detergent is all you need to clean nitrile, neoprene, and latex.
Fabric gloves are generally gardening or work gloves that can be made of any number of materials. Cotton, polyester, and polyester blends are all possibilities. Fabric gloves give you a bit more protection against stings compared to thin synthetics. They do not offer as much protection as genuine leather.
The biggest challenge in cleaning fabric gloves is the ease with which propolis, wax, and dirt penetrate the fabric. Just one session in a hive can leave a brand-new pair of gloves dirty, sticky, and terribly stained. So how do you clean them?
It has been my experience that you want to avoid wiping your gloved hands with a rag or paper towel. This only serves to force the dirt and debris into the fibers of the fabric, making it all the more difficult to get the gloves clean. Instead, find yourself a spatula or a dull knife.
Here’s what you do:
- Scrape away as much loose honey and propolis as you can
- Use your tool to loosen and remove crusted wax
- Soak the gloves in hot water and a pre-wash solution to loosen stains
- Wash the gloves in hot water using detergent and a fabric-safe bleach.
You may or may not like the results you get from this process. However, don’t give up hope. There are other things you can try if your gloves just won’t come clean.
Natural Cleaning Solutions
Sometimes you have stubborn dirt and debris that just won’t come out. After trying the above process, you can re-treat your gloves with more natural materials. I like white vinegar and lemon juice. Both can do wonders to remove ground-in dirt and tough stains. White vinegar is so good that it is often recommended as an all-purpose cleaner.
Hydrogen peroxide is another option. Some beekeepers don’t like to work with it because they are afraid it might harm their bees. I can’t say one way or the other if such concerns are valid. I can say that you will not have any problems with white vinegar and lemon juice.
One last thing here: put your fabric gloves out in the sun to dry after treating with vinegar or lemon juice. The energy from the sun will interact with the vinegar or lemon juice to sanitize your gloves and leave them fresh and clean.
Alas, we have saved the most difficult for last. Many beekeepers prefer leather gloves because they are thick enough to prevent stings from reaching the skin. The other side of the coin is that stingers actually get stuck in the leather. Once they start to decompose, they also start to stink.
The other downside of leather is that stingers release a pheromone that tells other bees there is trouble. All it takes is one sting to rile up an entire hive. So while leather may protect against stings, it might also encourage them. This could leave your gloves rather dirty after examining an active hive.
Cleaning leather beekeeping gloves boils down to removing sticky honey, glue-like propolis, and stubborn wax. Regular dirt and debris aren’t a problem for leather due to his toughness. But these three substances, because they are so sticky, latch onto leather and just refuse to let go. Here are the steps I use to clean leather gloves:
- Start by scraping them with a spatula or dull knife. Remove as much loose material as you can.
- Wash the gloves using a mixture of warm water and hand soap or a mild detergent.
- Soak the gloves overnight in cold chlorine water to remove any remaining dirt and loosen stains.
- Rinse the gloves thoroughly and then dry them in the sun.
Leather is very tough, so you don’t have to worry about damaging them with regular washing. However, do be careful with the cold chlorine water. Chlorine is very corrosive by nature. It can bother your skin if you’re not careful. Be sure to thoroughly rinse your hands whenever you handle it.
Why Cold Water
I advise cold chlorine water for the simple fact that warm water activates chlorine’s properties more aggressively. Warm chlorine water will give off more fumes. It will be more corrosive. The thing is that warm chlorine water doesn’t work so much better as to warrant the potential risks.
One last thing to explore in more detail is rinsing your beekeeping gloves after the chlorine soak. Chlorine is an excellent disinfectant and cleaner. Still, you don’t want chlorine residue remaining in your gloves because it’s bad for your skin. It could also irritate your bees.
The point is this: make sure you thoroughly rinse your gloves after the chlorine soak. Once you think they are rinsed enough, rinse them again. You will not hurt them by rinsing them two or three times. Drying them in the sun will finish the job nicely.
A Few More Things to Know
I have given you step-by-step instructions for cleaning beekeeping gloves. Before I close this post, there are a few more tidbits of information I want to pass on. The remainder of this information is indirectly related to cleaning your gloves.
First, I did some research into nitrile gloves because I don’t use them that often. I found several beekeepers who claim that their bees rarely sting them when they wear nitrile. No one seems to know why this is so. Some have speculated that it might have something to do with nitrile being synthetic. Maybe the bees have some sort of aversion to it.
The other thing I wanted to mention here is that even the best leather gloves are not going to last forever. I would hate for you to avoid washing leather gloves because you feel like you are going to ruin them. Again, leather is extremely tough. Yet a new pair of gloves might only last one season. It’s okay.
Go ahead and wash your leather gloves after each visit to the hive. Otherwise you will be left with sticky, dirty, smelly gloves that are, quite frankly, unpleasant to wear. Your bees will not be impressed either. All those decomposing stingers in the leather are going to make for a nasty experience.
And that concludes this post. Now that you know how to clean your beekeeping gloves, you are one step closer to being a beekeeping expert. Remember that clean gloves are happy gloves. When your gloves are happy, so are you and your bees.