Cleaning Frames with lye/hot water

pvtpilotFebruary 15, 2007

I have numerous (200 +/-) used frames that were given to me that need cleaning. Can anyone describe the hot water/lye cleaning method in detail ? I have an outdoor fire pit, an old 50gal metal drum, neoprene gloves, face mask, apron, etc. How much lye in how much water is effective? How long should the frames soak for? How much scrubbing is required ? Is a clean water rinse advised ? What is a good source for the lye?

I'm trying to decide if it's going to be worth the effort.

Please accept in advance my gratitude for any and all advice.

From New Durham, NH

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txbeeguy(z8 TX)

If you've got that many frames to clean then it'd be worth doing. You mustva read somewhere about it because you listed all the right stuff to handle the job.
WARNING: Several aspects of this procedure can be down right dangerous so extreme care/caution must be used.

I got a 55 gal barrel and cut it in half (with welding/cutting torch) and left several 'dog ears' couple inches wide that I folded (beat) over with a hammer. These support a #3 galvanized wash tub. Sorry I don't have pictures of my set-up on my yahoo profile - I'll have to work an that - but it's certainly nothing elaborate.

I fill my "fire pit" (i.e., one of the drum halves) with charcoal about a third to a half full and start the fire there. This fire keeps the water very hot throughout the cleaning process BUT it's not hot enough to boil the water to begin with. So I usually get two or three big stew pots of water heated to a boil on the kitchen stove to start with. [Carrying out this hot water is one of the first things to be careful about]. I usually fill the #3 metal wash tub about three-quarters full of hot water. To this water, slowly add the lye. In this much water [DON'T put the lye in first], I usually add 1-1/2 to two cans of lye. Lye is readily found in large grocery stores or Wal-Mart type stores next to the drain unclogging chemicals (like Drano, Liquid Plumber, etc.). Lye is typically in a metal or plastic 12-oz can. The new version of Red Devil lye (in the plastic can) has a colouring agent in it and will stain your frames so I try to get some other brand.

The eye protection is good; the rubber gloves are good - bucket of fresh clean water handy/nearby might be a good idea. I use a toilet brush (new, of course) to do the scrubbing with - buy the cheapest you can find because you're going to toss it when finished anyway (what's left of it). You might also find an old flat-head screwdriver useful to clean the groove in the frame's bottom bar.

The No.3 wash tub will hold about 10 or 12 brood-sized frames at a time. Just stack them in there and wait about five minutes before starting to scrub them clean. It won't hurt the wood for them to soak in there longer. When finished, cycle in the next batch of frames. I toss them out on the driveway (in the sun) and hose them off with fresh water. Actually, I've done it both ways - with and without a clean water rise and didn't see that it makes much of a difference (the bees are going to put a thin coating of wax over everything anyway). But it's probably better to rinse them off.

How clean the frames get and how quickly, depends on how hot the water is and the strength of the lye. The weaker the water/lye mixture, the longer they'll need to soak (and conversely). With the water hot enough and the proper amount of lye, the frames will get incredibly clean with minimal scrubbing and in a pretty short period of time (15-20 min per batch).

When you have a lot of frames to clean, it's worth the set-up time and preparation trouble. But if you only have five or ten frames to clean, then undoubtedly just scraping them clean by hand is the way to go. The No. 3 wash tub is also large enough to clean entire hive bodies (if you're so inclined).

    Bookmark   February 16, 2007 at 12:41PM
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Thanks TX, I've decide to give it a try.. I'll let you know how I make out.


    Bookmark   February 17, 2007 at 9:25PM
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txbeeguy(z8 TX)

And I'll finish up with a "Larry-the-cable-guy" sounding thing.

I usually am doing this in the Fall (not that it makes much difference) and I wind up tipping the lye water out on an area of my gravel driveway where I want the grass killed. (Makes for great grass/weed control and fire ant control). Then if the charcoal is still going strong, I take the grill off the Webber and slap on some hamburgers (which I've made in advance!).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 9:08AM
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