Most beekeeping suits and jackets are machine washable, except for the veil portion which is in danger of being bent or snagged by the main body’s zipper and closures. That’s why it’s important to purchase a suit or jacket with a fully detachable veil.
Why should you wash your bee jacket or suit?
First, it’s a good idea for your own comfort, because a stinky garment stiff with accumulated sweat is an unappealing start to a day of bee work. And in hot weather the fabric becomes less breathable, making bad conditions feel worse.
Secondly, the garment’s fabric will be prematurely damaged by a build-up of grime within the fibers.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the garments will, over time, begin to accumulate bee alarm and sting pheromones from previous days’ work. Nearly imperceptible to humans, these remain potent - and disturbing - messengers to bees. Simple airing may help disperse these chemicals, but washing is even better and will protect the garment’s fibers while making it more pleasant to wear at the same time.
How often should you wash your gear?
Wash it whenever it gets dirty, or soaked with sweat. And after you have had a particularly contentious day with bees, when the fabric will have been marked by lots of sting pheromones.
Don’t believe the old tale that washing bee gear riles the bees up. It’s simply not true. That being said, it is better to avoid using highly-scented washing products. Who knows what bee-provoking chemical odors may be in them?
Steps for washing your bee gear
- Remove (unzip) the veil portion from the main body. Tip: Before completely disconnecting it, it’s helpful to mark the ends of the two zippers so you can easily see which ends go together when reassembling them. A couple of small dots with a laundry pen will do the trick. The veil portion needs to be washed separately, by hand. See below for veil-washing instructions.
- Empty the pockets, including the debris that gets caught down in the corners of pockets.
- Pre-treat stains, if present:
- Wax: Scrape off any that you can, then pour very hot water through the garment from the back of the fabric. Do this outside where the wax can disperse without going down the drain.
- Propolis stains: These are never completely removable, but they can be reduced by careful use of a product like KrudKutter or Charlie’s Soap.
- For grass stains, ground-in dirt on cuffs, and body soil: A good pre-treater combined with a pre-soak in a product like Oxy-Clean will work.
- Mate up the hook-and-loop (Velcro®) closures, fully loosen up any elastic cord tighteners and zip all the zippers. Use safety pins at the top and bottom (and if needed in the middle) of the main front zippers to make sure they will stay closed during the wash.
- Wash according to the care-tag instructions, using the warmest temperatures allowed. The garment should not be washed with other kinds of clothing. The load should be made up of only bee clothing to avoid transferring any remaining wax and propolis or traces of bee venom to street clothes.
- Use a small dose of detergent with little, or no, fragrances. Do not use bleach or any fabric softeners. If you need a rinse aid, use plain white vinegar.
- Hang the garment to dry. Unzip all the zippers and loosen hook-and-loop closures before drying to speed up the process.
Veil washing instructions
- Pre-soak the veil using an Oxy-clean type of product, if needed.
- Add a small amount of detergent to the sink and allow the garment to soak for 15-20 minutes.
- Gently swish the water through the fabric and netting; scrub the hat band with a soft brush to remove body soil.
- Rinse in clear water several times until the suds are gone.
- Hang to dry.