Will Bees Clean Up Old Frames? (Let Them)

Written by Sophia Roa in Beekeeping

Beekeepers advise replacing combs every 3 to 5 years. But recycling and reusing old frames might help you save money. Before giving old frames to your bees, do you clean them up? Or will bees clean up those frames?

Bees will clean up old frames, so let them. They’ll polish every cell and quickly clean out any traces of honey, so you better give old frames back to them. Be sure that those frames did not come from a hive that died of American foulbrood or black mold. In a day or two, the bees will have those old frames cleaned.

Most beehives perish from Varroa or starvation, so reusing old frames should not be a problem. These frames are perfect for introducing a new package or for establishing nuc colonies from strong colonies that have survived.


  • Bees will clean and reuse old frames, but be sure those frames did not die of foulbrood disease and black mold.
  • The bees will normally take one to two days to clean up the old frames, if it isn't flowering season.
  • Bees will clean up wax moth frames provided you stored them in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

Let Bees Clean Up Old Frames

Place the old frame on top of your strongest colony as your colonies grow in the early spring, and the bees will quickly clean and polish every cell. You won't be burdening your bees because worker bees always clean out old cells before using them.

Bees are extremely thorough, and if you have more than one strong colony, you can divide your frames between them. You can wash and boil the frames after your bees have cleaned them to be safe.

Bees will clear up a bit of mold from the frames, although by doing it for them, they can focus on other activities, like pollination. If it is black mold, remove and destroy the foundation, or melt it for other uses. Clean the frames completely, air out, freeze, and reuse.

Before giving your bees old frames, brush the dead bees off them if there are any. Don’t worry about leaving a few bees in the frames. Your bees will clean them out.

Place the frames back on the hives above the inner cover for the worker bees to clean up by having them pull it below the inner cover. Leave them there, above the inner cover but below the outer cover, so the bees can defend but not refill if there is any flow. This might start a robbing conflict with other bees, so use an entrance reducer on the hive.

Get a plywood piece, and make a hole that is about 1" in the middle using a circular saw. You could use your inner cover that has the oblong hole for the bee escape. At sundown, place the old frames in their super over the plywood with the hole in the center.

The bees can access the frames through the hole, but they do not view the frames as a location to store things; rather, they see them as an exterior cavity. In this way, they swiftly remove the last bit of honey before leaving the frames alone. After a day or two, you must remove those frames because the bees can begin filling the comb.

If they do manage to store something in the frames, turn them upside down, but uncapping any capped cells. Since they are unable to store honey in there and the honey is actually dripping out, they will defend the comb but won't lay or deposit honey in it.

The bees will enter the super and move most of it down into the frames below within a few hours or more, depending on weather and colony strength. They have the night to calm down and not be in the robbing frenzy that you do not want.

If you see dead bees the next day, it could indicate there was a struggle out there. You may only have one hive but, there may be robbers from someone else's hive or feral bees.

The bees do gorge out and some become unable to fly when you put some comb out. Some bees may perish, and their little abdomens become huge. This more frequently occurs during a dearth when they are overjoyed to locate something.

To prevent robbing, stack the frames around 100 yards away from their hives and let their bees pick up the frames. You can place used frames in a bucket set near the hive. Simply stack them and leave them outside. The bees will clean them out much faster that way. It will not appear to cause any problems with robbing, but a lot of feral bees, wasps, ants, and even a raccoon will be there to steal a few frames.

When you get a brood comb where the cells are getting too small to reuse, get those combs out of the hive at the end of the year and leave them out for the wax moths to enjoy. Later in the winter, knock propolis off and get whatever left-over wax is still on the foundation. Anything unpleasant that's remaining on the foundation, the bees may clean up the next year.

How Long Does It Take For Bees To Clean Frames?

A week is plenty of time. Unless there is a significant flow, it normally just takes a day or two for bees to clean up the frames.

The supers will be completely cleaned up when you put them outside for a day or two. The drawback is having to live with a bee cloud for a few days, but it's often not too severe, and they disperse quickly. It draws a lot of wasps, which isn't enjoyable, but they depart quickly too.

The season will also have an impact on this. During a hot and dry season, with few flowers blooming at this time of year, the bees would quickly swarm on anything left lying around.

But when it's bloom time, the bees will largely ignore those frames for a few days. They will spend 3–4 days to clean up what would have been swarmed and cleared away in a matter of hours in a dry season.

Will Bees Clean Up Wax Moth Frames?

Wax moth residue is effectively removed by bees. Nature uses wax moths to clear out deadouts and abandoned hives in the wild. A healthy, strong colony will quickly clear the comb.

Normally, before giving wax moth frames to the bees, merely scrape off the damaged area. The bees will handle the majority of the cleanup on their own, but you have to remove most of the webbing first because the bees have a hard time working through them.

Avoid putting combs that have been severely damaged next to one another. Also, you must manually scrape away the cocoons that form between the end bars and the box because bees won't do it for you.

Can You Reuse Frames After Wax Moths?

Wax moths do not render a frame useless to bees. The bees will clean up the mess and reuse the frames after you freeze them for a few days to kill the larvae.

When you put the frames back in the hives, the bees will take care of the remaining debris. This way, they can reuse the wax in the hive rather than having to start from scratch.

Small beehives are totally different. The frames and combs are "slimed". Remove the comb and clean the frames. You can reuse the frames and foundation once more, and several of those frames still have drawn comb that is clean and new-looking.

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