How To Prepare an Old Hive for New Bees in 4 Easy Steps

Cleaning and reusing old hives is a great way to save up on the costs of beekeeping. Here's what you need to do to help your new colony settle down and stay safe in their new home.

Find the bees' cause of death, clean out the hive, and sterilize before reusing. You can either use the frames in an existing colony or use the structure to house a new colony.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you can prepare an old hive for some new bees. I'll walk you through the process of preparing and disinfecting an old hive so that you are prepared to move forward from the loss of your previous colony.


  1. While there is one main process to follow for cleaning and storing old hives, there are plenty of ways to sterilize bee equipment. Make your choice based on what you know about the deaths of the previous inhabitants of the hive.
  2. An old hive can be used to supplement existing colonies or house new colonies. It all depends on what you need in your apiary.

What to Remember Before You Begin

Cleaning and sterilizing old hives involves plenty of hard physical work. You'll need the appropriate protective clothing; ideally, this will involve waterproof gloves, steel-capped boots, and eye protection.

If this is your very first time cleaning out an old hive, bear in mind that you will be working with substances and tools that can be dangerous for humans. Contact your local Beekeeper's Association and try to get a veteran to guide your process onsite.

Finally. there are instances where the frames cannot be salvaged. The most obvious case is when the hive was destroyed by natural disasters or predators. However, hives that have been infected by the American Foulbrood (AFB) must be burned. This is mandated in many states across the US, as part of their measures to prevent the spread of the disease. You are better off purchasing a new hive instead.

1. Find the Cause of Death / Absconding

Losing a colony is always painful and every beekeeper is bound to experience this at least once in their life. The best thing you can do is learn from the experience and move forward. Colonies may die or abandon their hives because of overheating, parasites, disease, bad odors, predators, and pests.

If the previous colony died or absconded because of an infestation, proceed with sterilizing your equipment after general cleaning.

2. Start With General Cleaning

Clean off debris with a hive brush and knife

First, remove everything on the frames. Take care to get all the corners. Alternate between using the brush to dislodge materials, and the knife to cut any comb out of the foundation.

You need to remove the comb because while it is not inherently dangerous to bees, there may be micro-organisms present in the comb that you unwittingly carry over to the next colony.

Dismantle the hive and store boxes alternately

Storing the boxes alternately encourages ventilation, which prevents wax moths from settling in the frames while it is not in use.

Wipe off molds with vinegar solution

Mold thrives in places with high moisture. Usually, hives do not develop molds if the colony is strong and healthy. This is because the bees use their wings to fan out any excess moisture inside the hive. As a result, the humidity levels should always be just right for a healthy colony.

But if a hive does start growing molds, it can affect the taste and smell of all the hive products. The good news is that you can still salvage moldy beeswax by rendering it.

Power wash the frames

Despite your best efforts, some comb sediments could still be stuck in the nooks and crannies of your hive frames. This is where a power washer comes in. It can help deliver the final clean you need so the frame is as good as new.

Leave to air dry

Finally, give your frames more time to ventilate and dry off before storing it away or reusing it for your new colony. While the length of time depends largely on where you are located, a day of sitting under the sun should be enough to dry the frames off completely.

3. Proceed With Different Ways of Sterilization

Scorching with a blowlamp

If you want to proceed with scorching, remember to remove all plastic runners. Use the very tip of the inner blue flame to boil any traces of propolis left on the equipment. By the time you are finished, the timber should darken and turn into a uniform coffee-brown color. This shows that the wood has been heated properly and for enough time to be properly sterilized.

Washing soda crystals (sodium carbonate)

A solution of 1kg washing soda to 5 litres of warm water, with a dash of washing up liquid, can be used to clean old hives. Lay some newspaper down where you plan to work and start scraping, making sure that all the propolis and wax debris fall onto the newspaper underneath. Later, you'll collect this and burn it.

Prepare the soda solution in a pan that is big enough to hold the honey frames and wait until the mixture boils. Once it's ready, submerge your frames for a minute or until it is clean of any remaining debris.

This is not a suitable method of sterilization against the American and European foulbrood disease.

Chemical sterilization with disinfectants

Disinfectants containing hypochlorite can be used to sterilize old beehives. Since you will be handling chemicals, remember to use rubber gloves and have eye protection before you begin.

Sodium hypochlorite is a compound that is found in household bleach; so to effectively get rid of spores and other bacteria, make a solution of one part household bleach to five parts water and soak the hive for twenty minutes. Make sure that the spores in the hive are submerged in the solution and that all the parts are cleaned thoroughly.

Once you've completed the immersion, rinse down the equipment with water. It is strongly recommended that you seek further tests to ensure that all traces of foulbrood infection have been eliminated.

4. Store the Clean Equipment

Keep the empty bee boxes stacked up and stowed away in an enclosed shed. The boxes should be stacked alternately so that each one gets its own flow of light and air.

How Can I Reuse Old Frames?

You do not necessarily need to set up a new hive with old frames before you can make use of them. You could also reuse them in an existing hive. Just add a bit of sugar water to attract the bees. Alternatively, melted beeswax can also be used to entice the colony. All you need to do is wipe them on the frames. Make sure that the beeswax you use was made by the bees of the hive you are trying to introduce the frames to.

How Can I Attract New Bees to the Old Hive?

Need a little help encouraging your new package of bees to settle in the hive, or letting foragers know that it's a safe place to house a swarm? You can place flowers or sources of food near the hive like sugary water syrup, or lavender. These are attractive to bees, and will pique their interest. This may take a few weeks before they really start calling all their nestmates and fully relocate the colony,

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