Have you ever heard of Maya the Bee? That cute little bee that first appeared in a book by the German writer Waldemar Bonsels? In the book, she spends her days going on thrilling adventures with her goofy pal Willy, which makes for a great story but isn’t really true to life. In fact, her everyday existence would be quite a bit different in real life. Maya would fly from flower to flower, collecting pollen and secreting a mixture of mainly esters of fatty acids and various long-chain alcohols. Boring, isn’t it? Not at all! That’s how we get beeswax!
So far so good? No? Ok, you’re probably asking yourself what all that has to do with being outdoors, right? You’d be surprised, but it actually has quite a bit to do with it. Beeswax happens to be an essential ingredient in several care products for both walking boots and skin care. Wax is even used in foods as a release agent and glazing agent. Pretty versatile stuff. In this short post, I’d like to show you everything beeswax has to offer us outdoorsy folk. So, keep reading – it’s worth it – and not just for the fans of Maya the Bee!
Properties and areas of use
As was mentioned before, the beeswax we all know is a secretion from worker bee’s wax glands. It’s always white when it is first secreted. It turns yellow as a result of the incorporation of pollen oils from pollen. This contains carotene, a pigment that also gives pumpkins and carrots their colour. By the way, pollen oil is also what gives beeswax its unique and sweet smell. Ok. Enough of that. Let’s talk about how useful this stuff is.
Shoe care products
In the outdoor industry, beeswax is most commonly used as an ingredient in shoe care products. Beeswax-based shoe care is a natural way to care for leather walking and mountaineering boots. It is necessary because it gives the leather something it loses over time – moisture. As you’ve probably already witnessed, leather tends to dry up and harden over time, even causing it to tear in some cases. Using beeswax-based shoe care products can remedy this, giving the leather a nice little boost in moisture. Treating the leather with such products on a regular basis will increase the lifespan of your – often very expensive – outdoor shoes. Plus, beeswax-based products also proof the leather, giving the shoes that necessary water-repellent layer.
This brings me to another important benefit for us outdoor enthusiasts: beeswax can be used to proof outdoor jackets and trousers as well. A beeswax-based treatment can make these garments very water and wind resistant, whilst simultaneously increasing their durability for those tough days outdoors. Usually, these proofers consist of a mixture of beeswax and paraffin, so they’re not at all harmful to your health. Of course, as with anything else, any product pre-treated with beeswax will lose its water-resistant properties over time, but there are plenty of products on the market you can use to reproof your garment. But more on that later.
Skin care products
You may even find beeswax in skin care products. If you’re thinking, “What? Now, you’re trying sell me outdoor skin cream?”, please just keep reading. Even the roughest and tannest skin needs a little tender love and care! Skin care products with beeswax are specifically designed for climbers with dry and particularly worn skin, meaning skin that is often exposed to the sun and fresh/cold air. Not unlike what beeswax does for leather, special beeswax-based care products gives our skin some of that long-lost moisture back. Plus, these products alleviate the effect of sunburns and accelerate the healing process of chapped lips as well as minor skin lesions. So, as you can imagine, these products are great for those of you who spend all the livelong day climbing limestone and granite.
How do I know if beeswax is in a product?
If you’re worried about buying a product that claims to contain beeswax but doesn’t, you shouldn’t be: all products containing beeswax are labelled accordingly. Of course, there is no official label to date, but oftentimes you’ll find a product with the label “contains real beeswax“. If the product in question doesn’t have such a label, it’s worth taking a quick peek at the ingredients. Even though this may not be as relevant to us outdoor enthusiasts, it’s still worth noting: in the food industry, if beeswax is used as a food additive, it has E-901 designation.
How to care for leather with beeswax and how to reproof garments
As was mentioned above, the outdoor industry usually uses beeswax for shoe care. A beeswax-based shoe polish makes it possible for us to care for our leather shoes in a natural way. The unique properties of the wax not only lubricate the leather but also feed it with essential nutrients. Plus, it does a few other things as well. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Consider the following example: you’ve got your trusty walking boots with countless miles on them, and to be honest, they’ve seen better days. They’re dirty, the leather is brittle and looks worn. So, what do we do? We take a damp cloth to clean them. Once you’ve got rid of the surface dirt and the shoes are somewhat dry, you can apply the beeswax shoe polish. Take a clean cloth and rub a thin layer of the shoe polish onto your shoes using circular motions. The fatty acids in the beeswax cleans the leather in a gentle way. Plus, the beeswax polish will brighten up faded colours as well. Allow the polish to set and voilà – the boots will look as good as new! If you feel that your shoes need a bit more wax after the first layer has set, you can repeat as and when required. If you care for your leather shoes with a beeswax-based care product on a regular basis, you will significantly increase the lifespan of the shoe.
Waterproofing as a bonus
In addition to giving the leather essential nutrients and making the boots look better, beeswax shoe polish also acts as a water repellent. The layer of wax prevents water from penetrating into the interior, forcing rain to simply bead up and roll off the outside. In other words, you can forget about those expensive leather spray-on proofers.
If you notice that your jacket (or trousers), which had been pre-treated with beeswax, is starting to lose its water-repellent properties, it’s time to reproof it. To do this, you can use something like the Greenland Wax from Fjällräven. This is basically a block of paraffin and beeswax. Take the garment in question and rub the wax block evenly onto the fabric. And, don’t be afraid to apply a little bit more to the high-wear areas, such as the shoulders of your jackets or the knees of your trousers. Now, the wax just has to be melted. You can do this by using a hair dryer or an old iron. Once you’ve heated up the wax, it will turn to liquid and be absorbed into the fabric. Once the wax has been absorbed evenly into the fabric and dried, you can take your jacket or trousers out for their next adventure!
As you can see, beeswax is much more than the stuff swimming around in your honey or what people use for candles. It is a natural product with very useful properties for the outdoor industry and beyond. And it all came from Maya the Bee’s wax glands.