How to Clean out a Dead Beehive​

It’s important to look after your bees, even after they’ve gone. Dead beehives — otherwise known as ‘dead-outs’ — can be quite a pain! Alas, bees die, especially in winter, and although bees are very good at making honey, they haven’t quite grasped the concept of body disposal. They’ve left all that fun to you.

feeding bees in winter

Dealing with a dead-out won’t seem like such a steep price to pay for access to the bees’ honey stores with this comprehensive guide. You won’t have to worry about getting stung or catching something off your honey-making friends.

Time Is of the Essence

Let’s not honey-coat it: clearing out a dead beehive is far from glamorous, but it’s definitely worth it. Identifying the differences between a healthy beehive and a dead-out can prove useful in ensuring the survival of future beehives. It may seem like tedious work, but it’s an essential task for a successful beekeeping business.

With a dead beehive, time is of the essence. If you leave it unattended for too long, you will find yourself in a bigger pickle. Rotting bee carcasses smell and attract unwanted pests, such as ants, who will happily finish off any remaining honey stores.

First Step: Determine the Cause of Death

Before you decide to scoop out any remaining honeycomb, determine the cause of death. Make sure it wasn’t a contagious disease that can spread between bees and even to humans, even though it’s usually us humans that are to blame.

It’s important to get it out of your bee yard as soon as possible. As mentioned before, honey invites all sorts of unwanted creatures. Also, moisture can build up in the hive and create mold if the bees haven’t been able to maintain balance in the hive’s environment. Although this won’t necessarily harm the bees, it can stifle the quality of the honey that the hive produces.

Reuse and Recycle

If your hive has died from starvation, as most do, reusing the wax and honey stores is fine. Remove the dead bees; remember to give those lodged inside the cells a nudge by tapping on the frame of the hive. If a few stubborn bees refuse to budge, you can leave them for the new bees to clean out.

Disease and Mold

Sometimes, the beehive dies as a result of being overcome by a disease, such as American foulbrood or Nosema. In which case, it must be burnt to destroy the spores. The remaining resources shouldn’t be used.

In cases of mold in the beehive, this can be wiped off the hive’s frames. Scrub down hard surfaces using salt, air them out and then freeze them, preserving the comb. The frames, comb and honey can all be reused in the beehive. The new bees can also clean some of the mold themselves.


When examining your dead beehive, look out for hive beetles and wax moth larvae. A mild infestation of hive beetles typically won’t affect a healthy hive, but excess beetles can destroy a smaller beehive. Keep your eyes peeled for little black flecks of feces or webbing on the comb. These may be from wax moth larvae.

It’s important to examine the dead bees themselves — for instance, the shape of their bodies:

  • Varroa mites: If their bodies are deformed, this may indicate the presence of varroa mites in the hive, as these can cause deformities.
  • Tracheal mites: A tracheal mite infestation can generally be identified by looking out for K-winged bees in the dead-out. 

Check For Mice!

It’s crucial that you closely examine the bottom board for signs of mice. These include feces or chewed-up bits of the beehive.

Don’t Jump the Gun

If you’ve ascertained that one of your beehives is dead, examine the situation first. The last thing you want to do is destroy any remaining honey and comb if it can be salvaged. If mold is the only remaining problem, scrape it off and remove any remaining mold. Once the hive is free from alien bodies, you can look to reuse the hive again.

If you stumble across a hive in passing, that isn’t yours, don’t investigate it. Call the local authorities or contact a local beekeeper. Bees will defend themselves and sting if there are any left near the dead hive.

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