Safe Use And Handling of Acetic Acid

Acetic acid is a clear colourless liquid used by beekeepers to sterilise wax comb to prevent disease during storage. It is mainly used on brood frames as these are more likely to harbour pests and diseases. It is a hazardous substance and must be handled with great care and according to instructions.

Fumigation with acetic acid will kill a wide range of pathogens including the causative agents of chalk brood, European foulbrood, Nosema and amoeba. It will also kill all stages of wax moth except pupae.

Fumigation is carried out using 80% ‘technical’ acid as this is sufficiently strong for effective sterilisation but somewhat less corrosive and harmful (to the beekeeper).

Technical acetic acid is available from equipment suppliers or possibly from your local association. It must be collected as it is illegal to send it by post.

Safety notes

Acetic acid is corrosive. Always wear acid-resistant gloves and eye protection and take care not to breathe in the fumes which are toxic.

Do not smoke, eat or drink while using the product.

Take care not to splash or spill the acid. Clean up any spills immediately using plenty of water.

In case of contact with the eyes or skin, wash immediately with plenty of water and seek medical attention urgently.

In case of inhalation or ingestion, seek medical attention urgently.

If you are diluting glacial (100%) acid, always add acid to water as the heat generated can cause the acid to splash. It is safer to purchase it at the required concentration.

If you need to store acid, make sure the bottle is secure and clearly labelled. Keep it well away from children. Store in a dry, cool, well-ventilated area.

Dispose of any unwanted chemical in accordance with local regulations.

Check the hazard data sheets available on the internet before using the product.

Equipment required

Technical acetic acid.

Absorbent pads that cover most of the top surface of the brood box.

Duct tape or a large plastic bag.


Prepare an absorbent pad for each brood box to be fumigated.

Acetic acid corrodes metal, so metal ends and runners can be removed or protected with a thin layer of petroleum jelly.

Place the first brood box on a wooden floor with the entrance blocked, or a flat earth surface. Acetic acid will corrode concrete.

Place the pad on top and soak it with 150 ml (¼ pint) of acetic acid.

Repeat with additional boxes as required.

Cover the final pad with a solid board or plastic cover, followed by the roof.

Joints can be sealed with duct tape or the whole stack sealed within a sturdy plastic bag.

Leave the stack for 7–10 days.

Air the boxes and frames for a week, or until the smell has gone, before using them for bees.

Written by Claire Waring. This article appears in the October edition of Bee Craft magazine.        

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