What to do when your beeswax wraps wear out

Beeswax wraps are the thing, no question. But what happens when they wear out? Don’t let it be landfill – it’s pretty simply to bring them back to like-new.


Whether you buy beeswax food covers or make your own, the coating will wear out over time. How quickly depends on how often you use and wash them. It’s reasonable to expect them to work well for a few months. A year is a proper stretch based on my own experience. Unused in a drawer maybe.

Sometimes they crease, sometimes they crack, and sometimes the coating flakes off. This is all easy to remedy, and wear out isn’t actually a terrible thing (I’ll explain more below). First let me tell you why tossing your beeswax wraps is no bueno.

Could cotton be worse than plastic?

Yes, if it’s treated as disposable. Cotton is a chemical laden crop that has no great end of life option. it follows that it’s best to keep textiles that have useful life in them in use.

  • Cotton = water + pesticide extravaganza. Cotton may be a renewable resource – it is a plant, after all – but a thirsty and pesticide-laden crop. Calling cotton a natural fibre is like calling a potato chip a vegetable. i.e. only partly true. And natural isn’t synonymous with harmless anyway (asbestos is a natural fibre). Natural also isn’t the same thing as sustainable. Witness the Aral sea before and after decades of irrigation for cotton production, if you need further convincing.
  • Textiles are not readily recyclable. There are technologies here and there, but for the most part, textile recycling is not a thing yet. We can compost some materials, but that’s more of a mitigation strategy than a boon to the soil microbiota.

Beeswax wraps are a better solution than plastic wrap, but only when they are kept and reused over a long period of time. We’re not just trying to break even by making these sorts of switches, but improve things.

Here’s what to do when your beeswax wraps wear out

Here’s how to revitalize beeswax wraps that have seen better days:

A quick hit in the oven: The simplest trick to refresh your beeswax wraps is to pop them into the oven on a baking sheet on low heat to remelt and distribute the wax. This will deal with any creasing and cracking. I reuse the same compostable parchment sheet from making the wraps to do this. If there’s a bit of wax still left on the parchment from making them the first time, all the better.

OR

Deep clean and re-wax: If you want to clean up grubbier looking wraps, take the opportunity to do a hot soapy wash of the fabric. This may cause some of the wax to come off, which we normally try to avoid, but once in a while it’s okay. Hang the fabric in the hot sun to lift any stubborn stains, then follow either this simple wax recipe, or the more involved pine rosin formula to add a bit of wax back to the fabric.

OR

Keep using it in its half worn out state: If the fabric is in an awkward stage between waxed and worn out, it can still be used as a handy (and lightly water resistant) cloth for buying food on the go.

With the occasional refresh, your beeswax wraps will last a long time

If you’re thinking, this is too obvious to write about, I beg to differ. Especially since many people will be receiving these as gifts, and won’t have the experience of discovering just how easy they are to make or remake at home. I also see sellers promoting them as lasting ‘up to a year’, which implies an expiry on the wrap rather than just the coating. Also, a personal experience – a friend tossed hers after they wore out and only told me afterwards. The truth is that these could and should last an incredibly long time and are nearly endlessly reusable.

A simple Zero Waste deodorant to make at home

I’m not sure why my DIY deodorant actually works, but it seems to and it’s easy to make. But you might not even need it. Confused? Ummm…yeah.


There are good reasons to consider giving up conventional deodorant to start making your own, including avoiding fragrance or triclosan, reducing plastic packaging waste, and saving some money.

A brief history of deodorant

Women were the first to be body shamed into buying it in the early 1900s. Adverts of the time told women that they needed to get that pesky underarm odour under control if they hoped to snag a mate. Nevermind that it clearly hadn’t stopped humans from mating in all the human history that came before it… Women were at first outraged, then bought in big and a need was born. The same story as many personal care products! At the time, male body odour was considered completely fine, masculine even. That only changed decades later when producers hawkishly realized they were missing out on 50% of the market.

Fear of body odour is at its root, fear of rejection, and probably why many people can be hesitant to try out anything that doesn’t explicitly promise “24 hour odour protection!” or similar.

I’d tell you to go without, except that I don’t, and besides, many of us work indoors – our sensibilities might not be attuned to the smells of the pre-Victorian era. And since deodorant shames each gender in mostly equal amounts these days, let’s just look at an alternative to the conventional drug store variety, just because we can.

My tried and tested formula

Anecdotally, my homemade formula works for me, but I couldn’t help but wonder why. The internet is abound with terrible advice provided by people who have good intentions, but a poor grasp of what constitutes legitimate scientific literature. It muddies the waters to call a homemade deodorant ‘chemical free’. Chemicals are neither good nor bad by definition. It’s much more accurate to say we want to avoid chemicals proven to harm biological systems, like triclosan. Not every commercially sold deodorant contains triclosan and I’ve not seen any science that supports that widely repeated claim (from somewhere) aluminum causes breast cancer.

So why do I bother making deodorant myself? I find deconstructing ingredients and making stuff at home fun and empowering. I find unsubstantiated claims that may distract people from actual risk factors disempowering. I also like spending less on things that are super easy to make.

Anyway, having relied on my homemade deodorant for a number of years now, in climates from temperate to sometimes torturously hot, I am pleased to tell you I haven’t lost any friends. The formula is a distillation of anything and everything I’ve found on the internet over the years, combined with what I’ve picked up from workshops. And then I tried to make it as simple as possible, because I am a very big fan of that sort of thing.

In any case, it’s probably helpful to start, as I did, by getting a better grasp of the anatomy of the armpit and why it’s prone to odour in the first place.

Some interesting armpit tidbits

  • Armpits are about a pH of 4 – 6 (acidic), with women having a slightly lower pH than men, on average.
  • Sweat is one way our bodies control temperature, but not all sweat is the same – our bodies have two types of sweat glads: eccrine and apocrine. The former produces a salty solution that actually inhibits bacterial growth, the latter a more protein rich sweat, which bacteria like to feast on. Hairy body parts have more of the glands that produce protein rich sweat.
  • Smell is the result of bacteria breaking down the proteins in apocrine sweat.
  • Some people don’t produce body odour. And if you have dry earwax, you may be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t need any form of deodorant. Yup, this was determined by a study done by the NHS.
  • Salts inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Our skin is probably bacterially unbalanced, much like modern day intestines. We are probably over-washing and getting rid of good bacteria. One day we might spray on bacteria instead of deodorant to keep smell at bay. But not today.

Next I looked into the most common ingredients found in commercially available so called natural deodorants.

Common natural deodorant ingredients

Here are the ingredients you’ll find in popular, raved-about natural paste style deodorant. By law, ingredients must descend in order of concentration, which makes it simple enough to reverse engineer a recipe. They usually include the following:

  • Baking soda / bi carb is the star ingredient in most paste recipes. Baking soda is the same thing as bi carb, a type of salt. You could apply it solo, directly to your underarms. The reason many don’t is because that would be hard to apply and perhaps a bit abrasive, as well as on the high pH side at 8.5.
  • Arrowroot is moisture absorbing and has a neutral pH. I also suspect this creates a smoother consistency thanks to its thickening action. It acts a lot like cornstarch, but most cornstarch is from monocrops, and it’s also much higher pH than arrowroot, and could be irritating.
  • Clays are moisture absorbing. They can be neutral to high pH. Kaolin has a lower pH, bentonite has a very high pH.
  • Diotomaceaous earth is also alkaline, and sometimes used in place of bi carb or clay. It’s made of tiny little fossils. Actually this ingredient isn’t all that common.
  • Shea butter or cocoa butter are both moisturizing, and help form the balm base.
  • Coconut oil has antibacterial properties and helps form the balm base.
  • Beeswax hardens the mixture, which is useful for warm climates.
  • Essential oils like tea tree have antibacterial properties, and also add a bit of scent. If you’re preggers, sensitive, or a child, don’t use essential oils, and never use pure essential oils undiluted on your skin.

The best I can figure, bi-carb based deodorants work by raising the pH of the area to inhibit bacteria. The other ingredients make the paste nice to apply and also dilute the bi carb, which should theoretically bring down the pH of the formula. Why is this important? Products with a high pH can cause irritation to the skin. If you get skin irritation, you might want to reduce the bi carb or high pH ingredients in the formula. Some of the other ingredients are antibacterial.

The DIY deodorant formula I use.

Every time I make my deodorant, I make it a bit differently because I have slightly different ingredients on hand.  It always turns out fine and usable because it’s a robust recipe. Unlike true soap making, which is a technical process – precision measurement of oils and lye can the difference between success and failure – DIY deodorant is melt and pour. With our basic balms and deodorant pastes, adding too much of one thing is easily corrected by adding a bit more of another.

 

Ingredients:

  • 1TBSP cocoa butter
  • 1TBSP coconut oil
  • 1TBSP beeswax
  • 1TBSP bi carb
  • 1TBSP kaolin clay
  • 1TBSP arrowroot powder
  •  5-10 drops skin safe essential oil, like tea tree or lavender

This method uses one equal part of each ingredient (excluding essential oil), and a 50:50 overall ratio of dry ingredients to balm. Meaning, if you need to swap out the kaolin clay for 1.5 TBSP each bi carb and arrowroot. The more bi carb, the stronger the deodorant’s effectiveness, but also the potential for skin irritation.  Or you could swap the fancier 1:1:1 balm recipe for 3 parts coconut oil. Easy, right?

Step 1: Make the basic balm recipe

Start with a basic balm recipe using a 1:1:1 ratio of butter/oil/wax (this can be used on lips or cuticles or as a massage bar too). If it’s winter, decrease the beeswax by half, as I did, or altogether.

Put the balm ingredients in a heat proof container like a mason jar and into a hot water bath until melted, then stir to mix.

Step 2: Add the dry ingredients

Combine your dry ingredients in a separate vessel. It’s a good idea to sift the bi carb or just break up any chunks. Mix this into the softened or melted basic balm mix. After it cools a little, mix in a few drops of essential oil. The mixture will firm up over the next hour or two and have a paste consistency.

Step 3: Store and use your deodorant

I keep my deodorant in a small glass jar that formerly housed a candle. Any jar would do as long as you can reach in with your fingers, because you will need to apply the deodorant with your fingers. And why not – if you’re a lady, you should be touching your armpit regularly to check for lumps anyway.

Give it a few minutes to sink in before you put clothing on to avoid staining. If you’re getting grease stains, you could be using too much, or you may need to add more of the dry ingredients to dry out the formula for your climate and season. I use about half a pea size for each underarm. A small pea. One batch should last a few months.

It’s also worth noting that I don’t tend to wear clingy white clothing these days. but I used to and found I would get staining from conventional deodorants anyway.

A note on Zero Waste ingredient sourcing

I used to be able to get all of the ingredients packaging free fromThe Soap Dispensary. Those were the days – I had it so good.

Now that I live in Sydney, I can get some but not all of the ingredients packaging free. Bi carb, arrowroot powder, coconut oil and cocoa butter can be found at many of the bulk food stores I frequent. Beeswax isn’t too hard to find in blocks at the farmers market or through a crop swap group. For anything I can’t easily source packaging free, my approach is to buy in larger amounts to share with friends.

Do you really need pine rosin to make beeswax wraps?

We’re all doing beeswax wraps, but do you ever wonder if that mysterious ingredient, pine rosin, is essential? I set out to find out. 


Anatomy of a beeswax wrap

Beeswax wraps at their most basic are just beeswax infused cloth. The wax gives the fabric a water resistant coating which helps keep food fresh while still letting it breathe. Wraps can be used to store halves of fruit and veg, cover bowls, insulate rising bread dough, wrap up sandwiches, and so on. In short, anytime you might have once used plastic cling wrap or a ziploc bag.

The easiest way to make beeswax wraps is with wax only

The simplest, can’t-go-wrong recipe is beeswax grated over a cloth, melted in the oven on low heat. That’s it – you don’t need an actual recipe do you?? The wax melts and seeps into all areas of the cloth. If you see any dry patches, add a shaving or two of wax.

It will be flimsy and floppy when just out of the oven, but once it cools it will become hard yet pliable. This style of wrap will not have the tackiness of the versions you’ve probably seen at the farmers market or in shops, but it’ll be easy to clean with a texture that works perfectly for wrapping around full loaves of bread, or cookies.

An early prototype.

I had been making my wraps this way for some time, but I found they didn’t work well in all situations. They don’t self-adhere, so they don’t work as well when you want to cover the end of a half a pumpkin for example. To compensate, I’d add a rubber band around something I’d wrapped up. No biggie, but I was curious about how much better I could make these by using the same ingredients as the commercially sold varieties. The real catalyst was me promising my girlfriends I would teach them how to make their own beeswax wraps. I wanted them to be really happy with the results.

Add tackiness to your wraps with pine rosin

If you absolutely must have that more tacky feeling of store bought wraps, the ingredient you need is pine rosin, which is tree sap. It also goes by pine resin, colophony or Greek pitch. It’s not that readily available in shops, but you can find it online. I bought a large bag to share with friends.

After experimenting with pine rosin added to the formula, I can confirm that it achieves a different result than beeswax only. It makes the wraps behave more closely to plastic cling wrap, which is what most people are trying to find a replacement for.

Which formula you choose depends on how you want to use your wraps, and whether you can find some pine rosin, which can be challenging depending on where you live. Pine rosin is also used in carpentry, art, and for musical instruments, but if you’re buying from a specialty shop, be sure to inquire whether it’s food safe.

Beeswax only wraps are best for beginners who want a simple to make versatile wrap.


Make them in a large enough size to fully enclose your food. I use these to wrap entire loaves of bread and to pack snacks to take on the go.

Beeswax wraps with pine rosin are best for recovering plastic cling wrap addicts.


They can be made in relatively small dimensions and still be useful since they will adhere to themselves or the hard surface of the food you’re wrapping. Making them is a more involved process, and you will need more ingredients and equipment.

How to make beeswax wraps with pine rosin

Set up your fabric: Place your clean, dry fabric onto a baking sheet covered with a piece of non-toxic compostable parchment paper. You can reuse this same sheet each time. I don’t bother with the parchment for wax only wraps, but pine rosin is very sticky. Preheat your oven on medium low – around 150 Celsius.

Melt the mixture: Combine the beeswax, pine rosin and jojoba in a double boiler on the stovetop to melt, then stir to combine. It could take a little time depending on how large your chunks of wax and rosin are. A double boiler is simply a metal or glass bowl placed on top of a pot of hot water. I do this to avoid ruining my cooking pots, and the bowl is an op shop find I reserve for the purpose. If your rosin is a fine powder, avoid inhaling the small particles.

Infuse the fabric: Drip the mixture onto the fabric, then place in the oven for a few minutes on low heat. I experimented with dipping the cloth directly into the bowl, but the coating was too heavy, and I ended up having to do some work redistributing the wax mixture to additional pieces of fabric. Or, dip the first one, then just press another fresh sheet on top to soak up the excess once the first sheet comes out of the oven.

If your fabric is larger than your baking sheet, fold it over on itself. The mixture will permeate and distribute through the fabric when heated in the oven, so don’t worry too much about spreading this perfectly evenly. It’s a bit of an art, and it’s one reason I like to do a few at once or make an afternoon of it with some friends.

A reader tip is to use this double boiler method, but pour into moulds and let set. When cooled, these can be grated like beeswax blocks and placed in the oven. This is probably going to be easier to manage than working with the hot mixture

Hang to dry: Remove from the oven, check that the wax has saturated the fabric evenly and there are no dry patches. If there are, add more of the mixture and reheat. Remove from the oven and drape over a drying rack to let cool.

Ingredients

Here’s what I approximately use to infuse one 25cm square cloth – bit of an inexact science though! I got to this measure by making a larger batch and dividing by the overall square centimetre-age of fabric.

  • 40g beeswax
  • 40g pine rosin
  • 10g jojoba oil

This mixture is essentially a pine salve, which is a traditional antibacterial ointment (and survivalist favourite), so use any leftover on your hands and elbows.

If you don’t have rosin, it’s not the end of the world and there is another way to achieve some extra tackiness – just use oil and wax, melted to combine using the above method. Adding a touch of oil helps soften and leverage the beeswax’s subtle tackiness.

I make these for myself and friends, not commercially, so this is simply what worked for me. In future I might experiment and re-wax mine with a different formula by using more oil and less rosin, seeing as the latter seems to be a bit of a trick to track down for many people.

Tips for choosing the right fabric

  • 100% cotton fabric, preferably organic. Lightweight and tightly woven, no stretch.
  • Patterned or darker coloured fabrics help disguise any marks left by drips and drops. Whatever you do, don’t go with white!
  • Beeswax usually has a yellowish cast – this will colour your fabric, so choose one that won’t clash.

Care and use of your beeswax wraps

  • They’re not designed to be used with hot or very drippy foods.
  • The warmth of your hand on the wraps is what allows them to shape around things. It’s easiest when they’re at room temperature.
  • Wash with warm soapy water, not hot.
  • Don’t wrap raw meat.
  • Please don’t toss the cloth when the wax wears off in six months to a year. Crease and otherwise worn looking cloths can be re-waxed indefinitely at home, and reuse is the whole point, isn’t it?


How to upcycle ugly, wax-covered candle jars

I took in a pile of candle jars that someone had cast aside. Where others saw trash, I saw an upcycling opportunity.  


Saving old wax-covered candle jars from landfill

The first step in making these eyesores useable was to clean up the waxy goo, and de-uglify them. As you can see, there was plenty of wax remaining in each one.

I used an old razor blade from my safety razor spent pile to scrape away the exterior labelling from the smooth glass.

To get the wax off candle jars use heat or cold. One trick is to put the container in the freezer to encourage the wax to harden, contract, and pull away from the edge. It’ll make the wax easier to chip off. I think it depends what kind of wax you’re working with.

It didn’t work for me here, so instead I placed them on a tray in an oven on low heat. When the wax had softened, I scraped it out and then wiped with an old rag. As I’m not sure what kinds of chemicals were used for the candles, any chunks of wax remnants went in my landfill container. The last step was to wipe the jars with some homemade vinegar all purpose cleaner until each one had nice shiny glass.

Ways to upcycle old candle jars

And now for the fun part. There are plenty of uses for clean, de-waxed old candle jars, aside from the obvious possibility of reusing to make your own candles. Here are a few things I did and you could too:

Use as a planter for succulents

There is no drainage, so water minimally, or add some rocks to the bottom before you add soil to keep roots from suffocating. Succulents and cacti are a great choice because they barely need watering.

Use as a container for rags

These rags are made from a worn out tee shirt, cut up into small pieces. I use these plus a small bit of coconut oil to remove eye makeup at the end of the day.

Store looseleaf tea

This candle jar can with an airtight lid, so I use it for storing looseleaf tea. You could store anything in it though.

Your turn, what would you do with old candle jars?