Paint for beekeeping hives

Painted beehive

Paint for Natural Beekeeping Hives

Painted Warre beehive

Warre hive, Natural Beekeeping Trust

‘Eco-friendly’ and ‘preservative’ is virtually an oxymoron.  The very nature of biodegradability is rotting!  So when it comes to beehives how do you get the most out of your wood?

Whether to paint depends on the wood

Hives (in the UK) are generally made from one of two soft woods: Western Red Cedar and Douglas fir.  Red cedar (Thuja plicata) has preservative properties in its oils whereas Douglas fir does not.  This means that Douglas fir, the cheaper of the two woods, requires additional protection from the elements if it is to last for any length of time.

Western red cedar

Red cedar doesn’t need to be painted.  In fact it is inadvisable to try and paint it before it has weathered outdoors for at least a year as the paint can react with the oils.  That would mean weathering it before introducing bees, you’d have to be pretty committed to the decoration.

Petroleum oil

Painted Warre hive

Warre hive, Natural Beekeeping Trust

Paints are generally oil-based and made from by-products of the petroleum industry.  Eco-friendly paints tend to be water-based and therefore less toxic to the environment.  Certainly the bees can do without any more toxins than are already circulating on their environment so we can help them by protecting such hives with a safer paint.  Oil is better at keeping out moisture than water however so water-based paints won’t match the oil-based paints for longevity.  The question is would you rather focus on the longevity of your hive or your bees?!

The bottom line – how much?

The drawback?  Cost.  These paints come in the most gorgeous, subtle colours that modern ‘brassy’ paints rarely achieve but with a potentially prohibitive price tag. Three quarters of a litre can set you back a whopping £27!  But that will provide at least the three coats recommended to keep the hive looking good for years without having to reapply (not something you can attempt once inhabited!).

Natural oils

You may find recommended the use of oil mixed with beeswax which according to a spokesman from eco-paint supplier IEKO, can lead to moulds growing.  Painting a pine beehive will still work out cheaper than a red cedar hive in most cases and if you have a creative bent you can make the hives look stunning.  The bees have an ability to recognize pattern and if you intend to have many hives can help them find their way back to the right home.  Bees see the red part of the colour spectrum poorly whereas blue stands out for them.

Gloss, emulsion, eggshell?

Finding which paint to use from the complex array on offer is surprisingly hard!  If it has to be an exterior paint then that narrows the choice but it isn’t quite so straight forward.  For example IEKO recommend eggshell for beehives yet it is otherwise described as an interior paint.

Eco-paint companies: IEKO, Auro, earthborn

Thank you to the Natural Beekeeping Trust for their fabulous photos

7 Responses to “Paint for beekeeping hives”

  1. Nicholas on

    Great article. I also read something to use low voc levels of paints/stains in painting. I also use titebond III on the joints of the beehives so that its waterproof, which the joints over the years are the first to rot. I’m currently trying something called log end seal, where I have a log home and I know it keeps water out of the ends of the joints that act as wicks to draw water in. I’ll have my experiment posted later for you at Thanks again for the great article!

  2. Jules on

    I’ve found a non-toxic wood treatment that’s perfect for apiaries/honey bee woodenware so I thought I’d share it in case it’s helpful to you it’s a product by at and a very reasonable price too and very easy to use. They say it’s totally environmentally friendly and it has no VOCs (as someone mentioned that earlier, I think that’s really important too.) you end up with a beautiful finish that develops naturally with the outdoor elements and you know it’s food-safe and environmentally safe. hope that helps.

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