Let me preface this with I've never kept bees, but I have plenty of experience sanitizing and disinfecting. The thing that might be an issue is getting it clean without doing something that can sicken the new bees. To that end, taking it apart and hand scrubbing it would be the first step, getting anything organic out and off. I tried to look up bee-specific disinfectants, and found an excerpt from The Bee Keepers Review (displayed poorly so I'll just paraphrase) Where the author said to boil hives that had foulbrood in it, but if it was badly infested ot just burn it.
I don't know how toxic these would be to bees, but bleach or a quaternary ammonium solution are widely used in medical fields to sanitize surfaces. either way, even if you boil it, just having them empty and exposed to the sun is a good idea.
again, I don't know how stubborn anything affecting bees is, but a three step process of spritz with sanitizer -- leave in sun -- boil would likely kill everything on it. what the boiling would do to the wood, I'm not sure, especially since the book didn't say anything on duration. (it also reads like a book from the early 1900s, so probably outdated in every way)
Morgwino, thank you for taking the time to respond to my question.
I wasn't thinking about foulbrood, but it would likely be a concern to anyone contemplating used hives. I'm thinking of selling my three Warres and replacing them with Layens. I just want to advertise them as clean. I did have a few varroa mites and some wax moth problems, but that was the worst of it. So, boiling would probably be overkill for my hives, and like you, I question how that would effect the wood. Good point, though, about finding something that wouldn't be toxic to bees.
Various diseases can be harboured in the wax and propolis, which are waterproof. Most water soluble chemical cleaners will struggle to get spores sealed in waterproof, with added concerns about residues.
Commonly recommended is washing soda crystals, dissolved in hot water. Washing soda breaks down the wax and propolis and the wooden ware comes out pretty clean. The challenge is to keep the tub hot, and fully submerge whole boxes.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
Leigh - I've used the following method to even disinfect equipment (hives, frames) from colonies with European foulbrood. When equipment was then used to house other colonies, none of them got the disease, which shows that the disinfection was effective. This method is widely used in Russia.
1. Scrub the frames and hive walls. Remove any remaining comb or foundation from the frames and melt it (I use solar wax melter).
2. Scorch the hive walls with a blowtorch until it starts slightly burning/darkening the wood. Pay special attention to the corners. (Do not scorch the frames or they can be easily damaged by such high temperatures.) This is described in Keeping Bees with a Smile.
3a. Using a paint brush, "paint" the walls and the frames with 6% ("cleaning") vinegar.
3b. Using the same paint brush, without waiting for the vinegar to dry, paint over it with 10% hydrogen peroxide (the "regular" h. peroxide is much weaker - don't use it. You can either buy 30% h. peroxide and dilute it, or buy 12.5% h. peroxide sold in pharmacies - usually in bright red containers - the 12.5% stuff will work as good as 10%, you don't have to dilute it). What happens is that vinegar reacts with h. peroxide to form peracetic acid, which is a very strong disinfectant.
3c. Let dry for 2 hrs.
3.d. Repeat 3.a and 3.b one more time and you are done.
Dr Leo Sharashkin
Beekeeper and Editor
Absolutely - that complete procedure is for the "deep cleanup" in case of infectious disease, or when you buy equipment you know no history of.
If the colony dies of non-communicable-disease causes, you can do moderate cleaning. (E.g., the conventional bees most commonly die of Varroa mites - the viruses they carry, which kill the bees, are not transmittable through the bee equipment). Note that bees are as concerned about the sanitary condition of their hive as you are; they apply the anti-bacterial and anti-viral propolis to surfaces.
Finally, how much cleaning is needed depends on what strain of bees you use, too. When I visited a natural beekeeper Kirk Webster in Vermont with his 800 hives (and no treatments in 20 years), I was amazed to see that in case of colony death, he's reusing the equipment without any precautions! (But he's using his own survivor stock of bees that he's been selecting for 20 or more years.)
Dr Leo Sharashkin
Beekeeper and Editor