beekeeping equipment rants

Shed beekeeping gloves when it feels right: don’t hurry

There is nothing wrong with wearing beekeeping gloves. Use them as long as you like.

Experienced beekeepers may scoff at wearing protective gloves, but the decision to wear them is personal. You should do what makes you comfortable.

I just read another lengthy diatribe about gloves. Apparently, if you wear gloves you are not a “real” beekeeper. This kind of BS irritates me no end.

This particular article wasted a lot of ink on how to wean yourself from gloves. You go from thick leather to thin leather, to dishwashing gloves, to latex, to nothing. It talks about psyching yourself up for the task of bear-handedness. The first day you stand in the apiary—gloveless. The next day, you take off the outer cover—gloveless. And on and on. How inane.

Beekeeping gloves may be better than the alternative

The article has you “becoming accustomed” to your bees by smoking everything—the bee yard, your hands, clothing, outside the hive, inside the hive. Smoke, smoke, smoke. Clouds of it everywhere. That is moronic. That is not “becoming accustomed” to bees, that’s just replacing one suit of armor with another.

Speaking of smoke and psychology reminds me of a roommate I had in college. She was deathly afraid of snakes and signed up for a series of sessions designed to cure her fear. On the first day, she had to be in a room with a snake in a cage. The next time, she had to take one step closer. Then two steps . . . and so on, for weeks and weeks. But between sessions, she became so anxious she went from smoking a pack a day to two. Long term, which is worse? A fear of snakes or a two-pack-a-day habit?

I’ve seen a form of this in beekeepers, as well. Some newbees, in their lust to become “real,” simply avoid inspecting their hives altogether rather than having to do it gloveless. Sure, a thick glove may kill more bees than a bare hand, but long term, which is worse? Squishing a few extra bees or not checking them at all?

Don’t be intimidated by show-off beekeepers

Beekeepers who have recently shed their gloves are the worst when it comes to giving advice. They are just as self-righteous as reformed drinkers, smokers, and sinners. Seriously, I’m happy for those people; they have accomplished something. But must they rub it in your face?

My advice to beekeepers? Forget it. Wear what makes you comfortable. You will do the best for your bees when you are relaxed around them.

Your first gloveless day will happen when you least expect it

The first time I did a gloveless hive inspection I didn’t even realize it until I was almost done. I was worried about the hive and had a mental list of things I wanted to check. I was so intent on not forgetting the list that I forgot my gloves instead. As I was putting the hive back together I got stung on the finger—and suddenly realized I was gloveless. That was easy enough.

This will happen to you, too. It will happen naturally—at the right time for you—without any stress or strange rituals. In the meantime, don’t stigmatize a non-issue. I still wear gloves when I feel like it. Or I don’t if I don’t. If someone decides my gloves indicate I’m not a “real” beekeeper, that is their problem, not mine.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Great post Rusty. I usually use the disposable latex ones for hygiene purposes but if I’m doing a big operation which is likely to upset the bees, like a shook-swarm, I get my leathers out.

    I think there can even be some disadvantages to going gloveless because your hands get sticky with propolis, which can then make things trickier if you then need to do a delicate procedure like marking a queen. Whereas if you had gloves on previously you can just take them off temporarily and have nice fresh clean hands as you handle the queen.

    • Emily,

      Along those same lines, I like to wear gloves when I’m using my camera. By taking off the gloves to shoot pictures, then putting them back on, I can keep most of the propolis on the gloves instead of on the camera.

  • I don’t wear gloves or a protection whenever I can. I understand the risk is higher I’ll get stung and I have all over. I personally hate wearing stuff working the hive. In cooler weather I’ll wear protective gear and even gloves cause the bees hate the rush of cold air and are very cranky. I try to avoid smoke as well. However, with all this said . . . why would someone care which way you do something? I get this attitude in bee classes and articles or books I read . . . “this is the only way” to do whatever. I would not suggest working the bees the way I do. But “to each his own.”

  • I’m a new beekeeper and I decided I didn’t want to spend money on ill-fitting leather gloves so I tried dish gloves, but that made my hands horribly sweaty in summer. But I don’t like the feeling of a flying bee touching my bare hand. Oh well, back to dish gloves for now.

    Funny thing is I thought I wasn’t a “real” beekeeper by not using expensive leather gloves!

    • I found the same thing about dish gloves. Disposable latex gloves don’t cost very much to buy in packs of 100. They’re hygenic and make you feel a little protected though a bee can sting through them.

  • I had some b.s. in my attitude towards beekeeping practices when I first got into it. For some reason, I thought I knew it all and I talked like I was some kind of beekeeping authority (ha!). Then my actual beekeeping experiences showed me how wrong I was and how wrong much of the advice I initially took was. (Is that a grammatically correct sentence? Probably not.) I listened to too many beekeepers who left me with the impression that there is only one correct way to keep bees.

    The most important lesson I’ve learned since then is that there is no one correct way to care for bees. There is more than enough room for everyone to find their own way in beekeeping, their own style, what works best for them and for their bees.

    I know people who went gloveless from day one. And I don’t feel any shame in saying that’s not me. I have inadvertently gone gloveless during minor inspections, but that’s as good as I get in that department.

    Another big lesson I’ve learned: The bees don’t care either way. Gloves? No gloves? Whatever. Just another human.

  • Thanks again, Rusty, for another satisfying post. I’m constantly amazed by the attitude that real beekeepers don’t wear gloves.

    My story: after inspecting a hive on a hot day last summer, I took off my gloves to cool down. I decided not to put them back on to inspect the second hive, and almost immediately a bee stung me. A few hours later my hand looked like one of those blown-up balloon gloves, and for two days I couldn’t move any part of my hand or arm. I enjoy having the use of all body parts, so I’ll stick to gloves, thank you.

    I’ve been wearing nitrile surgical gloves—I think a bee could sting through them but so far so good. I figure if people can perform surgery wearing them, I should have enough dexterity to work in a beehive. And because I’m not doing surgery, I wear the gloves several times before I throw them out.

    Have you had any good or bad experiences with this type of glove?

    • I find that bees can sting through nitrile gloves but they don’t manage it nearly as often as they do through latex. When I really don’t want to be stung, two pairs of nitrile gloves is really good.

      Although my hands don’t tend to swell up from a sting, any sting above the neck causes my eyes to swell shut. I wear a lot of protective gear in the week before I’m due to speak in front of a group. Can you imagine speaking to potential new beekeepers with your eyes swollen shut and red welts on your hands? Not good.

    • I’ve used surgical gloves a few times and have had bad luck every time. My bees seem to have no trouble stinging through them. Maybe I’ll try two pairs next time. If there is a next time.

  • I got stung through my leather gloves once but never been stung when wearing washing up gloves, though now I’ve said that I’m definitely going to get stung next time I’m wearing them!

  • I use deer soft gloves from welding supply, they’re soft and flexible and you can pick up a dime with them. They are great gloves for working the hive. They don’t get stiff if you get them wet with sweat when they dry.

  • I’m googling today because we changed out the bottom boards on our hives yesterday, which really pissed off the girlz…especially after the smoker went dry! I have been gloveless working the hives for the last 4 months and didn’t worry about it, but I got stung twice on my hands yesterday. One of my hands is swollen up and now covered in a rash, so I’m seeing if nitrile gloves will prevent stings. Or, you know, make sure the smoker is full and work faster!

  • The other day, I decided to wear gloves so I wouldn’t get stung. But then I accidentally pinched a bee because I couldn’t feel her through the glove. So I got stung that time BECAUSE I was wearing gloves!

  • I started with leather gloves because they came with the beginner kit.
    (Lots of stuff came with the beginner kit that I wouldn’t recommend now, including a too tiny hive tool, and DVDs—I may be old, but even I can stream. And what was with that alleged hive stand?)

    Anyway, I’ve switched to the blue nitrile. Yes, I’ve been stung through them occasionally, but it seems like the stings aren’t as deep. The gloves are reusable till they get a tear, and they give me a feeling of security well beyond their actual armor-strength, which keeps me calmer and smoother in my actions. (I did once fling a queen in a queen catcher across the beeyard because I failed to anticipate that a horde of bees were going to follow her onto my bare hand, so some psychological armor is definitely valuable to me.)

    The one thing wrong with the gloves is that when I take them off about a cupful of sweat pours out of them.

  • Any tips on cleaning your leather gloves? I am concerned leather cleaner might have a chemical residue that could harm my bees. Water makes them stiff. And I don’t use soap on any equipment for my bees, including my gloves.

    • Ann,

      I agree that leather cleaner could be harmful because most are made from petroleum distillates. But soap? That’s what I’ve used for the past 25 years.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.