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How to remove propolis from your camera

I hate to spend time re-inventing the wheel, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. But I finally learned how to remove propolis from most surfaces.

Whenever I take pictures for this blog, I always end up getting propolis stuck to my camera. I’ve tried wearing gloves or not, tried wrapping plastic bags around my camera, and tried cleaning my hands between shots. Nothing works. When I’m done, I can’t even let go of it. I have to pry it off my hand.

Many materials in one camera

When I really examine it, I see that cameras are made of metal, plastic, and glass with a variety of finishes and textures. The non-slip grip is especially annoying because the little slip-resistant interstices become filled with propolis. Prying it out with a toothpick just isn’t my thing.

So I began searching for a non-polar solvent that would not damage metal, plastic, or glass, and that would leave the finishes intact but still remove the propolis. It should dry quickly and be readily available, not too expensive, and not dangerous to breathe. So what was it?

It’s embarrassing to say it took me a long time to come up with alcohol. As for reinventing the wheel, those little lens cleaning wet-wipe thingys are soaked in the stuff. Duh.

Isopropyl alcohol easily removes propolis

So I ended up trying 91% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and, by golly, it worked. My camera looks great and—an added benefit—it still works. After such success, I went around cleaning propolis off all kinds of things that shouldn’t have it.

I would have preferred ethanol (ethyl alcohol) for this purpose because it’s not nearly so poisonous. But here in the states, it’s impossible to find any that’s not mixed with something sticky, expensive, or highly taxed. So, under the pretext of protecting me from myself, the government wants me to buy ethanol made more poisonous by denaturing it, so I’ll stick with isopropyl for now and try to understand my government later.

At any rate, if you need to clean propolis off a hard surface, isopropyl alcohol will do the trick. It works on fabric as well except that stains from the plant tannins (or whatever they are) in the propolis tend to remain. I cleaned some propolis off my jeans and I can still see a faint outline of where it was—but at least the propolis itself is gone and won’t be able to transfer to something else in the dryer.


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  • Rusty, If I haven’t said it already – you tend to read my mind as a beekeeper. Your site is a wonderful amazing source of information for beekeepers and I always look forward to reading your posts. I thought I was the only one with propolis on my camera – but of course it’s a hazard of beekeeping! I had been trying to ignore it, but now I’ll get out my alcohol and clean it up.

      • I just e-mailed you. Just now!

        I like that this “thrive hive” has some of the features of the skep (including natural fibers/better ventilation) but also incorporates moveable frames. It’s very creative. It will probably cost $5,000. I found a different webpage where someone said that the designer had never kept bees but did consult with a lot of beekeepers in the design.

  • I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a problem and then, like a miracle, your latest post arrives to give me advice on that very topic. This time you beat me to the problem, but I’m tucking the solution away for when I need it.

  • I won’t use my expensive camera because I’m afraid of propolis getting all over it. I may start using it now with that suggestion. I love all your topics.

  • Polycarbonate dive housings are available for many popular compact cameras. These waterproof housings usually have larger, easier to manipulate buttons than the camera itself, since divers are often wearing gloves – like beekeepers! Unfortunately, the housings are often more expensive than the camera itself. I just put the idea out there for all to consider. Might just be cheaper to buy a waterproof camera to begin with for a beekeeping camera. Then you can be relatively assured that the alcohol cleanup won’t seep around buttons.

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