Updated on September 11th, 2022
A bee smoker is probably the most used tool in a beekeeper’s arsenal. Beekeepers smoke bees to keep them calm and disrupt their communications.
A few puffs of cool smoke will send bees scurrying to gorge on honey in anticipation of leaving the hive. But, once full of honey, the bees are calm.
With communications disrupted, alarm pheromones won’t trigger defensive behavior aimed at the beekeeper.
The best bee smoker fuels are nontoxic organic items that smolder and do not burn quickly. Many options are free (or cheap), including cotton fibers, burlap, dry pine needles or grass, and herbs. Suppliers sell fuel. Never use chemicals, treated material, plastic, or rubber that can harm you or the bees.
Good smoldering fuels produce cool, white smoke to help the beekeeper control the bees during an inspection. In addition, a well-lit smoker can last without restarting for your entire hive inspections.
This article discusses the pros and cons of the best fuels for you bee smoker.
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A bee smoker is a beekeeping tool that holds a smoldering fire and produces cool smoke.
Beekeepers use the smoke to affect the behavior of honey bees during a hive inspection.
Smoke helps move the bees out of the beekeeper’s way and reduces defensive behavior.
While you may not use the smoker every time you do a hive inspection, we recommend you light one and take it to they apiary each time you plan to open a hive.
See our article What Is A Bee Smoker? (A Must-Have Beekeeping Tool) for details about the components of a bee smoker, how to light and how to use it.
Fuels Not To Use In Smokers
Before we get into some of the best bee smoker fuels you can use, let’s go over what you should avoid.
Do not use anything that could contain toxic material. Items to avoid in a smoker include:
- Synthetic materials like rubber and plastic,
- Petroleum-based products like gasoline or lighter fluid,
- Cardboard, burlap, or other items treated with chemicals, pesticides, or glues.
You want fuel that smolders for a long time, so you do not need to restart the smoker during an inspection.
Items that burn too quickly and produce hot smoke are newspaper and large pieces of wood. Paper is suitable as a starter but not as a long-lasting source of smoke.
When gathering your free organic materials, be careful not to grab poison ivy or poison oak which create toxic fumes.
The Best Bee Smoker Fuels
The best fuels for bee smokers smolder for a long time, producing cool smoke with no toxic ingredients. Many of the best fuels are natural products that can be gathered for free. Experienced beekeepers all seem to have their personal favorite based on what’s
If free material is not readily available in your area (like urban beekeeping), you can purchase fuel from beekeeping supply companies.
As your fire up your smoker, pack fuel tightly to keep it smoldering. The fuel may burn quickly and create hot smoke if it is loosely packed.
Dried pine needles and pine cones
Dried pine needles and cones smolder well, but the resins will leave a lot of creosote in your smoker.
We gather dry needles and store them in large buckets for when needed.
Cotton fibers and lint
Cotton fibers from old clothing and rags make excellent fuel. However, avoid rags that have been used with chemicals or cotton with lots of dyes and other added material.
Fuels sold by supply companies are often mostly cotton fibers.
Some beekeepers recommended dryer lint. Unfortunately, depending on your recent dryer use, it may contain polyester, pet hair, or other materials that should be avoided.
Wood pellets are not free but will get the job done for you. Pellets are compressed biomass. Check to make sure they do not include any binders.
Pellets may be a little harder to get lit than pine needles. A handheld torch will get them going faster.
I would avoid wood pellets made for smoking meat. You’re not trying to flavor your bees.
Herbs and citrus peels
Some beekeepers add herbs such as lavender or citrus peels to the fuel. I think they are more for the benefit of the beekeeper by producing a pleasant aroma.
However, if they are accessible and free, why not use them to help fill the smoker.
Combined with pine needles, wood shavings are our favorite smoker fuel.
Do not use wood chips from pressure-treated wood.
We’ve used cedar shavings for pet bedding because they are untreated.
Burlap is an excellent bee smoker fuel. We often use scraps of burlap leftover from various garden activities.
Some is burlap treated; make sure you have untreated burlap.
Corrugated cardboard, cardboard rolls, and egg cartons
An American Bee Journal article has an excellent explanation of how to use corrugated cardboard in your smoker.
Cardboard rolls and ripped-up egg cartons burn well but probably work best as a starter or a supplement to other fuels.
Smoke And Honey
We have heard that some beekeepers are concerned that smoking can affect the flavor of honey. We are not concerned about this for several reasons.
First, smoke is generally puffed across the tops of the frames to scatter bees. The extent of smoke we direct into the hive is minimal.
Second, our intrusions into the hives are limited during honeyflow. If you stay out of the hives while the busy are making most of their honey, you won’t be smoking them very often.
The best bee smoker fuel is organic material you can get for free and recycle in your smoker.
Avoid anything containing or treated with toxic materials.
Use the smoker sparingly.