Paint your Beehives with the Best, non-toxic paint

When I was in commercial beekeeping, each year brought with it the chores of building new hive bodies and honey supers.

I watched as each new box was dipped in a copper solution mixed with paint thinner. After the boxes were drip-dry, each one had to be painted with an outdoor latex-based paint on the exterior.

The copper preserved the wood and kept termites at bay while the latex paint protected the exterior from weathering too quickly. The whole time I was doing this, I was thinking to myself, ‘If honey bees are already having issues with toxins then why are we coating and slathering their homes with even more of them?’ It didn’t make any sense.

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beehives painted using milk based paint.
The paint on the hive covers worked out really well. I thought that I could get away with making them dark covers since the box underneath is a top hive/quilting box but I’m going with a lighter color next time because it gets pretty hot! So, don’t make you hive covers dark in color. Photo by Jonathan Hargus

But as with all things, there is ALWAYS a more excellent way of doing stuff; including protecting beekeeping wooden ware from the elements without harming the bees inside of it.

To tell the truth, I don’t know for a fact that treating hive bodies with copper/mineral spirits is harmful in the long run. But I do know that the mix is harmful when fresh, before it dries. Does that mean it’s NOT harmful to my little bees after the fact? I don’t know. But why take the chance?

I’m tired of honey bee research looking for ‘solutions’ by testing what almost-kills-the-bees-but-not-quite. That’s not thriving in my opinion. But essentially, this is the same idea behind chemical mite strips for treating Varroa mite. I’m not going to treat with the stuff that might hurt my bees but ‘only a little.’

This apiary has sixteen beehives that are overwintering well. Today the sun was shining and the bees were coming and going a little bit in the lower 40’s. Video by Jonathan Hargus

So guess what? If there’s an alternative then I’m going to try it. And I have. I found a paint in my online research, one that is NOT based on copper or latex but rather milk. Yup! I found a company that sells pigmented milk powder and uses pure Tung oil to protect outdoor equipment. It’s called The Real Milk Paint Company. They have been around since 1995.

Compared to a gallon of regualar paint that I might get from the hardware store, milk paint is more cost efficient, however there is more work involved. You see, what comes in the box is a bag of pigmented milk powder, pure Tung oil, an outdoor additive, and and anti-foaming agent. These are all separate products for which The Real Milk Paint Company provides mixing instructions for, as well as video instructions on their website. Buy you mix according to need. I usually mix about a quart at a time. The outdoor additive is finely ground Borax; a natural substance. I use it in my laundry. Learn more about it here.

The Real Milk Paint Company paint that I use to paint my bee hive equipment.
Here are my two gallons of Real Milk Paint! Photo by Jonathan Hargus

They have over 56 colors available that are made in the USA. I have used two of the colors they offer: Warm Ash, a medium brown color that I painted my hive covers with and Sunflower, a warm yellow that I paint all of my hive bodies with. Next time I place an order, I’m getting Plum, it’s looks so cool!

There’s pros and cons with everything in life. The milk paint is no exception but for me, my bees are worth going the extra mile for. I have tried so many different ideas for equipment that didn’t work, and wasted money and time that I will never get back. But I have also put a lot of money and hard work into making every single deep hive body, bottom board, comb honey super, quilting box and hive cover that I own. I’m sure many of you would agree that it is important to make that stuff last as long as possible. That’s why I use the milk paint with the pure tung oil. The tung oil and the outdoor additive help to protect my boxes.

One of the pros about using a milk-based paint is that I don’t have to worry if it’s harmful or toxic to my bees because I know that it’s not. Milk paint is safe not only for my bees but also for the environment. I have no idea what all the ingredients are for regular toxic paints but I know that they contain heavy metals which are toxic. And if we’re instructed to avoid contact with our skin and to use a respirator, shouldn’t that tell us something?

overwintered beehives with equipment painted in a milk-based paint.
The unpainted equipment was first treated years ago with boiled linseed oil. It has weathered well accept for the ugly grey color. That little 3-frame nuc is overwintering very successfully btw! Photo by Jonathan Hargus

I would like to encourage you to try using milk paint on your beehives or anything else that you have in mind. The Real Milk Paint Company has an aresenal of products that I haven’t even mentioned here today. It’s a comforting thought that if you’re painting a nursery for the new baby that the paint you’re bringing into your home is not going to harm anyone in any way.

I would really enjoy hearing from you in the comments below. Perhaps you already knew about milk paint and would like to add something. Or maybe you want to share what projects you have that milk paint would be perfect for. Learn more about milk paint and how it works online at

I am always happy that you join me here today and are willing to learn something new. Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee.~

Jonathan Hargus/Beekeeper Extraordinaire

9 Comments Add yours

  1. This milk-based paint is excellent for painting mating nucs different colors. Many beekeepers like to color-code their mating nucs to help ensure that the queen returning from a mating flight finds the correct apartment.

  2. CB says:

    Isn’t borax an insecticide/pesticide? Pretty sure I’ve seen that on labels for killing ants and other insects.

    1. Yes, it definitely kills things. It’s only harmful to bees when it’s in-hive, especially when it gets wet. That’s bad news. But dry on the ground it will only affect the ants.

      1. CB says:

        Thanks for your reply, I am a new beekeeper this year and getting ready to prep a cedar hive (1st cedar hive) for next season, and wouldn’t the borax become an issue if a honeybee lands on your hive after a rain or even after it comes in contact with dew? I know low VOC exterior paints become inert upon drying and off-gassing.

      2. Ah! So in the case of mixing the borax as an outdoor additive in the milk-based paint it’s not a problem. It seems to dissolve and any of it that doesn’t brushes off on it’s own. I have equipment three years old that was painted with it and have never had a single issue. I like that you’re preparing a cedar hive. That sounds really nice!

  3. CB says:

    Many thanks for your replies, that’s good to know.

    1. You bet! Anytime

  4. Danielle m says:

    I own an auto body repair shop. Would it be safe to paint the hives with water born automotive paint? And then clear coat them.? I’ve painted wooden doors for customers before.

    1. I think that would be okay as long as you didn’t paint the inside at all. Leave the inside of the boxes raw wood.

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