Wax Removal

Chemical Dissolution Techniques


I have run across many people who tell me they use (or used to use) “cleaning fluid” to remove wax.  When pressed for technique, I am told they would put some on a tissue, and gently wipe away the wax. I remember trying to use Energine cleaning fluid many years ago in just this fashion, and having poor results–all that rubbing caused me to rub the dye off as well. 

Needless to say, I don’t recommend this technique.  A bit of solvent on a tissue may be adequate to remove a small bit of residual wax or soot, but removing all the wax off a pysanka this way is analogous to trying to empty a pond with a teaspoon: given enough time and effort, you could do it, but why bother?

Instead, if using a solvent, I soak my pysanka in it and let the chemicals–and time–do all the hard work. The solvent will attack and slowly soften and dissolve the beeswax; small lines will melt away, while larger pieces of wax will get undermined and fall off of the egg. 

NOTE: I have returned to removing wax by melting it off, as I find it more satisfying and less toxic.  The information below is accurate but describes processes I no longer utilize.

If you are using a solvent, you must determine whether or not it is heavier than water.  This is a simple task–simply put an egg into the solvent, and determine whether it sinks or floats. (This procedure is nearly identical to medieval witch-hunting techniques.) In either case, you need to pour enough of the solvent into the container to completely cover the egg when submerged.

PRO TIP: If you are using emptied eggs, this is not the technique for you.  The egg will be hard to weigh down, and the solvent will melt your wax plug and leak into the egg.  Use the microwave, a candle or some other, simpler method!

NOT heavier than water (egg sinks)

These solvents are the easiest to use.  I’ve used Goof-Off, others swear by Odorless Mineral Spirits. Both are available by the gallon at your hardware store. NOTE: it appears that Goof Off will no longer be sold due to toxicity concerns over one of its components.

To chemically clean an egg, I place a completed pysanka into a plastic container of solvent, shut the lid, and let it soak until the wax has dissolved off. I will check the progress occasionally by removing the egg, and wiping it down with a folded paper towel.

For eggs with fine lines, a short soak may be all that is needed.  For eggs with a heavier wax application, I sometimes need to wipe the softened wax off of the egg once or twice and return it to the solvent bath for a longer soak.

I use plastic quart soup containers, but any similar plastic container (with a tight-sealing, water-proof lid) will do. Yogurt, sour cream and similar containers will work. It is important to close the lid well and keep it sealed during the soaking process, so as to decrease the amount of solvent vapor escaping, for two reasons:

  1. 1.To prevent exposure to potentially harmful and/or carcinogenic chemicals

  2. 2.To decrease the risk of fires and explosions.  Most, if not all, chemical solvents are either flammable, combustible, or spontaneously combustible.  (And remember that inflammable means flammable!)

HEAVIER than water (egg floats)

I used to use Carbosol, back before the EPA banned it, to remove wax from my pysanky.  It worked like a charm, and was NOT flammable.  Its major drawback (besides destroying Mother Earth) was that it was heavier than water, and eggs would float in it.  Unfortunately, for the solvent to work, the eggs needs to be immersed.  This was my work-around solution:

1. Place the egg into the solvent, and then weigh it down.  I used a potato masher, which I would insert as in the photo below.  It applied enough pressure to keep the egg submerged in the solvent (but only a full egg, not an emptied egg).

2. Place a hood over the arrangement above.  This limits the amount of solvent vapor which will escape, for the reasons outlined above, both by increasing the partial pressure of the gas at the solvent surface, and by trapping the vapors to limit dispersal. I used a plastic gallon milk jug with the top end cut off.

(I no longer use this system, but it has occurred to me that it might be possible to find a smaller–or at least shorter–weight that would be able to submerge the egg while fitting into the container.   In such a case, you would just seal the container as above, with everything inside.  I leave this task to future researchers......)

The rest of the removal process is as above: checking, wiping, and re-soaking as needed.

Solvent Storage/Straining

Unused solvent should be stored in its original container according to instructions on the container (away from heat, etc.).  Used solvent should be stored separately, but not in a plastic container: the seal is adequate for a short period of time, but the solvent, in gas form, will escape over time.  I pour the “dirty” solvents off into glass mason jars with metal (not plastic) lids when I am not using them; an empty metal solvent container (properly labeled) would be another good option.

You will find that, with use, the wax will accumulate as a sludge at the bottom of your jar.  I usually strain the solvent through a coffee filter or piece of paper towel before decanting it into the glass container. The strained wax can be disposed of carefully (follow instructions on the original container for disposing of soaked rags).


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How to Use Chemical Solvents