Long-term studies of the persistence of plastics in the environment have made it very clear that we must either recycle or avoid as much plastic use as we can, and in many ways, the switch is easy. In the kitchen, glass and ceramic containers not only reduce plastic usage, but also minimize exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates — and they’re less easily stained by foods, particularly the curries I love to cook.
Metal and wooden utensils last longer than plastic ones. Plastic wrap, unfortunately, is hard to replace. Few materials are as lightweight and flexible, let alone impermeable enough to protect foods from drying out in a fridge or on the counter.
To solve this problem, many people have turned to fabric wraps soaked in beeswax mixtures, which allow the fabric to remain flexible while making it tacky enough to cling to dishes. The wax coating also makes cleanup easier, because sauces and drippy foods can’t soak into the fabric.
Your materials will include fabrics and resins of your choice.
There’s a trick to making beeswax wraps, though. Beeswax alone is too brittle at room temperature to serve the purpose, and it’s not very sticky. You’ll need to add an oil for flexibility, and a resin for better cling.
Jojoba oil and coconut oil are common choices, and can be sourced responsibly. Copal and pine resin appear frequently in recipes, not necessarily because they make a better blend than other resins, but because they’re far less expensive and rare than, say, frankincense.
After reading as many recipes for homemade beeswax wraps as I could find, I tried two blends. One used copal resin, and the other pine resin; I chose to use jojoba oil for both. Although coconut oil is less expensive, I don’t like the scent, and I read that wraps using it tend to leave a slight greasy film on whatever they touch.
Use pinking shears on the edges of your fabric to reduce fraying.
I found that the copal resin wraps were stickier when cool than the pine resin wraps. Both recipes resulted in wraps that were easy to shape with the warmth of my hands, and I could rinse them clean with cool water.
Materials and Setup
- Cooking pot
- Heatproof glass bowl, to fit on top of pot
- Wooden spoon
- New wide paintbrush
- Baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Organic cotton fabric, cut into pieces with pinking shears
Blend beeswax pastilles (far right) with powdered pine resin (center) or copal resin (far left) in a double boiler (below).
In addition to the ingredients for the wax blend, you’ll need to set up a double boiler and a place to cool the freshly waxed wraps. Use clean utensils and dishes, but not your favorites — the wax and resin will be nearly impossible to remove completely from anything they touch. I picked up some bowls and wooden spoons from my local thrift store for a few dollars.
Organic fabric may seem like an extra expense, but conventionally grown cotton is heavily dosed with pesticides, and I don’t want those near my food. Quilting cottons are the perfect weight, and are available in a huge range of colors and patterns. Keep in mind that unless you use highly refined beeswax, the wraps will have a yellow tinge. Pinking the edges of the fabric will reduce fraying.
I made a variety of wraps, from 18-by-24-inch bread loaf wraps to little 10-inch squares to fit over my smallest mixing bowl. Experiment with your fabric to see what sizes will be most useful for the foods and dishes you want to wrap up.
The wax mixture will add a yellow tinge to the fabric.
Copal Resin Wraps
The quantities given will cover about 2 yards of fabric cut to various sizes. As long as you stick to the ratio of 2 parts beeswax to 1 part each copal resin and jojoba oil, you can scale
- 8 tablespoons beeswax pastilles
- 4 tablespoons copal resin
- 4 tablespoons jojoba oil
Pine Resin Wraps
The quantities given will cover about 2 yards of fabric cut to various sizes. As long as you stick to the ratio of 4 parts each beeswax and pine resin to 1 part jojoba oil, you can scale the recipe.
- 8 tablespoons beeswax pastilles
- 8 tablespoons powdered pine resin
- 2 tablespoons jojoba oil
Once fully coated, allow the wraps to air-dry.
How to Make Beeswax Wraps
Set up a double boiler with the pot and bowl. Fill the pot with water to just below the bottom of the bowl, and bring to a simmer. Pour the beeswax pastilles, resin, and oil into the bowl. I used powdered pine resin, which completely melted in about 20 minutes.
The copal resin I bought came in lumps, and took closer to 2 hours to melt completely. Stir the mixture occasionally to blend the ingredients.
While the wax and resin are melting, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Set up a place to cool the wraps. They won’t be drippy when fresh, but will stick to flat surfaces until they cool, so hanging is best. I made a tiny clothesline between the upper cabinets in my kitchen.
Arrange the pieces of fabric on the cookie sheet, and when the wax mixture is fully melted, use the paintbrush to spread it evenly on the fabric. It’s OK to have slightly thick or thin spots, but avoid heavy drips or completely bare areas.
Once dry, wash them with gentle soap in cool water.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven for about 1 minute, to melt the wax into the fibers. When you remove the sheet, you can use the brush to quickly smooth and redistribute the wax if needed, but you must peel the wraps off the parchment paper before they cool and stick.
Hang each wrap up to cool. When cool, you can fold them for storage, or use them to pack up some food.
Excess wax mixture can be poured into small molds and saved, or left in the bowl and remelted later.
Caitlin Wilson is an editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and a lifelong textile enthusiast. You can keep up with her endless rotation of projects and new hobbies online at www.Sun-Shine-And-Roses.Blogspot.com.