Using A Honey Refractometer 

Updated: 28th January 2021

A honey refractometer is a small, portable device used for measuring the moisture content of honey before it is harvested by the beekeeper.  Here, we'll look at how a refractometer works, and how much a device might cost.

Why use a honey refractometer before harvesting honey? 

  • How can I prevent honey from fermenting?
  • How can I get information about the sugar content of the honey?
  • How can I know it's the right time to harvest the honey?

This is where a honey refractometer comes in.
If honey is harvested too early, the moisture content may be too high.  This in turn could lead to fermentation of the honey in the jars, and unnecessary wastage.

Comb honey

Ideal moisture content of honey

The ideal moisture content of honey is around 17 - 18%, and ideally, not greater than 20%.  However, some honey types will tolerate a very slightly higher moisture content without going bad.

How a honey refractometer works

'Refraction' describes the movement of light as it enters a liquid - basically, light changes direction upon contact with a liquid.  However, the movement of light will depend on the content / concentration of the liquid.  With honey, the amount of sugar directly impacts how the light reacts as it passes through the honey, and a prism inside the device.  The refractometer measures the movement of light, and correlates the measurements to a scale.

Refractometers are not only used by beekeepers, they are used in the food industry and in scientific laboratories.  In homes, they may also be used in jam making.

How to use a honey refractometer

Three key points:

  • Remember to calibrate your refractometer before use.
  • Only a small amount of honey is required, but ensure the plate is completely covered.  There is no point using too much - this will simply create more mess than necessary.
  • Clean the refractometer after use with a damp cloth.

Below is an excellent simple video from a beekeeper demonstrating the use of a refractometer:

How much should I pay for a honey refractometer?

Beekeepers have different views on this.  Some prefer to purchase a more expensive model.  In such cases, it may be possible to share a device with other beekeepers with healthy hives.

On the other hand, various models are available for a modest investment, and this may be a better option rather than sharing with other beekeepers.  That way, you can avoid any inconveniences that may occur through sharing.  

The price ranges are commonly anywhere around $20 - $150 - or £20 - £150.

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