As anyone who has gone away for a few weeks knows, it doesn’t take long for dust to accumulate on houseplants. And when a fan or AC unit turns on or a window opens, a speckling of soil on lower leaves is inevitable. Though it might be a tedious task, it's important that you clean residue from plant leaves on a regular basis. A layer of dust on the houseplant foliage will block sunlight and reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize. Photosynthesis is how the plant feeds itself.
A clean plant that’s photosynthesizing at optimal levels will be a healthier plant and healthy plants are more resistant to diseases and pest infestations. So periodically cleaning the leaves of your houseplants actually makes less work for you in the long run—and enhances both the plant and your indoor environment.
When to Clean Your Houseplants
How often you clean houseplant leaves really depends on how much dust is in the air. Houseplants growing in areas with dirt roads, ongoing construction, empty lots, and a lot of wind will have to be cleaned often. The best way to determine if a plant needs cleaning is to rub your fingers on the leaves. If you can feel or see more dust than you can blow off, it’s time to clean.
Though products advertised as Leaf Shine seem like an easy shortcut to cleaner, prettier plants, they can actually interfere with a plant's ability to breathe and photosynthesize. Skip the Leaf Shine and stick to the elbow grease.
Equipment / Tools
- Spray bottle
- Sprayer nozzle or hose
- Damp cloth
- Soft duster or brush
- Stiff brush (for cleaning pots)
- Plastic wrap (if needed)
- Dish detergent
- Household bleach
Wash the Plant With a Spray Nozzle
The easiest method for cleaning medium to large houseplants is to move them to the kitchen sink or shower and hose them off with a sprayer nozzle. Keep the water pressure on low and test the water before spraying to make sure it is lukewarm because hot and cold water can injure a plant’s leaves. Support the leaves or leaf stems as you spray.
Mist With a Spray Bottle
For plants that can't handle the force of a spray nozzle, a spray bottle is a great solution. Succulents, cacti, and bonsais are among the plants that are best cleaned with a misting from a spray bottle.
Dunk the Plant in Water
Small plants can be cleaned by holding the base of the plant at soil level, inverting it into a bucket of water, and swishing the leaves under the water. Watering the soil beforehand will help prevent the soil from falling out when the pot is inverted. You could also wrap plastic wrap around the base of the plant to contain the soil while cleaning. Again, be sure to use lukewarm water. Let the plants drip dry before moving them back into position.
If your plants are very grimy, you can spray them with a diluted soapy water mixture and then hose or dunk them clean in a water-filled sink. Use about 1/4 tablespoon dish soap per 1 quart of water. Plants that can't handle being hosed in the sink can be sprayed with clean, lukewarm water to wash the soap off.
Wipe the Leaves
For plants that are too large to move, you can simply wipe the leaves off with a damp cloth. This method also works well with plants that have just a few leaves, like young snake plants or banana plants. After the initial cleaning, you can help keep dust from building up on the leaves by using a soft duster on them whenever you dust your furniture or floors.
Use a Soft Brush
Some plants have sticky or fuzzy leaves that just don’t lend themselves to easy cleaning. And in the case of plants such as African violets that don’t like getting their leaves wet, neither spraying nor wiping is the answer. For fuzzy-leaved plants, use a soft brush such as a mushroom brush to very gently coax the dust from the leaves.
Tips for Keeping Tidy Houseplants
While cleaning plants, it's easy to further tidy them up by removing their dead, brown, or yellowing leaves. If a leaf loosens easily, remove it by hand. Otherwise, use scissors. Never pull off firmly attached, resistant leaves. Prune away just the browned leaf tips from plants that were left too dry. The plant will look more natural if you follow the natural contour of the leaves when cutting.
After putting all this effort into cleaning your plants, why not ensure that the pots look good too? If salt or minerals have formed a white layer on the outside or rim of a pot, remove the plant and thoroughly clean the pot. Wash the pot with a diluted bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Scrub off the salt residue with a stiff brush, and rinse the pot well before repotting your plant. Prevent future buildup on pots by periodically flushing the soil with water and letting it drain completely.
University of Minnesota Extension Office. “Managing insects on indoor plants.” Umn.edu. N.p., n.d. Web.