As anyone who has ever gone away for a few weeks at a time knows, it doesn’t take long for dust to accumulate on all your surfaces, including your houseplants. And, when a fan or AC unit turns on or a window opens, a speckling of soil on lower leaves is almost inevitable. Though it may seem like a tedious task, routinely cleaning the leaves of your houseplants is important. A layer of dust on the foliage will block sunlight and reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesize, which is ultimately how the plant feeds itself.
A clean plant that’s photosynthesizing at optimal levels will be a healthy plant, and in-turn more resistant to diseases and pest infestations. 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.
Click Play to Learn How to Clean Houseplants
How Often to Clean Your Houseplants
How often you clean houseplant leaves really depends on how much dust is in the air at your home. Houseplants growing in areas with dirt roads, ongoing construction, empty lots, and a lot of wind will have to be cleaned fairly often, likely every other week or so. 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.
Equipment / Tools
- Spray bottle
- Sprayer nozzle or hose
- Damp cloth
- Soft duster or brush
- Stiff brush
- Plastic wrap
- Dish detergent
- Household bleach
How to Clean Houseplant Foliage
Wash the Plant With a Spray Nozzle
The easiest method for cleaning medium to large houseplants is to move them to the kitchen sink, shower, or outdoors 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—water that is too hot or too cold can injure a plant’s leaves. Support the leaves or leaf stems gently with your hand 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
Smaller 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, and let the plants drip dry before moving them back into position.
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 easily to cleaning, while others—such as African violets—don’t like getting their leaves wet. In these cases, you can use a soft brush such as a mushroom brush to very gently coax the dust from the leaves.
Tips for Keeping Tidy Houseplants
When cleaning plants, it's also a great time to further tidy them up by removing any dead, brown, or yellowing leaves. If a leaf loosens easily, remove it by hand. Otherwise, use clean sheers or scissors. Never pull off a firmly attached, resistant leaf. 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, you should take the time to ensure that your 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, then rinse the pot very well before repotting your plant. To prevent future buildup on pots, periodically flush the soil with water and let it drain completely.
University of Minnesota Extension Office. “Managing insects on indoor plants.” Umn.edu. N.p., n.d. Web.