As anyone who has gone away for two weeks knows, it doesn’t take long for dust to accumulate. And when a fan or AC unit turns on or a window opens, a speckling of soil on lower leaves is inevitable. Though tedious a task it may be, it's important that you clean plant leaves of any residue on a regular basis. A layer of dust on the leaves of houseplants 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 don’t get diseases and pest infestations. So periodically cleaning the leaves of your houseplants actually makes less work for you in the long run—and it will make your houseplants and home look better.
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.
How often you clean your houseplant's leaves really depends on how much dust is in your air. Folks with dirt roads, construction, and a lot of wind will need to clean their houseplants more often. The best way to tell if a plant needs cleaning is to rub your fingers on the leaves. If you can feel or see dust more dust than you can blow off the leaves, it’s time to clean.
How to Clean Indoor Plant Leaves
When it comes to cleaning your houseplants, there are several ways you can go about doing so. Some of the options include the following:
Wash 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. Both hot and cold water can injure the plant’s leaves. Hold the leaves or leaf stems as you spray to support the plant.
Mist with a Spray Bottle
For plants who 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 would prefer this method.
Dunk 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 about. 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.
If your plants are really grimy, you can spray them with a diluted soapy water mixture and then hose or dunk clean in the sink. Use about 1/4 tablespoon dish soap per one quart of water. Plants that can't handle being hosed in the sink can be re-sprayed with clean, lukewarm warm to wash the soap off.
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 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 house.
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 or 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.
Tidy Your Houseplants Further
It's not just the leaves that need cleaning. There are other ways you can clean your indoor plants that will help them grow stronger and make them look better.
Trim What's Dead
While washing plants, it's easy to further tidy them up by getting rid of their dead, brown, or yellowing leaves. If the leaf falls loose easily, remove it by hand. Otherwise, use scissors. Never pull resistant leaves of a plant, and only 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.
Clean the Pot
After putting in all this effort for cleaning your plants, why not ensure that the pots are in shape too? If salt or minerals have formed a white layer on the outside or rim of your flower pot, remove the plant, and thoroughly clean the pot. Wash the pot with a diluted bleach solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. Scrub all 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 in the pots.
Initially, it might sound like a lot of work to keep houseplants clean, but an occasional cleaning is not really that much effort, and it will keep your houseplants looking and growing better.