How to Clean Your Houseplant’s Leaves

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Clean Houseplant Leaves

When I first started indoor gardening, I had no idea that I should clean my houseplant’s leaves. I didn’t realize I was slowly killing them under a layer of dust.

Foliage plants all need regular washing to keep them healthy and free of dust. If dust and dirt builds up, your plants won’t absorb carbon dioxide efficiently. This is especially important if you want your plants to help clean your indoor air or if you’re an allergy sufferer.

Removing dust also improves photosynthesis and transpiration. Plus, it’s one of simplest things you can do to improve the appearance of your houseplants and keep them healthy looking.

How to Clean Large-Leafed Plants

Large-leafed plants are those with large, broad leaves with a lot of surface area – like Snake Plant, Dieffenbachia, Corn Plant, or Schefflera.

This is all you need to keep your large-leafed houseplants free of dust, pet hair, and household dirt that builds up on the leaves:

  • Soft sponge or cloth – Microfiber cloths work well, but you can cut up an old T-shirt, a fresh kitchen sponge, or use whatever you have lying around. Just make sure it’s soft and gentle on the delicate leaves.
  • Plain water – For the best results, use warm water (see instructions below).
  • Mild soap – I use Dawn dish-washing liquid, but any mild and gentle soap will work fine.
  • Pail or bowl – To fill with soapy water.

Although it’s a bit tedious, the best method is to clean each individual leaf, one by one. Support the back of each leaf with one hand while you wipe (see picture below) to get into the crevices and prevent bruising.

Clean Plant Leaves
Place your hand under the leaves for support while cleaning them.

Make sure to clean both sides of the leaf – top and bottom – as many pests hide on the undersides of the leaves.

If hard water builds up on leaves, wipe them with diluted white vinegar to break down the mineral deposits. Some older gardening books suggest using milk for this purpose, but this practice is no longer recommended because it can attract pests.

How to Clean Fine-Leafed Plants

Fine-leafed plants are plants that have delicate, small leaves like maidenhair fern and many other types of ferns. Basically, if the leaves are too small to clean individually by hand, I would consider it to fit under this category.

Like large-leafed plants, those with fine foliage also need their leaves cleaned periodically. It’s too difficult to clean the leaves one by one (and may cause damage). So, the best solution is to spray them off using a fine spray of water.

Clean fine-leafed plants like ferns with a spray of water.
Clean fine-leafed plants like ferns with a spray bottle.

I recommend using a spray bottle set to the mist setting. Here’s what to do:

  1. Mix a few drops of dish-washing soap to a quart of lukewarm water in a spray bottle.
  2. Take your plant outdoors in a shady spot or put it in the bathtub.
  3. Spray from all sides, making sure to get all the leaves wet.
  4. If the plants are really dirty, wait 10 minutes and spray again. If they’re only lightly dusty, go ahead and rinse right away.
  5. Fill another spray bottle with lukewarm water and spray the plant from all sides again, to rinse off any soap residue.
  6. Gently shake off excess moisture and place the plant back in its place.

Never use cold water to clean your plant’s leaves, as this may give them a shock. You can also use your shower sprayer to clean plants with fine foliage – if it can be set to a very gentle setting. The typical home shower is too powerful for most plants.

How to Clean Hairy-Leafed Plants

Plants with hairy leaves include African violet, begonia, purple passion and many others. If the leaves feel fuzzy or hairy to the touch, they fit into this group.

Cleaning these plants is a bit tricky, as they will develop leaf spot if water droplets don’t dry immediately or if you expose the plant to bright light while the leaves are wet. Only use water to clean these plants when absolutely necessary.

To remove dust, use a small, soft paintbrush or cosmetic brush and gently sweep it over the leaves.

Brush Plant Leaves
Use a small paintbrush to remove dust from hairy-leafed plants.

If the plant becomes dirty or dusty to the point that it needs washing, here’s what to do:

  1. Tape a plastic bag over the pot and soil. I use an old plastic grocery bag or produce bag, but you can use a large zip-lock bag or anything you have on hand.
  2. Fill a bowl or pan with lukewarm water and add a few drops of dish-washing liquid. Swish around with your hand to mix.
  3. Turn the plant upside down and carefully swirl the leaves in the water for a few seconds.
  4. Gently shake off any excess moisture. Then, place the plant in front of a fan on the lowest setting. This will help circulate air and speed up the drying time.

Keep out of bright light until the plant’s leaves are completely dry. Then, you can return them to their usual home.

How to Clean Cacti

Cacti are amongst the easiest plants to clean. Simply spray them with plain, lukewarm water. Then, use a cotton swab to remove any dirt or dust that’s still visible.

I find my cacti need cleaning less frequently than my other plants, but I still try to give them a nice spraying and swabbing about once every month or two.

Don’t Use Leaf Shine Products

Although it’s tempting to buy one of the many leaf shine products on the market, I DO NOT recommend using them on your plant babies. You don’t need an expensive product to clean your plant’s leaves, and it may even be harmful to them.

Leaf shine mixes with dust and clogs the pores of your plant’s leaves, suffocating them. Your plants “breathe” through their leaves. These products will make your plant’s leaves look shiny for a time, but ultimately they will start to droop, fade, turn brown, wither, etc. when they can’t exchange gases and release moisture.

There are brands that claim not to clog leaf pores, but in my experience that’s hasn’t been true. I’ve tried several of these over the years and every time, they have damaged my plants.

My advice is to not use these products. They are expensive, unnecessary, and potentially harmful. You can easily clean your houseplants yourself for free and without worry of causing damage.