How To Clean Houseplants

Cleaning Houseplants 101

Houseplants need to be cleaned occasionally. They accumulate dust just like everything else in our home, but spending a little time every couple of months doing a spot of cleaning will really help keep your plants healthy and looking fantastic.

Our guide will explain why cleaning shouldn't be neglected, why it has major beneficial effects, before we will take you through the various techniques and which is best for which type of plant. We will also deal with leaf shining too.

A Peace Lily leaf covered in a thick layer of dust

A Peace Lily leaf covered in a thick layer of dust.

Why clean?

This might seem like a question that doesn't need to be asked. But there are a few reasons beyond the most obvious that might help you look at the chore issue differently.

  • Our Health - Plants are good for us . They produce oxygen, reduce airborne bacteria, remove harmful toxins from the air and also have a positive effect on our moods. It might not seem a big deal, but these effects can be massively reduced if plants are dirty or covered in dust.

    Just like you might change a mechanical water filter from time to time, living breathing plants need a small amount of simple maintenance every once in a while. If you do this you will continue to reap the maximum benefits of having plants in the home or office.
  • Appearance - For most people this is the main reason we spend time dusting and cleaning our homes. For the most part we like to live in a nice place which makes us feel better and also allows our homes to be presented to visitors. A dirty, dusty plant is therefore comparable to a table or TV screen in the same state i.e. not good.
  • Plant Health - A healthy plant needs to be clear of dust. The house plant's natural habitat is outdoors where they are exposed to wind and rainfall, which together helps keep it healthy by keeping the foliage dust free. This in turn helps with the following:
  • Photosynthesis - Plants create their own food through photosynthesis which requires access to light. If the leaves are coated in a blocking layer of dust the amount of light accessible is reduced. Additionally the flow of Carbon Dioxide into the plant and the resulting outflow of Oxygen will be less. A good looking and clean plant will therefore have the maximum potential for productive and efficient photosynthesis, which in turns fuels all of its activities.
  • Pest Resistance - When under stress, plants are more susceptible to pest attack. Much like people are more prone to certain illnesses when they are feeling down. In addition to poor photosynthesis production, certain pests find it easier to set up home and spread on unmanaged plants.


Cleaning Methods

On the face of it, this seems like a silly part of our guide because everyone knows how to clean plants right? But in most cases multiple methods can be used to keep them clean, although sometimes certain methods shouldn't or physically can't be used.

Below are some ideas and suggestions about which works best for certain plants. If you have your own methods that you swear by, share them with us in the comments below.

  • Indoor Shower - By far the easiest way to wash a lot of house plants, is to put them in the shower and give them a gentle wash down. The water should be luke warm, rather than hot or cold and no soap of any kind is needed.

    You can wash several at once so it's very quick. However a small amount of soil will almost always wash out of the pot so be careful, especially if you have drainage issues.
  • Aspidistras are easy to clean by putting them in a warm shower

    Many Houseplants are easy to clean by giving them a quick shower.

  • Outdoor Shower - Let mother nature do it for you! If the temperature is reasonably warm and the weather isn't overly stormy or windy you can put your plants outside in the rain for an hour or two.
  • Damp Cloth - Large older plants which are not easy to move such as the Rubber Plant or a mature Dragon Tree, or those with very large leaves can be gently rubbed over with a damp cloth. Support the leaf from below with your hand to prevent tearing.
  • Misting - Not all plants can be put in a shower or wiped over. Many cacti and succulents such as some bonsai and the pachypodium are sensitive to the overwatering that would occur with a flood of water from a shower and trying to clean certain cacti with a cloth will not end well. For the plant, the cloth and possibly your hands! A simple mister allows you to get water where it's needed without overdoing things.
  • Brushes - The final popular method is to use art brushes or puffers to clean the leaves. This is good for cacti with only a few small spines or hairy leaved plants such as the African Violet which results in ugly water marks if the leaves are splashed. It does take a bit more time and can be fiddly but you usually have to do it less often. Just brush or blow the dust away.

Using Leaf Shine Products

Foliage on most house plants will take on a dull looking sheen overtime, even if the plants are cleaned on a regular basis and are are free from dust they lose the glossy shine that is found on new leaves.

This is Natural and not a sign you are doing something wrong. Many people leave things this way, however it's also understandable if you want to mimic that new shine look.

Using leaf shine on this Swiss Cheese Plant has produced remarkable shine

Using leaf shine on this Monstera has given it a remarkable shine.

Having showy shiny leaves is often considered the pinnacle of a well groomed and beautiful looking plant. As a result there are literally hundreds of leaf shine products you can buy and several Do It Yourself varieties. But are they a good thing, are they suitable for all plants and how should they be applied?

D.I.Y. Methods

If you can cope with the smell then a homemade Neem Oil spray is potentially one of the best things you can use. It protects your plants from pests and can give a long lasting shine to the leaves.

Milk and beer are often recommended as "natural" products to give shine, but in truth they have virtually no shine-producing abilities above using just plain water.

Mineral and Olive oil are sometimes suggested also and while they can produce remarkable shine you only make more work for yourself in the long run, because these substances are slightly sticky so attract dust causing it to settle and dirty your hard work more quickly.

We would gently put our hands on your shoulders and walk you away from jars of mayonnaise, yogurt and banana skins if we caught you entertaining any of these ideas. You might get the shine you are looking for, but pull back a little and allow us to point out that people don't use these things to clean their work surfaces and they shouldn't be used on plants either.

You can polish the leaves of the Rubber Plant for a beautiful shine

You can polish the leaves of the Rubber Plant too.

Again they will attract more dust, possibly ruin the appearance of the leaves in the long term and because all of these products will go "off" and feed bacteria it's unhygienic to have the residual waving around on the leaves you have just wiped down.

Chemical Methods

Often we turn to the chemical methods. Yes, controversial. Remember though, Leaf shining really is optional! However if you opt for this then they typically come in either an aerosol form, which is good for plants with lots of small leaves, or as a liquid which is better for plants with bigger leaves.

Leaf shine is safe for many plants, however check our individual plant pages if you want to be certain. If you shouldn't be using it we will tell you.

In conjunction with not doing it too often, or on dirty leaves the basic rules of polishing are:

  1. Do not polish new or very young leaves.
  2. Do not press down hard on the leaves as you "rub in".
  3. Always read the manufactures instructions. And finally...
  4. Do not risk it on a prized pot plant. You know, just in case.

About the Author

Tom Knight

Tom Knight

Over the last 20 years, Tom has successfully owned hundreds of houseplants and is always happy to share knowledge and lend his horticulture skills to those in need. He is the main content writer for the .

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