Houseplants need more than water and sunlight to keep them healthy and looking their best. They can also use a little TLC – tender loving cleaning. Removing dust and dirt from leaves improves light penetration and reduces pests-two things that will result in healthier, happier plants.
Why clean houseplants?
Plants need sunlight for photosynthesis, the metabolic process that keeps them alive and growing, and by the way, provides us with oxygen to breath. Dusty, dirty leaves limit the amount of light that reaches the leaf surface and reduces health. Dirty leaves can also increase problems from insects and diseases.
So cleaning leaves does more than just make plants look good. It makes them healthier and can reduce pests and diseases.
How-to’s of cleaning your houseplants
The techniques will vary depending on what type of leaves the plants have.
Smooth, hairless leaves:
- Dust leaves lightly with a disposable electrostatic or reusable microfiber cloth. Next, clean both sides of leaves with a soft cloth moistened with lukewarm water.
- Use a spray bottle to remove heavy or crusty dirt. Mix roughly ¼ teaspoon mild liquid dish soap in 1 quart of lukewarm water. Spray the plant, rinse off with fresh water and, if possible, wipe-off the leaves with a soft, damp cloth. Ideally, do this outdoors in the shade or on a cloudy day. You can also clean larger plants in the shower or bath tub. Place them on a water-proof stool so you can turn them easily to clean all sides.
- Hold small plants upside down and swish them around in a bucket of lukewarm water. Adding a couple drops of mild, liquid dish soap will help remove grim. Just make sure to rinse the plant with clean water afterwards. Keep the soil in place by putting aluminum foil or plastic wrap over the top of the root ball.
- Using professional leaf shine products (sold in nurseries and garden centers) on shiny- or hard- leaved plants, such as philodendron and rubber trees, will give them an extra gloss.
Hairy or fuzzy leaves:
- Don’t use water on hairy leaves; it can cause spotting.
- Use a soft brush or canned compressed air to remove loose dirt and dust.
- Compressed air is also good for blowing dust off cactus.
How often should you clean houseplants?
That depends on how dusty your home is, but it’s usually easy to tell when houseplants need to be cleaned. First off, they look dirty and not as healthy or bright as they should be. Confirm it by running your finger over a leaf. If you can see a swipe mark or feel dust beneath your fingers, it's probably time to clean the leaves.
In cold winter climates, where rinsing larger plants outdoors isn't an option year-round, give plants an annual outdoor shower during warm weather. This is even important for plants that have spent the summer outdoors. Learn about bringing houseplants indoors and not bugs.
Inspect your houseplants often
While cleaning your houseplants, look for potential problems. Here’s what to do:
- Inspect leaves. Many insects, including spider mites and whiteflies, like to hide underneath leaves, so make sure to flip leaves over and look closely for bugs. Also check new growth aphids love to feed.
- Check where leaves meet stems. Insects often nestle into this protected spot, especially spider mites and mealy bugs.
- Check the stems. They should be strong without cracks or oozing. Scale and mealy bugs also congregate along stems. Weak stems may be a sign of insufficient light.
- Inspect potting soil. Many insects spend part of their time or life cycle in potting soil. White powder, crust or mush on the soil surface could be mold (fuzzy) or soluble salt buildup (crystalline). Gently scrape away either. Water less to reduce mold or algae. Water heavily to leach out salts.
- Learn to recognize pests. Be familiar with common houseplant insects and diseases.