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How to Clean Plant Leaves (Six Easy Methods)

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Keep leaves clean and keep plants breathing.

Remembering to clean your plant leaves isn’t such an easy task, but it’s important. If your plants aren’t thriving despite being watered and fed, it could be because the leaves are dusty.

Cleaning plant leaves not only keeps them looking good, but it’s vital for their well-being and lifespan.

We’ll show you exactly how to clean plant leaves in the most gentle but effective way for your beloved greenery.


Should You Clean Plant Leaves?

Yes, removing dust from your indoor plant leaves is essential for many reasons.

First of all, a dusty plant isn’t very aesthetic, and there’s no doubt you brought these plants home to spruce up a room. Removing dust can bring the plants to life and make your home appear cleaner.

Secondly, and most important, debris, dust, and dirt on your leaves can kill them. It blocks sunlight from getting to the plant, slowing down the process of photosynthesis. As a result, your plants won’t grow as well and can become ill or die.

Another important reason is that stressed plants are more likely to attract pests and insects. These can be challenging to remove.

How Often Should You Clean Plant Leaves?

A general rule of thumb is to clean and dust your plant leaves weekly. Another option is to check them and clean them as necessary. To do this, rub the leaf with your thumb.

If you feel or see a layer of dust, no matter how fine, it’s a good idea to clean the plant leaves.

How to Clean Plant Leaves

There are many ways to clean plant leaves. We’ll share six methods. Some are easier than others, but what you choose comes down to personal preference and what products you have to hand.

With Water

The easiest way to clean plant leaves is by using plain water. You can do this either with a spray bottle, in the shower, or by dunking the plants in water.

  1. Spray: Fill a spray bottle with clean plain water. Spritz the leaves and leave them in direct sunlight for a few hours to dry off.
  2. Shower: Take the plants to the shower and spray the leaves gently to remove dust and debris. This is an excellent method if you have a lot of dust on the leaves. Let the plant air dry in the shower before moving it back to its spot in the home.
  3. Dunk: For smaller plants with few blossoms, you can dunk them in hot water. Slowly submerge the whole container and plant, securing the soil, so the plant doesn’t float out. Twirl the plant around, flip it over, then remove it from the sink before letting it air dry.

Top Tip

If the plant seems to be taking a long time to dry, you can wipe the leaves down with a microfiber cloth.

With a Cloth or Duster

You can also use a microfiber cloth or feather duster to clean your plant leaves.

  1. Wipe: Using either a feather duster or microfiber cloth, gently wipe each individual leaf. Make sure to support the leaf by holding the bottom.
  2. Dampen: If you want to dampen the cloth for extra cleaning power, submerge it in warm plain water and wring it well. Repeat step one.
  3. Continue: Continue for each leaf until the plant leaves are spotless.
  4. For fuzzy leaves: If your plant has fuzzy leaves, you can try a mushroom brush to remove stubborn dust.

With a Paintbrush

A paintbrush can work wonders on smaller plants or plants with more delicate or fuzzy leaves. Think African violets or ferns. Our top tip here is to use a paintbrush size that corresponds best with the size of the leaves.

For instance, for a Maidenhair Fern, use a tiny paintbrush, like a filbert two.

  1. Find the right paintbrush: Find the best size paintbrush for your leaves.
  2. Dampen: Dip the paintbrush into warm water. If you are cleaning fuzzy leaves, use a dry paintbrush to avoid embedding the dust further into the leaves.
  3. Clean: Wipe the leaves clean by ‘painting’ them with a brush. Move slowly and gently, so you don’t damage the leaves. Remember to support the bottom of the leaves with your other hand.

With Soap and Water

For really dirty plants, soap and water are best. If you’ve been away for a few weeks and come home to find that your plants are covered in dust, some of the above methods might not be strong enough. Soap and water will help to lift off the dirt so you can wash it away.

The most important thing to note is to use mild soap. Many people will recommend cleaning with dish soap, but this is not healthy for the plants. Instead, use something non-toxic like Dr. Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap or WholeNaturals Castile Liquid Soap.

  1. Make a soapy solution: Mix ¼ teaspoon of soap per quart of water in a bowl or sink.
  2. Dampen sponge or cloth: Using either a microfiber cloth or a non-abrasive sponge, dampen it in soapy water. Wring it out well.
  3. Clean the leaves: Wipe down each leaf, supporting it from the bottom. Remove dust, debris, and other dirt. Make sure to swap out the cloth or sponge to avoid transferring dirt.
  4. Rinse: Once the leaves are clean, spray them or shower them with plain water to remove soapy residue. Then let the plant air dry.

With Vinegar or Lemon Juice

If you want to make a homemade plant cleaner, now’s the time. It’s good to have to hand when you need to clean your leaves with something a little stronger than plain water.

For this, you can use vinegar or lemon juice. The vinegar is successful at keeping pests and pets away from the plants. In contrast, lemon juice is better for removing hard water deposits.

  1. Create solution: To make either solution, mix one teaspoon of distilled white vinegar or lemon juice per gallon of water.
  2. Dampen a cloth: Dampen a cloth in either solution and wring it out well.
  3. Clean: Wipe down each individual leaf gently to remove dirt, debris, hard water stains, or insects. Continue until all the leaves are clean.
  4. Rinse: Dampen a cloth in plain water and rinse the leaves to remove vinegar or lemon residue.

With Compressed Air

For denser plants, like cacti and succulents, compressed air is best for removing dust and dirt. You can also use water, but some cacti can rot quickly if exposed to too much water. So compressed air can be safer.

  1. Take them outside: Take the plants outside to an airy spot, so you’re not exposed to excess dust.
  2. Aim and spray: Aim the compressed air about six inches away from the leaves to avoid damage. Emit the compressed air to remove dust and debris.

How to Clean Different Types of Plants

Not every plant can — or should — be cleaned the same way. If you cleaned a Monstera the same way you cleaned a Fern, it might not be as effective. And if it’s the other way around, you could easily damage your fern.

We’ll walk through each method from above and share what kind of plant it’s best for:

  • Spraying with water: It’s safe to spray almost any plant with water. If it’s a more delicate plant with finer leaves, hold the spray bottle further away to avoid damage. For cacti that can’t be soaked, only use a little water.
  • Shower: The shower is best for sturdier plants like a Schefflera, Rubber Tree, Monstera, Pilea, or Fiddleleaf. Don’t use this for cacti, as they don’t need excess water.
  • Dunking: Dunking is best for smaller plants that like a lot of water. Think Selaginella, String of Hearts, Pothos, Chinese Evergreen, and Coleus. This hack is especially useful when your trailing plants aren’t too long yet, and you can fit them in the sink.
  • With cloth or duster: This is a good hack for sturdy plants with larger leaves. We’re talking Fiddleaf, Monstera, Schefflera, Peace Lily, Snake Plant, Macodes Petola Jewel Orchid, and more.
  • With a paintbrush: While you can use this hack for literally any plant, the main tip is to use the correct size paintbrush for the leaves. An excellent method for choosing is to get a paintbrush with a head that is as wide as the leaf. This is a great hack for fuzzy-leafed plants like African Violets, Angel’s Hair Artemisia, and Bear Paw Jade. It also works for plants with small delicate leaves, such as Maidenhair Fern, Hoya Linearis, and Asparagus Fern.
  • With soap and water: This is suitable for any plant, but make sure you apply it with a tool that won’t injure the plant. A cloth or sponge is fine for bigger plants, but you can apply the soapy water with a paintbrush for smaller or fuzzy plants.
  • Vinegar or lemon juice: This is suitable for any plant, but again, use a small paintbrush to apply if the leaves are small or fuzzy.
  • Compressed air: We recommend this for denser and sturdy plants such as cacti or succulents.

Can You Use Oil to Shine Plant Leaves?

Here’s what you should know about how to clean houseplant leaves and make them shine.

Many people will recommend coconut oil. While it does make your plants shiny, it can also create a fine, oily layer on your leaves. This can cause more dust and debris to settle on your leaves, making them more difficult to clean later.

Also, because of the layer of oil, the plants will have a more difficult time breathing and making energy. So while it’s okay to use coconut oil once in a while, we don’t recommend making it a habit.

Polishing with olive oil is similar. It will shine your leaves up temporarily, but it can get into the leaves’ pores and prevent them from breathing properly.

Baby oil can also damage your plants. We don’t recommend ever using it.

Instead, try Neem Oil. Not only will it shine up your plants, but it can also deter pests. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution and application. Avoid using it too much.

Another great option is Horticultural Oil which is designed to make a leaf shine. It won’t burn in the sunlight, either.

Tips For Taking Care of Indoor Plants

Keeping your plants alive is no easy task. Sometimes it can feel like a full-time job. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll find a good rhythm, and your plants will be happy.

Here are some top tips for keeping your plants alive, healthy, tidy, and pest-free:

  • Watering: The key to care is by watering correctly. Don’t stick to a schedule; go by what your plants need. Check the top ½ inch of soil and water if it feels dry.
  • Fertilize: Houseplants need fertilizer frequently in the spring and summer when they’re doing the most growing. Follow the directions on your chosen fertilizer for the best advice.
  • Repot: When the roots of your plants are too long, it’s time to repot the plant into a bigger home. Move up an inch or two at a time.
  • Use insecticide: Insecticides, pesticides, or horticulture oil, are great for keeping pests away. Make sure to dilute according to the packaging instructions and keep your hands protected from the solution.
  • Place it in the right spot: Usually, when you buy a new plant, it will come with a little label to specify how much light the plant needs. In general, keep them near a window so they can get both direct and indirect sunlight.
  • Drainage holes: Make sure the pot you’re using has drainage holes, so the plants aren’t sitting in excess water.
  • Get the right humidity level: Most plants are happy in places with 50 percent humidity or higher. Cactus and succulents prefer lower humidity. During the winter, or for those in lower humidity areas, keep your houseplants close together for support.
  • Get the right temperature: If your house is too hot, it can damage your plants. The ideal temperature for houseplants is between 65 and 75 Fahrenheit during the day. At night, 10 degrees cooler is best.
  • Garlic: Putting a clove of garlic in the plant’s soil can help to deter bugs.
  • Mist regularly: Clean your plant leaves and mist your plants regularly.
  • Change soil regularly: When you feel your plants need a new lease of life and you’ve ticked all the other boxes, change the top layer of soil. Remove and replace the top ¼ inch of soil.
  • Propagate: When a plant is overgrown, or the growth is stunted, propagation can help. Simply find the root of new growth, cut it out, and place it in a jar of water for a few days to further grow the root. Then place it in a new pot.
  • Prune: At the end of the summer, when you have a lot of new growth, it’s important to prune. This can prevent the plants from getting too big or too long. Make the cut just above the bud or side shoots so that they grow back. Don’t forget to prune off dead and diseased leaves.

FAQs

What Makes Plants Grow Faster?

If you want to speed up the growth of your plants, here are a few things you can do:

  • Choose high-quality soil: Your soil should be providing nutrients. This includes organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You can also add these nutrients manually.
  • Fertilize: During the spring and summer, fertilize your plants regularly. The instructions will be on the fertilizer packaging.
  • Light: Ensure you have the plant in the best type of light for them. For instance, some thrive in direct sunlight, while others prefer indirect.
  • Water: Don’t overwater or underwater your plant. Always check the first ½ inch of soil before deciding whether to water. Always ensure there are drainage holes, so the roots don’t rot.
  • Add manure: One handy hack is to add manure to the soil. This can protect the soil from nutritional deficiencies as well as increase water retention. Chemical-free manure is best.
  • Banana peels: If you want a naturally occurring fertilizer, here’s another interesting hack. Bury banana peels in the soil. When they decompose, they’ll add potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which are all beneficial to plants.
  • Room to grow: When your plant has outgrown its current pot, move it into a bigger pot. You’ll know it’s time when the roots are growing out of the drainage holes or the top of the soil, the growth has slowed, or the plant falls over often.
  • Pruning: Pruning encourages houseplants to grow. It’s crucial to prune plants that are becoming too large and heavy or cutting off old and dead blossoms. Make sure to cut above a leaf blossom to encourage regrowth later.

How Do I Make My Plant Leaves Greener?

The number one thing to make plant leaves greener is chlorophyll. You can get this by using the right amount of nitrogen. If you use too little, the leaves will be too yellow.

However, the leaves can burn and shrivel up if you use too much. Use a fertilizer that contains nitrogen and apply it as often as the instructions suggest.

Another culprit in leaves that are yellowing is magnesium. It can develop on leaves, sucking the vibrancy out of them. To fix this, combine the following:

  • One teaspoon of Epsom salts.
  • One liter of water.

Spray this over the leaves once a month during the summertime.

Can I Water Plants With Gray Water?

Gray water is water that has already been used ( source). This might include leftover water from the sink, shower, or washing machine. In most cases, you can use this to water outdoor ornamental plants and fruit trees.

However, it’s not recommended to use it on edible crops and vegetables that touch the soil. This includes beets, garlic, potatoes, radish, strawberries, and more. This is because there can be bad bacteria, grease, and detergent residue in the water.

Stay Safe

Make sure your household cleaning products are gray water safe before using the leftover water for your plants.

Can I Use Baby Wipes on My Plant Leaves?

You can, but it’s not on our list of recommendations. Why? That’s because baby wipes contain harsh chemicals or fragrances that can harm your plants.

Baby wipes are also quite wasteful since you need to dispose of them. That’s why we are opting for a reusable microfiber cloth instead.

If you use a brand of baby wipes that don’t contain harsh chemicals, then use them on your plants if you need to.

Can I Put Mayonnaise on My Plant Leaves?

There are some rumors about cleaning with milk or mayonnaise. We don’t recommend it either.

Mayonnaise can shine up your plant leaves. But we don’t recommend it because it can clog up the plant pores, preventing them from breathing correctly. If you want to shine up your plant leaves, use neem oil or horticultural oil.

Can You Use Rubbing Alcohol to Clean Plant Leaves?

Rubbing alcohol can kill pests on your plants. But it can also kill the plant itself. We don’t recommend it because the risks outweigh the benefits.

If you have a pest issue, use a quality pesticide that’s been certified as safe.


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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!