Today’s blogpost serves as a friendly reminder to clean the leaves on your houseplants. Every few months I like to share a post to this effect on my instagram as it’s a relatively mundane part of plant care that can sometimes be forgotten about, especially when it’s dark + grey outside! In this post I’ll be talking you through my five leaf cleaning tips to help keep your plants looking + feeling their best, plus how to clean plants that don’t like a shower. In all honesty, putting this together is as much of a reminder for myself as for you reading this because I really do need to check over my plants this weekend + do some cleaning! In addition, if you are new to plants + were wondering why this is a necessary part of houseplant care, this post will detail the process of why, how, when + where…so let’s get into it.
HPH 🌿 cleaning tips:
☁️ Dusty leaves can reduce the efficiency of photosynthesis + can encourage pests.
This year, I’ve noticed the need for leaf cleaning more than ever because the cottage is on a fairly busy through road + when the windows are open, I do find it to be more dusty. My previous place was up on the second floor of an apartment block which didn’t seem to get quite as ‘weathered’ in comparison.
Also, the cottage is darker — especially in dreary January + I admit that some of my plants have got a little neglected because unless I’ve got my grow lights near them, it really is difficult to inspect them closely! It might sound bizarre, but if you have a torch, it’s a good way to check out those plants in harder to reach areas (+ is also a good way to look out for pests). If you aren’t a regular leaf-washer, you might be shocked at how dull + lacklustre some of those leaves are looking!
Cleaning those leaves is an important part of plant care throughout the year, but as light levels decrease, it’s a good idea to keep on top of keeping that foliage free from dirt too. This will mean that even in lower-light conditions, your houseplants can photosynthesise to the best of their ability when not shrouded in a layer of dust, which essentially forms a veil over the leaf surface that can also encourage pests. Not something you want to be contending with as Spring rolls around!
🍃 Tepid (room temperature) water is best.
Before you get the water near your plants, make sure to check the temperature! This might sound obvious but my shower takes a while to settle into a consistent temperature + I know some of you have have also suffered the mishap of forgetting to adjust the shower temperature prior to the plant pool party. Tepid water (which is water at room temperature) is best so test it on your hand before giving those plants a wash. Avoid very cold water as this can send the plants into shock + cause the foliage some damage too.
Spray the back + front of each leaf at a decent pressure to ensure the dust actually moves off the leaves. A fine mist is not very effective at cleaning but if you have delicate foliage, be extra careful of anything too harsh. If you can’t move all your plants to shower them, a pressure sprayer is a perfectly comparable alternative— my two mature monstera plants are too big to move + I’ve been cleaning them like this for years. If you are spraying your plants in situ, make sure there aren’t any electrics nearby or anything that could get damaged.
Foliage plants such as the Ficus elastica group or large-leaved Monsteras are the obvious ones to keep an eye on because of their expansive surface area, but don’t forget smaller-leaved plants like ZZ’s or pothos. Yes, it’s a bit fiddly, but try to take the time to relax into it + your plants will appreciate it! I try + get into the zone, put some music on, make a coffee + work my way through a particular room. If I’m feeling a bit stressed, I can find the process quite therapeutic + it helps me find a moment of calm. I quite like to squeeze a bit of plant care like this into my lunch break because it’s a lot less messy than repotting (which I largely reserve for weekends!). My ZZ raven looks much more shiny after a thorough clean, as you’ll see in the photos:
After their shower/pressure spray, leave for 10mins to drip dry a bit.
*NOTE: If you prefer, a cloth can also work if you don’t want to get out a water spray.
💧Leaving the foliage to dry naturally doesn’t always get rid of dust effectively.
This step is one that can be overlooked, but sometimes, you need to carry out a bit of manual cleaning. I like to think of this process a bit like a gentle skincare exfoliation… but for your plants. If you think about it, unless the pressure was adequate to push off all the dust, which believe me, can get quite engrained if you don’t do this regularly, leaving the foliage to dry naturally won’t always get rid of the dust properly. It’s a good idea to wipe the leaves + not let the water sit on the foliage for an extended time as this can sometimes create problems with disease or bacterial infections. In that regard, make sure the leaves are healthy + be careful not to shower any plants that have any open wounds or rips in the leaf that have not sealed over, as this can exacerbate any potential issues + cause the leaf to rot. If you are unsure, a wipe down with a cloth will suffice. The time of day you carry out this task should be considered too…but more on that in the next tip!
For this process I use an old soft cloth. Hold your hand under the leaf + work along the mid rib where dust can get stuck, moving outwards towards the edge of the leaf. You might want to repeat the process on leaves that seem to attract dust more than others. For me, this is my ficus gang — particularly my bambino fiddle leaf fig + it’s turtle-shell-shaped leaves. The undulating surface can really take some cleaning to get the foliage glossy + viridescent again.
I’ve chatted to a few of you on instagram about the question of hard water in this process + since moving to an area of hard water myself, I’ve realised that wiping the leaves well as they dry can eliminate the unsightly streaky markings. You can also buff them off with a very dry cloth — an old t-shirt that’s been washed many times is great leaf cleaning material (side note: I also use old t-shirts to clean my windows!).
🌤️ Carry out this process in the daytime.
Generally, I like to try + wait for a sunny, bright day to tend to my foliage plants so that they have a few hours of sunshine for any excess moisture to dry off before temperatures decrease. During this time of year, we can endure spells of back-to-back greyness so I do have to improvise sometimes. In any case, you should be careful in colder temperatures — keep plants that are drying away from cold draughts + place in a warm, well-lit position for a few hours if you can. I have an old rug I use in my bedroom for this process + it’s also the warmest room in this cottage so it’s the best situation I have for this winter + my plants have been doing fine.
💚 Repeat regularly + pay extra attention to plants that are in high-traffic areas.
In these busy spaces dust can build up more quickly, so watch out for places like hallways, entrances to rooms, near windows + external doors etc. Coupled with that, over winter when the heaters are on, your houseplants can get extra dusty! This place only has heating in half of the house (so I’m very much looking forward to warmer temperatures!) + downstairs only has a convector fan heater, which feels like it’s literally blowing any dust around. My coffee table plants which are in this vicinity get moved further away but still get more dusty more quickly. Luckily I sit here everyday so keep them regularly cleaned. I actually find it quite calming! PS. Sorry to my aspidistra gang in the corner of my room that do tend to get a battering from my heater + dust occasionally gets stuck in the lovely grooves on those sculptural leaves.
I try to repeat this process every 4-6 weeks, depending on where my plants are + which ones are dust-magnets. As I mentioned above, I don’t make a habit of soaking my plants every cleaning session, I will assess the situation at the time. For my routine, a damp cloth works well between more intense showers.
🖌️ Alternative cleaning for houseplants that hate a shower.
Finally, it’s important to note that not all houseplants like to be cleaned in this way. More than anything else, I have foliage plants, followed by succulents + then cacti. That’s more down to what suits my environment, but I also just love leaves. That means that most of my plant collection can be cleaned as I’ve described in this post. There are a few exceptions which I will detail here:
- I don’t get the leaves of my begonias wet + I only ever water these from below.
- Similarly, those fuzzy saxifraga stolonifera leaves do not appreciate a shower.
- Ceropegia woodii/ string of hearts hates a shower too — avoid getting those succulent heart-shaped leaves wet at all costs.
- Succulents with a chalky coating (farina)
- Rosette succulents like echeveria where water can pool across the leaves + cause them to rot
- If you have any houseplants with a thick woody stem, a dracaena for example, be careful to allow this plant to dry out well in a warm position if you really want to give it a shower. If the stem gets very wet, then cold, you could encounter some problems. I prefer to use a fine spray then a cloth to clean these leaves so that the trunk stays almost dry.
- I try to avoid getting water on the leaves of my Jewel orchids because (like begonias) mildew can be a potential concern here.
In short, it’s fuzzy plants + succulents that you want to keep dry, so for these plants, I’ll just use a dry paintbrush! I started using this cleaning technique quite a few years ago when I’d been painting on my desk + noticed a bit of dust on one of echeveria. It can also help to remove any dislodged potting mix that sometimes get onto the spines of your cacti.
As you’ll be able to tell from this post, I don’t use any special products or sprays to clean my leaves — I prefer to keep things simple with tepid water + a cloth. I absolutely don’t use leaf-shining sprays which can clog the pores of your leaves + I really dislike how they make foliage look shiny + plastic… I like my plants to look like plants! If your houseplants are kept clean + free from dust, they will have their own natural sheen.
I hope this post has encouraged you to take a closer look at your houseplants today + maybe to even do a spot of leaf cleaning if your plants need it! I’ve got some additional posts on this topic going up over on my pinterest too if you like that kind of thing. Here are the pins to save for future reference or share with a new plant lover: