Learn how (and how not) to dust, rinse, and clean houseplants for a healthy, shiny look.
By Brad Gandy
It’s Sunday morning, and you’ve got guests coming over later this afternoon, so you decide to dust.
You’ve whipped out that feather duster like a madman (or madwoman) on a mission.
You slay that dust like the sneeze-inducing dragon that it is.
You’re even doing that weird spinning in place thing to make sure the whole room is spotless.
Then, as you’re spinning, you see it.
The one part of your home that’s supposed to look all-natural all the time, a houseplant, is covered in dust.
If you’ve been there before, as I have, you’ll know that advice on how to clean houseplants is extremely varied and sometimes a little baffling, but after some more research, I’ve come up with a way to safely keep almost any kind of plant happy on dust day.
Why Dust Houseplants?
Since most people aren’t looking at houseplants up close, it’s easy to understand why they are neglected, but the fact is that dusting plants is an essential step to keeping them alive so that they provide benefits to your home and family.
You may remember from junior high that plants feed themselves through a process called photosynthesis.
That happens in the little pores on plants’ leaves, called stomata, and if dust clogs up those pores, the plant can’t breathe, can’t eat, and can’t live, and nobody likes looking at dead houseplants.
So How Do You Dust Them?
How you dust your houseplant depends on what kind of plant you have. For rough hairy leaves, like African violets, use a soft-bristled brush (I use a small paintbrush) and gently scrape the dust off. Unlike plants with longer smoother leaves, you don’t want to bend plants with hairy leaves. They crack and bruise more easily.
By the way, I’m not sure if “hairy” is the correct term for those kinds of leaves, but that’s what I call them.
An important thing to remember about those leaves is that you never, ever, want to put too much water on them. That’s why I use the dry paintbrush, because water will leave embarrassing marks on the leaves.
For plants with long smooth leaves, support the underside of the leaf with one palm, and use a microfiber dust cloth to wipe the leaves. I use a soft back-to-front motion, and supporting the leaf with my other hand prevents the leaf from cracking. Don’t forget to clean the undersides, too.
Heavy Duty Cleaning
If your plant has a lot of hard dirt, or you just haven’t dusted it in a while, dampen the cloth with a tiny amount of dish soap and water (about ¼ of a teaspoon of soap for every 4 cups of water works best) and then wipe the leaves.
After dusting the leaves, rinse any plants that are easy to move either in the sink or shower with lukewarm water.
If the plant is small enough to fit in the sink, turn the pot upside down and gently swish the leaves in the water.
If you’re using the shower, spray warm water on a misty setting.
*Try not to use more than ¼ of a teaspoon if you add dish soap, because too much soap clogs up the pores and leaves spots.
Once plants are rinsed, let them drip dry in the house or outside in the shade.
Rinsing the plants after dusting them makes them extra shiny. Speaking of shining…
What Not To Do
I have read online that some people like to put expensive chemical cleaners, milk, or even mayonnaise on the leaves to make them shiny. Apparently, most tips like that are generational and have worked well for years. But let me ask you something.
Would you really put milk or mayonnaise on any of your other furniture and decor?
I know I wouldn’t!
Milk and mayonnaise are so thick, and just like milk can clog our throats and stomachs, milk on plant leaves can clog the pores, which, you guessed it, makes it hard for the plant to breathe.
Therefore, if you really want to get that staged look for your plants, use a little bit of soap and water, not something really chemical and abrasive.
It makes a natural beauty look fake.
Shop My Favorite Planters
Other than that, plant maintenance is about gently removing any yellow leaves and stems either by hand or very carefully with scissors, and checking for pests and moldy or salted soil.
If you have spider webs, dust those off normally. For pests, quarantine the plant to ensure no others will be infected, and remove the pests based on the type of bug you’re dealing with. A quick Google search can help you with specific info.
If you see mold, scrape it off gently with a paintbrush and cut back a little on watering.
For crystallized salts, wash the plant with warm water for about an hour, making sure that the water runs all the way through the pot and flushes out the salts.
I usually dust my plants every month or two, but if you live in a cold climate, giving the plants an annual summer spray outdoors along with dusting makes them look extra nice.
Now that you’ve worked hard for your plants, they can work hard for you.
And you can stop stress-spinning about how to dust them properly.
When was the last time you cleaned your plants? Do you have a cool tip to share? I’d love to hear them in the comments below. I’ll get the conversation going with one bonus tip on how I clean cacti.
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