Why (and how) you need to clean your house plants

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Yes, you should be cleaning your house plants.

No, of course I don’t clean mine as often as I should.

Does anyone? Honestly?

Why you need to clean your houseplants

For a start, nothing on God’s green earth can attract dust like a house plant.

NOTHING.

One of the reasons I used to be so against house plants (oh, how times have changed) is the sheer volume of dust the things accumulate.

But a thick layer of dust can damage house plants, and significantly affect how well (and quickly) they grow.

You know how cleaning your windows dramatically affects how much light your plants get (I know, but I still don’t clean ’em – how my plants survive is beyond me)?

Well, so does dusting them, and for largely the same reason. The layer of dust is affecting your plant’s ability to photosynthesize.

Dust can also clog the stomata (the pores on your plant’s leaves), and can affect its ability to transpire.

I’m not quite sure what happens then.

Does it swell up with water and explode?

Actually, that’d probably cause edema (you know those red spots on your fiddle-leaf fig? That’s edema. Hmm, I really should be a more diligent plant cleaner.

Oh, and plants also look a lot better when you clean them, especially if you use oil to make them shine. The time spent cleaning the plant will also help keep you abreast of any bugs or diseases that may have moved in.

If you have house plants for their air cleaning properties, know that their ability to clean the air is massively compromised by having a thick layer of dust on their leaves.

And that NASA have found that unless your home is hermetically sealed, your plants aren’t having any effect on the air quality in your home. Sorry.

monstera leaf

How to clean your plants

You will need:

  • An old soft rag or some kitchen towel
  • Neem oil
  • Water
  • A spray bottle.
  • If you suspect a bug problem, add some dish soap/washing up liquid in too

If you don’t have a spray bottle, it’s not the end of the world – you can just use a damp cloth with a tiny bit of neem oil on it.

Don’t use too much oil (I use a pea-sized amount in a spray bottle, or quarter that much on a damp cloth), and don’t be tempted by any specific leaf-shine products, which could clog your plant’s stomata and impede its ability to transpire.

I use a dry cloth to take off any dust, and then go in with a damp cloth with neem oil on it. A lot of people prefer to spray the plant down with neem oil solution and then wipe it down afterwards, but I find that the smell of the neem oil is too overpowering if you do that.

Neem oil doesn’t smell bad to me – it’s just weird. It legit smells like peas and gravy, which isn’t a smell one usually finds in nature.

And that’s it.

Unless you have something that’s prone to bugs, in which you’ll want to give that a shower every week. I’m talking about English Ivy. They attract bugs like nothing else, which is why mine lives outside.

Showering is a method a lot of people use to clean their plants – just pop them in the bath and give them a good spray with the shower head.

I personally don’t because I worry about soil going down the drain and clogging it, and I can’t be arsed trailing dripping plants all over the house. If I had two bathrooms, one of which I could leave plants to drain in overnight, then I might be tempted to give it a go.

monstera leaf

How often should you clean your plants

Well, that really depends on how dusty your house is.

I think the important thing is to clean them sometimes, so even if your house is hella dusty, and you should really clean them every week, you need to keep it doable. Try to clean them monthly, and see how it goes.

If cleaning your plants really isn’t your thing, then at least do the ones that really need it, i.e. any plants you have that need a lot of bright light coupled with having large, dust-attracting leaves.

So a monstera, really. Or fiddle leaf fig.

How those things became the darlings of Instagram is beyond me when there are so many other cool-ass plants that grow much quicker and don’t mind if you move them a quarter of an inch to the right. Philodendron are where it’s at if you want massive leaves, to never have to water them, and if you live in a cave with only one small window. Seriously. Get yourself a philodendron.

You’re going to be needing to wipe down your monstera weekly ideally, so my top tip is to get into the habit of wiping it down every time you water it. I keep mine near my dirty laundry basket and keep an old rag near it, and then just stick it straight in the laundry when it’s really dusty.

I have a lot of tea towels and change them every day, so they’re only lightly used. The important thing is that I do wipe it regularly.

monstera leaf

My personal plant cleaning schedule

Any plant that I bring home that looks a bit…dubious, gets a wash straight away.

Apart from that, I don’t have a strict schedule.

The living room plants are cleaned on a Saturday evening with a glass of wine, and it’s really kind of fun. I do it whilst watching Gardener’s World, so it’s like everyone’s doing their gardening together. It’s nice.

The plants under the grow light get the best care. I just wipe the dust off with my hand when I water them but due to the power of the grow light (it’s this one – highly recommend), they need watering weekly (more if they’re pushing out new leaves, which is all the damn time).

My smaller plants get a quick once over when I water them – the ones with smaller leaves just get a rub with my fingers, since they don’t seem to attract as much dust as the big ones – my philodendron Golden Dragon is a dust MAGNET but the leaves are massive so it’s pretty easy to clean (I vacuum it. Don’t judge).

It also produces sap from its interfloral nectories (why yes, I do know a lot of fancy words, thanks for noticing) which makes it super shiny.

monstera leaf

Plant cleaning in winter

I’m going to need to come up with a more concrete cleaning schedule for winter since a lot of plants won’t really need watering.

Regular cleaning with neem oil is helpful for keeping pests at bay, and plants in winter are more vulnerable to infestations than they are in summer since they grow much more slowly and the new growth is weaker.

Pests like mealybugs are attracted to the moist soil (and the soil stays moister for longer in winter) so it’s important to remain vigilant.

It’s super important to keep leaves dust-free in winter because the light is already pretty scarce – the poor sods need all that they can get.

Spider mites LOVE dust. Love the stuff. I think that’s maybe why they love crotons so much. Keep your crotons dust free lads.

monstera leaf

Tips for cleaning house plants

You can google ‘how to clean house plants’ to your heart’s content without finding tips that work for you. Neem oil works for me, but it’s not good if you can’t get hold of it, you can’ afford it, or you hate the smell.

Facebook groups are a goldmine of information. I found some great tips in a recent thread on cleaning houseplants.

Use damp socks to clean your plants

Damp socks were an extremely popular method for cleaning house plants. I’ve tried it, and it does work HOWEVER, if you can stretch to some dusting gloves, being able to move your fingers independently is more efficient, easier, and you’re less likely to accidentally rip a leaf (yes, I tried the tips).

Use your vacuum cleaner to clean your plants

This is something that works so so well if you’re lazy like me, because it takes two seconds to do when I already have the vacuum out.

Suffice to say, try a low setting first, and use the upholstery attachment. It only works well on large-leafed plants, BUT it’s great for Monstera because it sucks up thrips larvae too.

Stick your plants in the shower

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this one. I just end up with soil going down the drain. But if you keep plants in the bathroom, it’s super convenient to give them a spray once in a while.

Be sure to turn the temperature waaaay down and turn down the pressure if you can, otherwise, your soil will be yeeted out.

If you keep a lot of your plants in leca, showering them is a great way of getting both flushing them and cleaning them done in one fell swoop.

Vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s soap

This was another popular response. I’m sure it works a treat, but we already clean the aquarium glass and our rabbit’s litter tray out with vinegar and I hate the smell. Neem oil is much more preferable.

This is also mentioned as a great way to get water marks off leaves.

The specific recipe was half a gallon of water (about 2 litres), half a cup of vingar, and 5/10 drops of unscented dr. Bronners.

Water only

A lot of people recommended only using water, to make sure the stomata don’t get clogged. These people are probably still in an embittered war with the people suggesting using Miracle gro leaf shine.

Apple cider vinegar

I have no idea if this is better than regular vinegar BUT I often have some lying around from when I’ve bought ACV for that one recipe that I never made again. I can’t be the only one, so I thought it was worth including.

Because I’m cool, I made a table showing all responses:

Cleaning methodNo. people that suggested it
Water only12
Neem oil only3
Neem oil/washing up liquid2
Lemon juice1
An actual halved lemon, wiped on the leaves1
An old sock3
Shower2
Apple Cider vinegar1
Swiffer3
Miracle-gro leaf shine1
Milk1
Rain1
Vinegar soap1
Rubbing alcohol1
Makeup brush1

Obviously we don’t have a lot of data to work with (though feel free to add your suggestions in the comments and I’ll adjust the table accordingly. I just like making tables 🙂

Interestingly, no one mentioned mayonnaise, which often crops up in articles about house plant cleaning. I wouldn’t recommend cleaning plants with mayo.

For one thing, it’s a waste of good mayo.

But also it’s very oily and fatty and likely to clog stomata. I don’t care if it makes the leaves shiny, that’s not necessarily the sign of a clean house plant.

And that concludes my post on cleaning your house plants.

I really hope that you got the impression that I clean my house plants more often than I do.

4 thoughts on “Why (and how) you need to clean your house plants”

  1. Dear Caroline,
    first of all thank you so much for your wonderful blog here. It has been such a delight to read and research here ❤️
    Inspired by you (and pushed a bit by some thrips on my monstera) I would like to start treating my plants better. Just to be clear, when I clean my plants, I take a cloth to remove the dust and afterwards spray them with a mixture of neem oil, a bit of Dr Bronners and water. Do I have to pat the leaves dry afterwards? Not quite sure thank you so much in advance and have a lovely evening.
    All the best, Ann-Kristin

  2. It depends on the light you have – I leave mine wet, because it’s pretty dark in my house. If you get a lot of bright light then the light and the neem oil can cause your leaves to burn.

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog!

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