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.


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 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 iny 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. I have a few yucca in my kitchen that I’ll give a quick wipe when I’m just generally cleaning.

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.

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. It also produces sap from its leaves which makes it super shiny.

***New plant cleaning schedule alert***

I keep a tray of water in my kitchen and just sit any dry plants in there to bottom water. Whilst they’re soaking, I give their leaves a very quick once over – if they’re really bad, I already have water there and give their leaves a wash.

I don’t really have the room to do this (it’s a bit…cluttered) but dear GOD it makes cleaning watering 100+ plants that bit easier.

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 more moist 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.

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.

monstera leaf

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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