Why (And How) You Need to Clean Your Houseplants

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Cleaning house plants is one of those tasks that no one likes to do but it makes MASSIVE difference to the health of your plants – helps them grow faster, grow bigger leaves, and can help to control pests.

I strongly recommend that you make it part of your house plant routine. I set aside fifteen minutes on Mondays and Thursdays to dust my plants, after years of just letting the dust pile up on them, I can confirm that it really, really, helps them thrive.

monstera with shiny leaves

Why do you need to clean your house plants?

There are three main reasons that you need to dust and clean your plants:

  • A layer of dust will block the plant’s stomata

Stomata need to be open to allow the diffusion of carbon dioxide from the air so that photosynthesis can take place.

If they’re blocked, they can’t open and the plant can’t photosynthesise. If a plant can’t photosynthesise, it’ll die.

This is why it’s not a great idea to mist or shower house plants more frequently than every week – when water lands on the leaves, the stomata close in response, and therefore the plant can’t photosynthesise.

As it turns out, plants hate the rain as much as the rest of us!

  • Dust will block light from the leaves

Photosynthesis is the process in which plants turn light and carbon dioxide into energy. We’ve already established that we need the stomata to be clear so they can suck up CO2, but we also need the surface of the leaf to be clean so that the chlorophyll can absorb the light efficiently.

  • Pests love dust

Ok, I don’t actually know whether pests are attracted to dust or if plants get dusty because we neglect them and whilst we’re busy neglecting them pests move in unnoticed.

Except for spider mites. Those things LOVE dust, I’m 100% sure they’re attracted to it.

Anyway, keeping your plants clean can not only help you notice pests sooner BUT the products we use to clean plants can actively repel/eliminate pests.

When and how to clean your house plants

You will need:

Weekly plant cleaning schedule

I set aside two days a week to clean my plants, which sounds like a lot, but I only do it for 15/30 minutes in the morning.

My cleaning days are Mondays and Thursdays because if I’m treating for pests I do it on the same day, and by spacing the days out I can treat for pests twice a week.

It means that if my plants do get pests, then I don't really need to add treating them into my schedule - the days are already set aside. 

Expect pests. I actually ASSUME pests. It really reduces the stress around them!

If I’m just dusting, I use a dry makeup eraser cloth. They are SO good and pretty cheap. What I love about using them dry is that you can use them to dust your plant leaves AND your shelves and they pick up small dust particles and larger bits of soil.

It’s just a case of rubbing the plant over with the cloth and ensuring you remove any loose dust.

If the plant has pests, I spray it down twice a week with diluted neem oil/castile soap and wipe over with a damp cloth.

Monthly plant cleaning routine

Once a month I like to spray my plants down with neem oil or castile soap (neem oil is more effective, castile soap smells better, so pick your poison) and wipe them down.

This removes any sticky dust (which can be a problem if your plant has a lot of extrafloral nectaries, which produce sticky sap) and helps to shine your leaves up a bit.

plants with velvet leaves

How do you clean plants with velvet leaves?

Plants with velvet leaves don’t like getting wet unless it’s absolutely necessary (you can spray them to treat for pests) AND cloths don’t work on them very well (also it feels weird like you’re going against the grain).

I like to use a makeup brush to dust my velvety plants, specifically the real techniques buffing brush, which is soft enough that it won’t damage the leaf but is densely packed enough that it’s super effective.

What do you spray on plants to make them shine?

You shouldn’t use leaf shine sprays, or mayonnaise or anything that’s going to leave a film on your plants.

Obviously, neem oil leaves a bit of a film, BUT it’s also repelling pests so that’s allowed.

The reason mayo and similar make leaves shine is that you’re basically just rubbing vegetable oil on your plants.

Not only will this block the stomata and reduce the plant’s ability to photosynthesise, but oil increases the likelihood of a plant getting burnt. Oh, and adding food to plants always increases the risk of gnats.

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’t 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, and 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 it 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

Remember: no one likes getting rained on, even plants. When it rains plants close their stomata and stop photosynthesising, and it can take them a while to get back up and running – it’s not like they can just flip and switch and re-open their stomata – it’s a whole process.

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 and castile soap (which is what Dr. Bronner’s is) is 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 vinegar, 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
Apple Cider vinegar1
Miracle-gro leaf shine1
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. Maybe we’ve all finally moved on.

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.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

4 thoughts on “Why (And How) You Need to Clean Your Houseplants”

  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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