By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
As they are a part of your indoor décor, you’ll be interested in keeping houseplants clean. Cleaning houseplants is an important step in keeping them healthy and provides an opportunity to check for pests. Keeping houseplants clean makes them more attractive too.
Learning how to clean houseplants isn’t difficult. You may wonder what to use for cleaning houseplant leaves. Keep reading to learn more and find out.
You don’t need to purchase an expensive houseplant cleaner; you likely already have the ingredients to make your own. Commercial houseplant cleaner that promises to polish plant leaves can actually clog the plant’s stomata (pores) and decrease the transpiration that allows houseplants to clean indoor air.
Keeping houseplants clean can result from dusting them or rubbing the leaves with cheesecloth or a damp paper towel, if needed. An effective houseplant cleaner is your dishwashing liquid, diluted, and used in a spray bottle.
You can even put your plants in the shower occasionally or a sink with a sprayer. The mist from the shower or the sprayer gets rid of some common houseplant pests and offers humidity needed by indoor plants. Houseplant cleaner for plants with furry leaves should be limited to dusting and misting with water.
Insecticidal soap on a feather duster is another means of keeping houseplants clean and treating for pests at the same time.
Cleaning houseplants includes caring for the underside of the foliage and paying attention to stems, stalks, and soil.
Never leave dead foliage that has dropped to the soil; this provides a breeding place for pests and disease.
Immediately shake water gently from plants with pubescent leaves and don’t put them in the sun until they’re dry. Some plants with fuzzy leaves experience damage from water standing on the leaves for too long.
Now that you’ve learned how to clean houseplants, you can put these suggestions to work. Additionally, while keeping houseplants clean, examine them for signs of small bugs or damage from disease. This may appear first on the underside of the leaves. Scale may first appear on stems and can be treated with alcohol on a cotton swab. Many houseplant pests can be treated with neem oil as well.
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Read more about General Houseplant Care
The most obvious reason for cleaning house plants is to remove dust from the leaves and improve their appearance. However, it's also worth considering how cleaning can improve photosynthesis, keep pores unblocked so a plant can breathe and prevent pests or disease problems.
Photosynthesis (the process of plants converting light energy into chemical energy) occurs through light, so it makes sense when a plant is covered with dust that it will receive less sunlight, restricting growth. Cleaning can also help keep insects at bay, help you spot a possible infestation or remove the pests.
Remove dust from African violets and other fuzzy-leafed plants with a soft-bristle paintbrush, soft toothbrush, or pipe cleaner. Gently brush from the base of the leaf to the tip to dislodge dust and other debris. You can also clean the leaves of large houseplants by wiping them with a moist cloth or damp cotton. Support the leaves with one hand to avoid bruising or cracking them. Don't use oils or polishes to make houseplant leaves shine they can block pores, which can interfere with a plant's ability to breathe.
Any type of milk, including fresh, expired, evaporated, and powdered, can be used in a garden as long as it's diluted properly. Stick with reduced-fat (2 percent) or low-fat (1 percent) milk, rather than skim or whole options.
Mix the milk with water in a 50-50 ratio and pour it into a spray bottle. Watering down the milk is essential to ensure it actually benefits your garden, rather than destroying the plants. The ratio doesn't have to be exact—in fact, you can even just mix up the very last dregs of the gallon as you finish off the jug, using just a quarter-cup or so of milk.
Apply the milk mixture to the leaves of the plants, checking back about 30 minutes to ensure that the watery milk was absorbed. If there's still liquid sitting on the leaves at that time, gently wipe them down with a wet cloth. Certain plants, such as tomatoes, are prone to developing fungal diseases if liquid sits on the leaves for too long. You can also pour the milk mixture directly into the soil at the base of the plant, which will allow the roots to absorb it.
If you have a large garden area that you want to spray with a milk solution, use a garden hose sprayer. Approximately 1 quart of milk will cover a 20- by 20-foot garden, while 5 gallons of milk should cover 1 acre.
After applying the milk, refrain from using a chemical pesticide or fertilizer on the plants, which will kill the bacteria in the milk that helps the plants grow. After using the milk on the plants, there might be a slight unpleasant odor however, it will eventually subside.The Spruce / Almar Creative
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Soft-bodied pests that suck sap by inserting their mouthpart into tender portions of houseplants are typically controlled with both commercial and homemade insecticidal soap. This includes aphids, whiteflies, scales, spider mites and mealybugs. Their feeding can leave a plant with discolored spots, yellowing or discolored foliage, wilted or distorted leaves, loss of vigor, stunted growth and premature leaf dropping.
To create your own homemade insecticidal soap, the University of Florida IFAS Extension website recommends mixing 1 gallon of water with 2 1/2 tablespoons each of Dawn or Lemon Joy dishwashing liquid and vegetable oil to control soft-bodied pests attacking houseplants. Alternatively, combine 1 tablespoon of liquid soap that contains no additives, such as Castille Dawn liquid soap, with 1 quart of water as recommended by "Horticultural" magazine's website.
When cleaning your plant, start at the top so that any excess dust that falls on the lower branches will get removed as you work your way down. Now spray a section of leaves so that you can clean several leaves at once. (None of this “one leaf at a time” business. You’ve got places to go and people to see!)
After you’ve sprayed a fair amount of cleaning solution, put one hand under that section and take your microfiber cloth in the other hand, and then wipe down the entire section. Start from the inside and work your way out toward the edges, pulling the rag toward you. Continue to do this until the entire plant has been cleaned.
Depending on the size of your plant or tree, this will take about 5 to 15 minutes.
You should be able to see the difference right away, as the leaves will appear glossy and life-like after the dust has been removed. After you’re done, be sure to give the plant or tree a once-over to wipe off any individual leaves that you may have missed.
Dull, sticky leaves on your indoor plants might only need cleaning, or be a sign of something more serious. Scale insects and whiteflies suck sap from plants and excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which coats plant leaves and stems. Both pests infect indoor plants and can seriously damage plant health if the infestation isn't controlled. Scale insects have a waxy coating that protects them from sprays, though soap and alcohol can dissolve it. If you spot pests on your indoor plants, check other plants nearby. Isolating infected plants can help prevent the spread of an infestation in its early stages.
Wipe indoor plant leaves gently with a damp cloth, removing any sticky film, dust or dirt. Work from the top of the plant downwards to avoid wiping dust onto clean leaves. Buff leaves gently with a dry cloth.
Check indoor plants for scale insects, which are flat and oval, and look like tiny shells stuck to plant stems and the undersides of leaves. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap over the soil surface in the pot to catch any insects that fall off when you clean the plant. Add 2 teaspoons of mild dish detergent to a gallon of water and wipe plants with the solution on a soft cloth. Remove as many insects as possible. Rinse with clean water and discard the plastic wrap. Alternatively, remove insects with tweezers or a toothpick, or rub them with rubbing alcohol on a cotton bud. Repeat every two or three weeks for as long as the infestation lasts. Spray with a ready-to-use insecticidal soap weekly or bi-weekly, or according to the manufacturer's instructions, if the infestation is heavy.
Check plants for whitefly, which are tiny white insects that cluster on the undersides of leaves and fly away when disturbed. Hold the plants at a slight angle to avoid whiteflies falling into the soil, and spray with a strong jet of water to dislodge the insects or vacuum them up in the early morning while they're cold and slow, taking care not to harm the plants. Empty the vacuum bag into a plastic bag and seal it before discarding. Alternatively, spray all parts of plants with insecticidal soap, which kills whiteflies on contact. Repeat twice a week or weekly, or according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Prune off leaves and stems heavily infested with scale insect or whitefly with pruning shears, seal them in a plastic bag and put them in the trash. Disinfect the pruning shears after use by soaking in a solution of 1 part household bleach and 3 parts water. Leave for five minutes, then rinse with clean water and dry.