Should I clean my houseplant? If so, how do I do that?
Yes! You should keep the leaves of your plants clean. Clean leaves on plants are more beautiful to look at and allow the plant to better absorb the light needed to conduct photosynthesis---the process of turning light into energy (so the plant can grow and be healthy). The best way of keeping a plant clean and healthy depends on the type of plant and what type of mess it has:
- If you just purchased a plant and you see white material on the leaves that don’t simply wipe off with a damp soft cloth it is likely you are looking at hard water stains. Hard water stains are simply minerals left over when water evaporates. These stains are common on plants newly received from a grower. The best fix is to add a teaspoon of white vinegar to a quart of lukewarm water and use a soft cloth to wipe the leaves. The acid in the vinegar breaks down the structure of the minerals. If the vinegar is not diluted it will burn the leaves.
- If your plant is simply dusty it is best to use a soft cloth and gently wipe the debris away. This is best for hoya and smooth succulents and other desert dwellers that don’t like being wet.
- If the dust on your plant is a bit stubborn use a teaspoon of white vinegar in a quart of lukewarm water and wipe with a soft cloth.
- If the plant has hairy leaves or spines like a cactus use a soft brush (like a paintbrush) and gently sweep debris away. It is not wise to get the leaves of hairy houseplants wet as they tend to hold onto moisture which attracts bacterial/fungal growth.
- For hairy plants or those with spines compressed air is another route. Cans of compressed air are generally sold at office supply stores. Hold the can 10-12 inches away from the plant and angle the can to blow dust from the surface without focusing the air flow directly on the surface. Blowing directly on the surface will cause cellular damage.
- For larger plants, like palms, a shower every now and then can be very cleansing. Always do this on a watering day so you accomplish two tasks at once. Take the palm/pot with drainage into the shower, close up the room so humidity can build, and turn on a gentle rain of lukewarm water. Allow the water to wash over the leaves. If some stains are a bit tough, you may need the help of a soft cloth. Leave the plant under the shower for a good 10 minutes so established debris loosens and washes away. The humidity and water will be a welcome treat but allow fronds to dry fully before returning the plant to its home.
- If your plant is small and delicate a gentle dunk into a bowl of lukewarm water should do the trick. Only dunk the leaves of the plant and keep the soil/pot out. You can swish it gently if the debris is stubborn but avoid dunking soil while doing this. It is wise to use a soft cloth to daub dry any remaining collected water.