Wondering how to clean houseplant leaves? If your beloved houseplants are getting dusty and you want to restore your plants to their original shiny glory, check out how I clean the leaves on my houseplants, including natural cleaning options and why I don’t use over-the-counter leaf shine sprays.
How to Clean Houseplant Leaves
Many months ago, my wonderful husband decided to take advantage of a child-free morning and patch a hole in our ceiling. We’d had to open the ceiling up to figure out the source of a small leak. But once we did and fixed the leak, we shamefully left the ceiling open for a while. Just avoiding the inevitable drywall work and the mess it would create.
Mike decided to finally tackle it, which was great! But if you’ve ever patched drywall, you know it can create a lot of dust. Even when you take precautions like using large plastic drop clothes. The dust just finds its way onto EVERYTHING. And that’s exactly what it did.
This mess was, of course, in addition to the normal dust that settles onto houseplant leaves over time. I also use a spray bottle and water to mist a lot of my plants to help their humidity and moisture levels, and that can create water spots. It’s even yuckier when the water and dust mix and re-solidify on the plants.
So there was really no avoiding it—it was time to clean my houseplant leaves. Especially since I really want to put together a “houseplant tour” video for you guys. They needed a bit of a facelift so you all don’t think I’m a negligent plant parent.
Do plants breathe?
But first….do plants breathe? Yes! Plants do breathe. They are living, breathing beings, just like you and me. Plants absorb oxygen—and some other less nice things in the air around us, depending on the plant’s air purifying qualities—and they respirate just as we do. But they don’t do it in the same way, obviously.
Plants breathe through their leaves, specifically through tiny openings or pores called “stomata.” (Fun fact, this comes from the greek word for “mouth,” which is “stoma.”) This breathely is also closely related to photosynthesis, where plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
Why is cleaning houseplant leaves important?
Imagine how cranky you’d be if you were covered in dust and no one ever cleaned you? Especially if no one ever cleaned where you breathe from! Pretty cranky, right? But don’t worry, generally plants don’t need to be cleaned as often as you and I do—a cleaning roughly every season is usually sufficient.
It’s also critical to think about what your plants are like in nature: they aren’t covered in dust! They are regularly washed by rain, cleaning off the entire plant. And when it isn’t raining, they aren’t catching normal household dust particles and bits that fly around.
The most convenient times to clean your houseplants are in the beginning and end of the growing season. In the spring, you might be dividing, pruning, and repotting to prep your plant fam for the start of growing season. In the fall, you might be debugging plants to bring indoors from your balcony or yard. These are both great times to clean your plants. Otherwise, you can wipe down leaves as needed.
How to clean houseplant leaves: First, Wash…
The best way to completely clean off a plant’s leaves is to set it in the shower, in the sink, on outside and just rinse or hose it off. This is typically the best way to handle cleaning off larger plants with smaller leaves, like trailing pothos plants. Sure, you could clean off every individual leaf, but that would be time-consuming. A good shower will also flush the soil out, so make sure your pot has a drainage hole for this step.
If you can’t wash out your plant because it doesn’t have a drainage hole or it’s too large to move, you can heavily mist the leaves to imitate a shower. Make sure to protect the flooring around your plant so it doesn’t get wet. Then, in the spring, repot your plant into fresh soil since you can’t flush the soil.
…Then Dust and polish!
For this post, I want to focus on the real dust-collecting plants—plants with large, thick leaves. It’s often not worth the hassle of lugging these plants to the shower to rinse them off. Instead, you can wipe down the leaves by hand. Even on bigger plants like my large rubber plant, it only takes a few minutes since the leaves are so large and easy to wipe.
To clean houseplant leaves on large plants like my rubber plant, snake plants, and monstera, I use a microfiber cloth. I have a bunch of reusable microfiber cloths I use for cleaning, napkins, and just general kitchen stuff. They are thick and hold up very well to washing. The microfiber is fantastic for cleaning dust off of large houseplant leaves because it polishes while you wipe.
To clean leaves, simply dampen a microfiber cloth. It shouldn’t be soaking wet. Drench the cloth and then wring out all of the excess water. You can now wipe down each leaf individually, rinsing and wringing out the cloth as you go. This is important—if you don’t rinse the cloth, you’ll just move the dust around. 🙂
Homemade natural leaf shine for houseplants
Another thing I like to do is while dusting houseplant leaves is make a natural leaf shine spray by spritzing my damp microfiber cloth with some neem oil spray. What I love about neem oil spray is that it’s a natural solution for pest infestations like insects, mites, and fungus, too. It helps ward them off and prevent pests from settling in in the first place.
It also helps give your leaves a nice pick-me-up and some additional shine. Don’t add too much, though—just a few light spritzes to your cloth is enough. If you coat the leaves too thickly with anything, it can just attract more dust.
Is leaf shine good for plants?
No 🙁 While it might sound like a nice step to take after you clean all of that dust off of your leaves, you definitely want to avoid leaf shine products. Many over-the-counter leaf shine sprays use mineral oil to enhance the shine on your leaves.
And there are a ton of DIY leaf shine recipes online that suggest using MAYONNAISE to shine your leaves because of the oil in it. Please, for the love of all that is good, step away from the mayonnaise jar. Mayonnaise is for sandwiches and chicken salad. Not plants. I also feel like the smell might not be that great after a while, either. Mayonnaise doesn’t age well outside of the fridge 🙁
Want more plant care tips? You’ll love my guides on how to take care of monstera plants, the ponytail palm, snake plants, elephant ear plants, rubber plants, fiddle leaf figs, cape ivy, peperomia plants, pilea peperomioides, succulents, and philodendron.
No matter what leaf shine product you use, it’s doing the same bad thing: coating the leaves and potentially clogging the pores we talked about earlier. The stomata—the stuff on your plant’s leaves that it uses to breathe. I don’t know of a single person on earth who would want to be suffocated by mayonnaise. And if you know someone who would, please do not introduce me to them.
Even too much neem oil could be problematic, which is why I recommend only a few spritzes on your microfiber cloth to do an entire plant. A little goes a long way, I promise!