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How to Clean Houseplant Leaves

Learn how to clean houseplant leaves using a DIY leaf shine!

Learn how to clean houseplant leaves using a DIY leaf shine

Many months ago, my wonderful husband decided to take advantage of a child-free morning to patch a hole in our ceiling. We’d had to open the ceiling up to figure out the source of a small leak. Then we avoided the inevitable drywall work and the mess it would create.

He 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.

This mess was, of course, in addition to the normal dust that settles onto houseplant leaves over time. So there was no avoiding it—it was time to clean my houseplant leaves. Let’s talk about how I do it without using any sort of leaf shine product.

dusty rubber plant leaf
Before cleaning
rubber plant leaf cleaned using a DIY leaf shine
After cleaning

An overview of cleaning houseplant leaves

  • Plants breathe through their leaves via stomata, which are also integral to photosynthesis, hence the importance of keeping leaves clean.
  • Clean leaves by rinsing with water or using a damp microfiber cloth when you notice an accumulation of debris or dust.
  • Avoid over-the-counter and DIY leave shine recipes that use things like mayonnaise.
  • A safer alternative that can add a bit of sheen is neem oil; spray heavily diluted neem oil on your cleaning cloth while wiping down your leaves.

Why it’s important to clean plants

But besides maintaining their good looks, why is it important to clean plants? Well, plants breathe. They are living, breathing beings, just like you and I. Plants absorb oxygen and carbon dioxide from the air around us.

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 is also closely related to photosynthesis, where plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. You can read more about this process from the Royal Horticultural Society.

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! 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. 

dusty rubber plant leaf
Before cleaning
rubber plant leaf cleaned using a DIY leaf shine
After cleaning

Cleaning houseplant leaves using water

The most convenient time to clean foliage is when you are watering your plant. I generally try to rinse off each of my plants at least monthly. I do this by either setting them in the shower (or on the patio if it’s nice outside), or hosing them off in the sink.

This is also a more convenient and thorough way of cleaning off plants that have lots of nooks and crannies. For example, a trailing pothos plant. 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 have concerns about how pooling water can affect sensitive foliage on some plants, make sure to rinse in the morning. This will give the plant plenty of time to dry off. You can also shake off excess water or even dry with a hair dryer set to the lowest setting on the coolest temperature.

dusty snake plant leaves in need of cleaning
Before cleaning
snake plant leaves cleaned using a DIY leaf shine
After cleaning
snake plant
Before cleaning
snake plant leaves cleaned using a DIY leaf shine
After cleaning

Cleaning using a microfiber cloth

For this section, 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.

To clean houseplant leaves on large plants like my rubber plant, snake plants, and monstera deliciosa, I use a microfiber cloth (affiliate link). I have a bunch of reusable microfiber cloths I use for cleaning, napkins, and just general kitchen stuff. The microfiber is fantastic for cleaning dust off of large houseplant leaves because it polishes while you wipe.

Simply dampen a microfiber cloth. 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. If you don’t rinse the cloth, you’ll just move the dust around. 🙂

microfiber cloth
monstera leaf that needs cleaned
Before cleaning
mosntera deliciosa leaf cleaned using a DIY leaf shine
After cleaning

Are topical leaf shine products 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, which isn’t a great idea.

There are a ton of DIY leaf shine recipes online that even suggest using MAYONNAISE to shine your leaves because of the oil in it. Please step away from the mayonnaise jar. Mayonnaise is for sandwiches and chicken salad. Not plants.

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. 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.

mosntera deliciosa leaf cleaned using a DIY leaf shine
After cleaning

How to make a safe homemade leaf shine

If you want to add a bit of a sheen to your leaves, though, there is one safe approach I recommend taking. I like to make a natural leaf shine spray by spritzing my damp microfiber cloth with some heavily diluted neem oil spray. Neem oil (affiliate link) is a natural way to help ward pests off and prevent them from moving in.

It also helps give your leaves a nice pick-me-up and some additional sheen. 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 and make it harder for your plant to breathe.

neem oil spray for making a homemade leaf shine

In conclusion…

To wrap up, I’ve shared some key insights and methods for maintaining the health and appearance of your houseplants. Cleaning their leaves is more than just a cosmetic task; it’s essential for their breathing and overall well-being.

I’d love to hear how these tips work out for you and see the difference they make for your plants. Share your experiences, photos, or any questions in the comments below. Happy planting!

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Here is a link to the Dropbox folder with the guide!

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Brittany Goldwyn
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