Q: Some of my houseplants look dusty. Should I be dusting them or doing something else? I’m fearful of killing them with too much manipulation.
A: Your question is a very pertinent one, especially this time of year. In the warmer weather, we can just set our houseplants out in a gentle rain to get cleaned. With our homes being more closed during the winter, and with more of our cooking happening indoors, our plants are prone to getting more dust, grime and grease on their foliage. The dirtier they are, the less light they can absorb, so keeping their foliage clean does help the plants stay healthy and can promote growth. It also helps them look more attractive.
We need to inspect our plants’ leaves on both the tops and undersides. When we do this inspection, we should be checking them for any pests or diseases, too.
What cleaning method to use depends on what kind of plant you’re cleaning. Any fuzzy-leafed plants need to be gently cleaned with a soft bristle brush, such as a small paint or makeup brush. Examples of these plants are African violets and streptocarpella. These plants do not like to get water on their foliage. Another type of plant that you’d want to definitely use a brush on is cacti!
But for smooth-leafed plants, water is an excellent cleaning tool. One way is to dampen a soft cloth and wipe each leaf. Generally, you only need to wipe the tops, as this is where the dust gathers. But if you are trying to get rid of pests, you may want to do both sides. You can also add a few drops of dish soap to the water, especially if you’re dealing with greasy dirt.
Water can also be delivered in a spray. If the plant is small enough, you can wash it in your sink with a gentle spray of water. You want to make sure the temperature of the water is lukewarm. And your pot should have holes in the bottom, too, to release the water. This flow-through method would also be beneficial for washing out the leached material from your soils. If your plant is bigger, you could also use your shower, using the same principles. In both of these cases, make sure you have a free flowing drain. You may want to protect the drain from soil particles.
There are products on the market to clean plants or to make leaves shine. Generally, these products are not needed. Some may interfere with the plant’s natural respiration processes, and some of them can actually attract dust to the plants.
For more information: extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/indoor-plant-care.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send questions to email@example.com.