All you need to know about cleaning houseplants

It doesn't take long for dust to accumulate on houseplants. Especially when fans and air conditioners come into action, or when a window is left open. That's why, however tedious it may seem, cleaning houseplants is essential to their well-being.

Why clean plant leaves?

Plant leaves perform three main functions: the production of food through photosynthesis, the exchange of gases between the plant and the atmosphere, and the evaporation of water through transpiration. Dirt and/or dust on the leaf surface impede these functions, affecting plant health and growth. .​

Cleaning houseplants - though often neglected - is just as important as watering and fertilizing.

When should you clean your houseplants?

Logically, the frequency with which you clean your houseplants depends on the amount of dust in the air. If you live in an environment where there are dirt roads, construction sites, vacant lots or simply a lot of wind, your plants will need to be cleaned more often.

The best way to tell if a plant needs cleaning is to run your finger over the leaves. If you smell or see a lot of dust, it's time to clean.

Good to know: there are a number of products on the market for polishing plant leaves. While this may seem a quicker and easier alternative to manual cleaning, don't be seduced! These products can interfere with the plant's respiration and photosynthesis processes.

The six most common ways to clean your plants

The choice of method for cleaning your houseplants depends on the type of plant, the type of leaves and the nature of the dirt.

Methods include wiping with a soft cloth, dusting with a feather duster or brush, rinsing with clear water, spraying with a diluted soap solution, and in some cases even using compressed air to remove dirt.

Dust with a feather duster or brush

When there is little dust, you can quickly remove it with a feather duster. Brush the foliage gently so as not to rough up your plant or risk tearing off a leaf.

Some plants with sticky or fluffy leaves don't lend themselves to cleaning with water or a rag. For example, cape violets don't like to have their leaves wet. In this case, a soft brush, such as a mushroom brush, will gently remove the dust.

Wipe off dust with a soft, damp cloth

For plants that are too large to be moved or have large leaves, wiping with a damp cloth is the most effective method. This method is not suitable (and particularly time-consuming) for plants with many small leaves.​

Be sure to use clean, lukewarm water (distilled water if possible). Washcloth, microfiber cloth or old T-shirt: the most important thing is that the material is soft enough not to scratch the leaf. Gently wipe each sheet, supporting it from underneath.

Plunge plant into water

Smaller plants or those with many leaves can benefit from a quick dip in a warm water bath. Turn the plant upside down, keeping its base at ground level. Plunge it into a bucket of warm water and gently agitate the leaves in the water. Water the plant beforehand, to prevent the soil from falling out when the pot is turned upside down. Or wrap the top of the pot in plastic film to retain the soil. Then let the plant drain before putting it back in place.

If there's a lot of water on the leaves, you can blot them gently with absorbent paper or a soft cloth. By drying the leaves in this way, you'll prevent water spots from forming on the surface of the leaves, forcing you to clean them again.

Rinse plants in the shower

For larger plants, the simplest method is to run them under the shower. Place the plants in the bathtub and gently spray them with warm water from the shower head. Make sure that the spray is not too strong and does not damage or tear the leaves from the plant stems.

After rinsing thoroughly, let the plants air-dry before replacing them, or blot them gently with absorbent paper or a soft cloth if water has accumulated on their leaves.

Spray leaves with soap solution

If your plants are very dirty, a simple jet of water may not be enough to clean them properly. In this case, adding a mild soap solution can help remove grime. Create a solution containing a ¼ teaspoon of dish soap per liter of lukewarm water in a spray bottle. Shake well to mix the solution, then gently spray all over the plant. Rinse with lukewarm water to remove any soap residue. Allow to air dry (or dab with a clean paper towel or soft cloth) before replacing the plant.

Cleaning cacti and succulents with compressed air

Cacti and succulents require a slightly different type of maintenance. The aerial parts of the plant are covered with a protective coating (waxy layer) that helps prevent evaporation, retaining water within the plant tissue and thus increasing their ability to withstand drought conditions. Spraying the plant with water or immersing it in water will cause this coating to disappear. For this reason, it's best to use a compressed-air spray to clean them.

Hold the can at a distance of at least 15-20 cm from the plants and spray in short bursts to dislodge dust and dirt. Be careful not to spray for prolonged periods, as the air becomes too cold and can damage plant tissue.

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