It has been expressed that cleanliness is next to godliness, and that premise applies to your houseplants as well. I believe a clean houseplant is a healthy, disease-free addition to your home. I have an acquaintance who collects assorted houseplants, which is all well, and good, however. When you enter her home, you are readily greeted by the accumulation of dust which has formed on her impoverished plants. Some had even developed dreaded cobwebs attached to them, a clear indication of spider mites. As an avid plant lover, I find this totally unacceptable. My words to my friend was clean your plants up. Immediately, she turned towards me, shook her head sideways, and announced, “Why, since plants grow normally in soil should I clean them.”
Clean your plants
This was the wrong question to ask me, as I next proceeded to bestow upon her multiple reason that she should keep her plants clean. In the summertime when you take a short vacation, upon returning you immediately discover more dust than you may wish to admit. All plants need water, and sunshine, but they also need to live in a dust, and dirt-free environment. I always like to think of my plants as my “pets”, and no one would allow their treasured animals to live in such an environment, therefore, why allow your plants.
I next proceeded to inform my friend why plants should be kept clean. Foremost, of the reasons is that plants utilize the sunshine to produce photosynthesis. This is the metabolic process which plants employ in order to feed itself, and to grow. These layers of grime, and repugnant dust prevent adequate sunshine reaching the leaves to produce photosynthesis which keeps the plants alive. These dusty, grimy layers prevent the sunshine from reaching the leaves and promoting a healthy plant. Additionally, these dirty leaves provide a foothold for potential diseases which can attack the plant.
How to clean your plants
With this being said, if your houseplant has smooth leaves you should wipe both sides of the leaf gently with a disposable cloth, and lukewarm water. Never use extremely hot, nor exceptionally cold water for washing your plants, as it will harm the leaves. On my small plants I place them in the sink to wash. For specialty plants such as African Violets, I use a soft paintbrush, and gently stroke the leaf from the base to the tip. This usually removers the dust and debris, since African Violets do not like their leaves wet.
In all cases, I allow them to dry completely after washing. In the case of a heavy build-up in the leaves, I mix ¼ teaspoon of Dawn dish detergent, with 1 quart of lukewarm water. Place the resulting liquid into a spray bottle, and mist the plant leaves, after which the cleaning fluid should be rinsed off. I like to do this process outdoors under shaded protection. In the event I need to rinse off my larger plants indoors, I place them in the shower, where I have a specific stool assigned to my plants. The stool allows me to rotate the large plant in order to wash all sides of it. I generally support the leaf with one hand so as to avoid bruising them. Never use oil or polish on the plant leaves, for such items block the plant pours, thus suffocating the plant.
Another way you can wash small plants is to turn them upside down, holding your hand close to the soil, and merely dip them into a bucket of Dawn and tepid water mixture. You can prevent the soil from coming out of the pot by placing a section of aluminum foil over the soil. I have done it so many times that I just cup my hands over the soil in the pot, and swish the plant in the water mixture. Another precaution to observe is never to place freshly washed plants with wet leaves outside in the sun. Let them dry completely before moving them outdoors.
Shine the leaves
To provide a high gloss to the leaves of your plant, I recommend using a professional leaf shining product. Years ago, when my mother shined her plant leave, she used Pledge, however, I would not recommend using this product for that purpose. These are plants, and not a piece of furniture. I am amazed that in spite of her actions, her plants survived such an ordeal.
Now we come to the important question of when to clean your plants? This depends on the dust level that you have in your home. Do you have dirt roads nearby which could kick up dust every time someone drives on it? Is there construction taking place near your home? Is your house located in a location where you get a lot of wind? In the summer do you move some of your potted plants to a sunroom, or porch? I use a swipe of my finger to determine if my plants need cleaning. If I see, or feel the dust than its likely time to clean the plant.
Inspect your plants
When cleaning your plants, it is a good time to thoroughly inspect them for insects which might be living under the leaves, noting any spots or discoloration. Watch carefully for a condition known as webbing, usually caused by spider mites. Remove any dead, yellowing, withered leaves, and blooms at this time. Remove any leaves which have dropped off, and are sitting on the soil. If you are cleaning ferns, inspect under the green fronds for any brown leaf stalks, or stringy stems, that can be cut away. Never try to pull a leaf from the plant as you could damage the plant.
Examine the stems carefully looking closely for weak stems. Next, examine the soil, it is a known fact that insects on plants tend to spend a portion of their time in the soil. Any sight of white on the soil could be mold developing, thus adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
It may appear to be a considerable amount of work to keep your favorite plants clean, but it is worth it. I like to go through this routine for every plant I purchase at the store. You would surprise at the abuse these poor plants go through at the store. Learn to keep your plants clean and healthy.