5 Easy Ways to Clean Plant Leaves

updated Jul 11, 2022
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Hands wiping down plant leaves with a damp cloth

Just like any other decor or furniture in your home, indoor houseplants need the occasional cleaning. But unlike dusting off your baseboards or vacuuming your rug, it’s not an issue of aesthetics. Whether or not you clean your plants on a regular basis (and, of course, how you clean them) can affect their well-being. 

Wondering how to clean plant leaves? The best method ultimately depends on a few factors, such as the type of plant and leaves and how dirty they are. In some situations, a quick dust-off will do the trick. A dirtier plant might need a little more love and labor (including a trim, while you’re at it).

Never cleaned a plant before, or not sure what kind of method to use on yours? We’ve got you covered. Here’s how to clean plant leaves on your indoor plants. 

Why Is Cleaning Your Plants Important? 

Because nobody wants a dusty plant. But also, because of science! Like just about everything in your home, plants accumulate dust, dirt, and other debris over time if they’re not regularly cleaned. And a layer of dust on a plant’s leaves can reduce the sunlight it absorbs, interfering with its ability to feed itself through photosynthesis.

Credit: DimaBerlin/Shutterstock

How Often Should You Clean Your Plants?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how frequently you should clean your plants. A good rule of thumb is to check the leaves each time you water. If there’s visible dust or debris on a plant, or if you feel dust when you rub the leaves, it’s probably time for a cleaning. Certain factors might cause more dust to accumulate. For example, if you keep your windows open on a regular basis, you might need to clean your plants more often than someone who doesn’t.

There are many methods to consider if you’re wondering how to clean plant leaves. If yours has fuzzy leaves or delicate flowers, you might want to grab a soft duster tool. If the leaves are flat and wide, a sponge and soapy water can work. Or if you have lots of plants, you could try taking them all into the shower with you for bath time (really!).

How to Clean Plants in the Shower

A smaller plant might benefit from a quick rinse in the sink. But if you have a larger potted plant, you can use the shower to clean it off. This works best if you have a detachable showerhead that allows you to adjust the water pressure, since too much force can damage leaves or snap them off the plant. Here’s how: 

  1. Move your plant (or a few of them, if you have more than one) to the bathtub or shower. 
  2. Using lukewarm water, gently spray the plant’s leaves until the dust and debris dissipates. 
  3. Air dry the plant in the tub before moving it back into place. 
  4. If you need to use the shower right away, grab a paper towel or a microfiber cloth and blot the leaves dry before relocating it.

How to Clean Plants by Hand with a Sponge and Soapy Water

This method won’t be as effective with a plant that has tons of tiny leaves, like a ZZ or fern, but for a plant with larger, sturdier leaves, like a snake plant, monstera, or fiddle leaf fig, you can be more precise by using a sponge and soapy water to remove dust and other grime. Below, we’ve included instructions for how to clean plant leaves with a sponge. 

  1. Grab a non-abrasive sponge (to avoid scratching the leaves) or even a soft microfiber cloth. 
  2. Make a solution with ¼ teaspoon of dish soap per quart of tepid water, then dip your sponge until it’s damp. 
  3. Carefully wipe down the leaves until they appear clean, rinsing the sponge periodically to avoid spreading dirt on the leaves. 
  4. In the process, make sure to use your other hand to support the leaves as you wipe so they don’t snap off.

How to Dust Plants’ Leaves with a Microfiber Cloth or Duster

Lucky enough to have a giant plant that won’t easily move to the shower? You can use a dry microfiber cloth or a duster to dust the plant’s leaves. It’s simple to do: Just gently wipe the leaves individually with a soft microfiber cloth, and for a larger plant, use a duster. As a general practice, use the duster on your plant whenever you dust other areas of your home.

Some plants have sticky or fuzzy leaves that just don’t lend themselves to easy cleaning. And in the case of plants such as African violets that don’t like getting their leaves wet, neither spraying nor wiping is the answer. For a fuzzy-leaved plant, use a soft brush such as a mushroom brush to very gently coax the dust from the leaves.

How to Clean Plants with a Paintbrush 

Certain plants might benefit from the texture and precision of a paintbrush—including fuzzier plants like African violets or plants with smaller leaves, like ferns and flowers. The smaller and more delicate the plant, the smaller and softer the brush you should use. For example, don’t use a stiff paintbrush on flowers with leaves that could easily fall off. Instead, a softer kids’ brush should do the trick. Follow these simple instructions for how to clean plant leaves that are fuzzy and delicate.

  1. Find an appropriately sized paintbrush for the plant you’d like to clean. 
  2. Dip the paintbrush in a bit of lukewarm water and“paint” the leaves until the dust disappears. 
  3. Otherwise, for a fuzzy-leaved plant, use a dry paint brush and gently brush the plant’s leaves to remove dust and debris.

How to Trim Dead Leaves from Plants

When you clean your plants, you might notice dead leaves (surefire signs are wilting and discoloration—usually, dead leaves are yellow or brown). Trimming these off doesn’t just improve the look of a plant; it allows more nutrients to reach the surviving leaves. You can easily remove dead or dying leaves by hand if they’re loose. Or, you can grab a pair of scissors or pruning shears, cutting the leaves as close to the stem as possible. 

The Apartment Therapy Plants vertical was written and edited independently by the Apartment Therapy editorial team and generously underwritten by Greendigs.