How do you clean houseplant leaves? This is how plant experts tackle this task

Find out how to clean houseplant leaves the natural way to get the best results

woman kneeling on the floor cleaning houseplant leaves
(Image credit: Farknot Architect/Getty Images)

If you're wondering how to clean houseplant leaves first take into consideration the variety and how dusty the leaves are. Houseplants are real dust gatherers. Unsightly dust and dirt easily collects on the leaves, taking the shine off your collection. But different plants require different methods of cleaning for the best results.

Cleaning houseplants is good for them as they aren't able to photosynthesise properly if their leaves have a build-up of dust that reduces their ability to absorb sunlight. So for the health and wellbeing of your plants, as well as their appearance, a regular wash and brush-up is a good idea.

I regularly check the leaves of my indoor plants each time I water them as there's no definitive rule about how often you need to clean the leaves. If I see or feel dust then I know it's time to clean them. Bear in mind that if you keep your windows open on a regular basis, have ceiling fans or pets in the house, you might need to clean your plants more often. 

'In winter in particular, wiping houseplant leaves clean will really help them to make the most of declining light levels,' says Ruth Hayes, gardening editor for Amateur Gardening. 

It's a good idea to schedule a cleaning session once a month so your collection of houseplants always looks its best. You can add this to your weekly watering and tidy-up session but it's easy to forget, so why not set up a calendar note to remind you. 

collection of houseplants being cleaned in bath

If you have a big collection of houseplants the bathroom is often the easiest place to clean the leaves

(Image credit: SolStock/Getty Images)

What you'll need for cleaning your houseplant's leaves

As we've already mentioned, it's not really a question of whether you should clean your houseplants (as we definitely think you should), it's more about how you do it to get the best results. 

If you have quite a selection of houseplants of different varieties, shapes and sizes it's a good idea to put together your own kit to deal with every eventuality. 

Being covered in a layer of dust means your plants won’t look their best yet surprisingly it's one of the biggest indoor plant mistakes we make. Here are some suggestions for basics you should include. 

cactus plant being cleaned with a paintbrush

Some plants require a delicate touch to remove dust and debris and a small paintbrush is ideal for this 

(Image credit: BIOSPHOTO/Alamy Stock Photo)

How to clean houseplants with smooth and shiny leaves

It's easy to keep plants with a smooth and shiny surface clean such as rubber plants, Swiss cheese plants and fiddle leaf figs. All you need to do is occasionally wipe over the leaves with a damp microfibre cloth or damp non-scratchy sponge. Support the leaves as you wipe so they don’t snap off.

'If your houseplants are struggling with thrips or other pests, try diluting a drop of non-fragranced organic soap with water and then adding this to the cloth. Alternatively, gently mist the plant with the solution before you start cleaning,' says Holly Crossley, Acting Deputy Editor of Gardeningetc. 'This will help to keep the bugs at bay.'

If you want to add a real lustre to houseplants with leaves like this apply your own leaf shine mix after you've wiped dust from the leaves. A mixture of half milk and half water applied with cotton wool balls also works. Be sure to squeeze out the cotton wool ball first so the solution doesn't drip everywhere. 

If you have a houseplant that's huge and you don't want to move it, try reaching up with a feather duster instead to get to those difficult to reach spots.

woman dusting rubber plant leaves

Always support the leaf with your other hand when dusting it

(Image credit: Evelien DOosje/Alamy Stock Photo)

How to clean houseplants with feathery foliage

Plants like maidenhair fern, Boston fern and asparagus fern have delicate leafy foliage that is best brushed over with a clean soft paint brush to loosen any dust or dirt. Use a gentle swishing motion to dislodge the dust. If the debris isn't shifting try dipping the paintbrush in lukewarm water and gently painting the leaves with it until the leaves are clean. 

The smaller and more delicate the plant, the smaller and softer the brush you should use. Once you've finished cleaning them treat your plants to a light misting of water from a spray, which also helps to increase the humidity around them.

Leafy plants like Kentia palm can be cleaned by draping a soft damp cloth over a leaf then gently running it along the length of the leaf from stem to tip.

Boston fern in bathroom

Be careful when cleaning the leaves of fern plants as they are delicate and easily damaged

(Image credit: Mtreasure/Getty Images)

How to clean cacti and succulent plants

Thorny cacti are tricky when it comes to how to clean them as you need to be extra careful around their prickly stems. Don't be tempted to use water. Instead use a clean, dry paintbrush to softly stroke between the spikes and pick up any dust or dirt particles. For small cacti plants try using a Q tip in the same way or a clean artist's painting brush with a fine point.

For indoor succulents, run a clean, dry, soft cloth over each individual leaf from stem to tip. They should shine up nicely if you do this. Avoid splashing water from above or spritzing them with water.

The good news is that both cacti and succulent varieties are some of the best low maintenance indoor plants you can grow, so other than this quick cleaning task there's not much else you will need to do. 

woman cleaning cacti and succulent displays with paint brush

As well as small paintbrushes you can use Q tips to get into tight spots on mini cactus and succulent plants

(Image credit: Anatolii Riepin/Alamy Stock Photo)

Cleaning houseplant leaves in a bucket of water

This is a good idea for the smaller plants in your indoor garden. Fill a bucket with lukewarm water. Hold the base of the plant firmly at soil level, then turn it upside-down. Dunk into the bucket of water, and gently swish the leaves around. 

You could also use plastic wrap around the base of the plant and pot to contain the soil and stop it falling out while you're doing this. Let the plants dry thoroughly before moving them back into position.

If you're cleaning your kitchen plants using this method, it can help to add a little mild dish soap to the water to help thoroughly clean the leaves and remove the build up of sticky grime from cooking. 

woman sitting on floor with plants and bucket

Small plants can be quickly dunked in a bucket of water to free leaves of dust and debris

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Can you clean houseplant leaves in the shower?

If you have a large collection of plants it might be easiest to move them all to the shower or bathtub to clean them in one place, especially if some of the plants are quite large or alternatively have lots of small leaves such as spider plants that are too fiddly to clean individually. This is easy of course if you have a selection of bathroom plants in there already.

Ideally you'll have a detachable showerhead to allow you to adjust the water to a gentle pressure and temperature that won't damage your plants. Lukewarm water is always best. Support the leaves with your free hand as you spray. Allow your plants to dry off completely before returning them to their original positions.

'I always give my more robust-leaved houseplants a rinse in the shower when they’re looking a little dusty,' says Holly Crossley. 'Rinsing them all at once saves time and it gives them a good drink, too. I leave them in the shower for a couple of hours afterwards to allow any excess water to drain away (they are all planted in pots with drainage holes), before returning them to their usual position.'

Meanwhile, smaller plants might benefit from a quick rinse under the spray hose attachment in the kitchen sink. 

Alternatively, if it's a fine day take your houseplants outside and use the garden hose on a gentle spray setting. 'In summer I like to give my houseplants a gentle hose down with a sprinkler attachment, to clean all the dust and debris off their leaves,' says Ruth Hayes.

houseplants in bathtub being showered

Leafy houseplants love a quick spritz in the shower

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Can you use baby wipes to clean houseplant leaves?

The jury tends to be split on this idea as an aid for cleaning houseplant leaves. We find that if in doubt it's generally best not to. 

'You should avoid cleaning your houseplant leaves with baby wipes as these often contain chemicals that can damage your plant's delicate leaves,' says Patch Plants (opens in new tab)CEO Freddie Blackett.

'You should not use baby wipes to clean the leaves of your house plants,' agrees Kerien from Indoor Plant Addicts (opens in new tab). 'Even organic baby wipes can include chemicals that can harm your plant.' 

Meanwhile Kevin Rodrigues from Gardening Mentor (opens in new tab) points out that, 'Baby wipes may also contain alcohol, which can damage the plant's leaves and even kill the plant.'

If you are still tempted to try this quick fix, just be sure that your baby wipes are unscented and free of dyes and chemicals, so always check the label before adding them to your plant leaf cleaning routine.

cleaning houseplant leaves with wipe

As well as being bad for the environment baby wipes aren't the best thing for cleaning plant leaves either

(Image credit: Dmitry/Marchenko/Alamy Stock Photo)
Sarah Wilson
Content Editor

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about gardens since 2015. She's written for, Livingetc, Homes & Gardens, Easy Gardens and Modern Gardens magazines. Having studied introductory garden and landscape design, she is currently putting the skills learned to good use in her own space where the dream is establishing a cutting garden.