Published on May 24, 2019

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Photography by Ren Ran

Your precious plant baby is surrounded by soil at all times, so what will a few more dust particles do? Turns out, potentially a lot. Failing to wipe down your plants can have devastating, if not catastrophic, effects on your greenery. (Why aren’t more people talking about this?!) It has everything to do with a little thing you learned in third grade called photosynthesis.

“Plants breathe through little pores called stomata on their leaves,” says Erin Marino, director of brand marketing at The Sill. These tiny pores can become clogged with dust and dirt over time, not entirely unlike your skin, which gets blemishes when residue and dirt block pores. The difference is that plants don’t get pimples; their clogged pores can lead to suffocation and maybe even death. If clogged pores weren’t enough to worry about, itty-bitty plant pests can also wreak havoc on leaves. They can be caused by poor hygiene, but usually it’s just part of nature taking its course.

Every type of greenery is a world unto itself, so consider the frequency and method of cleaning on a case-by-case basis. If you really want to stay on top of it, clean your plants as often as you deep clean your home, and consider doing a shower or deep wash at the start of every season. Larger-leaf plants, like fiddle-leaf figs, are pretty quick to clean with a large duster weekly, while pothos are naturally waxy-leafed and won’t need cleaning as often—thus, approach each of your plant babies individually. To assess how dirty your greenery is, gently rub your fingers along the leaves and analyze. It’s also a good time to get up close and personal with your plant; consider it scheduled maintenance, when you can study and inspect for damage, environmental-caused unhappiness, or disease.

Start With a Damp Cloth

“We recommend wiping plants down with a damp cloth or sponge every month or two,” says Marino. Make sure the cloth is damp and not soaking wet. Support each and every beloved leaf with your hand gently as you wipe both the top and underneath. The top is where most of the dust will gather, but the underside is where the majority of pests hang out. This might be a touch laborious with heavily leafed greenery, but consider it precious one-on-one time with your plant child.

Gently Swipe With a Feather Duster

Each plant is special, but some can be easy to clean frequently, like ZZ plants or monsteras. These large, leafy fellas benefit from their size in that you can run a Swiffer or feather duster over them every one or two weeks to keep dust at bay. Gently dust the top and underside of the leaves to keep your baby bright and green and photosynthesizing. Marino says you can (adorably) use a soft paint or makeup brush to employ this method on more delicate plants, too.

Clean Even Deeper With Soap

If you’ve got really stubborn plants that are difficult to scrub clean or you detect traces of pests such as mites, turn to soap. Grab a gentle dish soap and lather it up on a cloth. The soap will be able to cut through grime easier on the leaves, while still being gentle enough. Same rules still apply—go over the top and underneath the leaves, then rinse with a clean, damp cloth to remove all the soap excess.

When in Doubt, Give Them a Shower

If it works for you, it will probably work well for your plants. A quick, deliberate run under water is especially ideal for delicate or difficult-to-wipe leaves, like ferns, palms (hard to thoroughly wipe), or even orchids. But most plants will enjoy at least one (or a few) showers a year to start afresh. After all, they take showers in nature when it rains.

Let lukewarm water run, then bring the greenery into the shower and give it a quick rinse. Make sure you get the top and underneath the leaves, then soak the soil until it drains out the bottom. This rinse is an easy way to ensure your plant is squeaky clean and bug-free, as well as able to absorb more oxygen and sunshine.

Keep caring for your plant babies:
How to Care for Succulents (and Other Low-Key Plants)
What Greenery to Buy, According to Your Plant Parent Personality
Are Boys With Plants the New “Hot Men Reading”?

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