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Ask a Master Gardener: Water works best to clean houseplants

Clean houseplants with water to remove dust and grease.

Q: I remember my mom cleaning her plant leaves with a cloth dipped in milk. I'm just wondering if I should do that, too?

A: Yes, I remember this practice. I think they used whole milk, as it contained fats that made for shiny leaves. However, this is not something you will want to continue.

It is a good idea to clean plants. They get dusty, especially during our winter months. Grease can even accumulate on the leaves. These accumulations interfere with the plant's ability to absorb nourishment. Another advantage of maintaining a plant's hygiene is the possible prevention of insect infestations through your regular inspection and detection.

If your plant does not have fuzzy leaves, one method of removing dust is to take a soft cloth and dampen it with room-temperature water. Gently clean both the top and underside of each leaf. Another method is to place the plant in the shower and gently wash with mild soapy water. Your planter does need to have drainage holes in order to use the shower method (a good idea in any case). In summer, you can do this showering outdoors.

For plants with hairy leaves, such as African violets, clean with a soft brush, such as a cosmetic brush.

We don't recommend using a feather duster, as that can transfer tiny pests from one plant to another.

What about those leaf shine products that are commercially sold? We don't recommend those, either. Some of these products can actually attract more dust to your plant's leaves. Some can also cause a waxy film to build up on leaves, again interfering with the plant's normal processes.

Depending on your home's environment, you will want to clean your plants every couple of months. Your plants will thank you with good growth and vigor.

Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send your questions to