Houseplants provide color and atmosphere to a home. Healthy plants exhibit glossy, lustrous leaves. These aesthetically pleasing home decorations have an added benefit: they purify air. Since plants recycle and filter our air it only follows that plant leaves become dusty and dirty no matter how healthy the plant. Master gardeners recommend that houseplants be cleaned once to twice a month. Indoor gardeners can wash the plant leaves with water but polish may be required to restore luster.
Leaf Anatomy and Types
Leaves are essential elements of a plant's anatomy. Not only do leaves transform sunlight into energy through the process of photosynthesis but leaves also allow a plant to take in and release air and moisture through the stomata, microscopic pores on the leaf's surface. The stomata are surrounded by guard cells. These cells compose the waxy outer layer of a leaf which is also known as the cuticle. When you wash and polish plants, you are washing and polishing the cuticle and clearing out the stomata. Some plants lack a waxy layer and should not be washed or polished. Think of African violets or other plants with soft, hairy leaves. Polish will damage the leaf surface. Moisture easily collects on these leaves making them susceptible to pests and disease. Know your leaf's structure and assess the leaf's cleansing needs prior to washing and polishing.
Washing and Polishing Leaves
It is important to cleanse the leaves prior to polishing them. With a warm, soft rag wipe the leaves on the top and bottom. Try sandwiching the leaf lightly between two cloths, as this is an effective method of wiping down leaves without damaging them. One method of polishing leaves is to use banana peels in this manner. The natural oil from the skin will adhere to the leaves and produce a shine. Cheesecloth is an excellent material to use on glossy leaves. Lightly brush hairy leaves with camel's hair to remove dust but do not water or polish.
Waxy, glossy, firm leaves benefit from plant polishes. Use soft rags to apply the polishing agent and always dilute the agent with water. This will prevent any oils from clogging the microscopic stomata. Experiment with polishes on a few leaves at a time and monitor the results. Always use water to clean the leaves first and then polish dry leaves as needed.
Polishing agents that have been successfully used include mayonnaise, milk, beer, baby shampoo and all-purpose household cleansers. Lightly coat a rag with mayonnaise or milk then wipe down the leaves as you normally would when dusting or washing. Beer, baby shampoo and household cleansers should be diluted and misted on the leaves which are then wiped down with a soft cloth. When using polishes such as shampoos and household cleaners read the ingredients on the label and do not use substances which include chlorine, bleach, ammonia, peroxide and other caustic chemicals.