As their native home is in the tropics, orchids are accustomed to having showers! Growing in the wild, torrential or showers of rain help keep these stunning plants healthy.
Keeping your orchid leaves in tip-top condition in the home or office can be easy, too. Worried about your orchid looking worn or unkempt? There’s really no need – here’s how to clean orchid leaves in a few simple, cost-effective ways.
Why clean orchid leaves?
It’s easy to think that most plants pretty much look after themselves beyond the occasional watering. However, cleaning orchid leaves helps to keep them looking truly spectacular!
By cleaning the leaves of orchids, did you know you can improve the air quality in your home, too? It’s true – clean, healthy leaves are more likely to photosynthesize.
This means your orchids’ exchange of gasses and absorption of impurities makes a healthier atmosphere for us, too! So – aside from the aesthetics of your plant looking in tip-top condition, the quality of the air we breathe is improved by our cleaner plants, too! Orchids are not only great plants for the shower, but pretty much every room in the home.
Now you know the why, let’s jump into the how.
Creating your own leaf cleaner
Why buy expensive and/or potentially harmful cleaners from the store when you can make your own from home? The following concoctions always work wonders for me when I want to give my orchids a little bit of a clean-down.
You should either use a lemon juice cleaner, a detergent cleaner, or a baby shampoo cleaner to spray and wipe your orchids with. I’ll run through how to make these a little further down.
Equipment you’ll need
Before I delve deep into the ingredients and mixes for your chosen homemade orchid leaf cleaner, here’s a quick rundown of tools and pieces you’ll need to get the job done:
- Some tissue to wipe the leaves
- A soft bristle brush (a paintbrush or makeup brush will also work)
- A pair of sterilized scissors (in case surgery is needed)
- A clean spray bottle
- A teaspoon to measure ingredients
If you don’t like the idea of making your own mixture at home, no worries – there are specialized cleaners you can buy online and in garden stores. However, homemade recipes are natural and tend to be much cheaper!
Mixing up your leaf cleaner
If you’ve chosen the homemade leaf cleaner route like me, welcome! Here’s what you’ll need for each type of cleaner, depending entirely on your tastes and what you have available.
Lemon juice cleaner
Be sure to mix together one teaspoon of lemon juice to nine teaspoons of dechlorinated water. Mix by shaking your spray bottle, and you’re good to go!
Mix up half a teaspoon of dish soap with up to 12 teaspoons of dechlorinated water, then as above, shake to mix.
Baby shampoo cleaner
With a mild shampoo mix – ideally baby shampoo, as it’s blended to be more sensitive than most – measure out a teaspoon’s worth with ten teaspoons of dechlorinated water, then shake.
Or… why not use mayonnaise?
Yes! Believe it or not, the acid in mayo can be hugely beneficial in cleaning up orchid leaves. I’d recommend you try and make your own – it’s a case of adding lemon juice to egg yolk and some oil.
I urge caution when using store-bought mayonnaise as the salt can be detrimental to orchids. If you’d like to use any mayo you’ve already got in, always wipe clean with water.
After mixing, always be sure to throw your homemade mayo out – or eat it – as it’ll spoil in the refrigerator and will be even less palatable to orchids.
Water works too!
Used in the same way as the products above, simple dechlorinated water will rinse off light debris and dust, and initially give a cleaner appearance to leaves.
Once dried, your plant’s leaves may have a milky or pale gray streaky appearance. Don’t worry! This is due to mineral deposits.
To dechlorinate water, simply fill a jug or container out of the faucet and leave to stand overnight. Many of the chemicals used to treat water will dissipate by the morning and be safer for plants.
Alternatively, it’s worth investing in a water filter jug or kit. The water’s better for your plants at feeding time and tastes better, too!
Cleaning orchid leaves – five simple steps
Now you’ve got your chosen solution and your tools to hand, it’s time to get to work. Here are the orchid cleaning steps you’ll need to follow so you’ll get shiny, clean leaves.
Step 1: Position your orchid for cleaning
Having chosen the solution to clean your orchid’s leaves, where possible, move the plant’s container to somewhere with good light. Otherwise, ensure you can turn the container all the way round, where your orchid is usually displayed. Make sure you can comfortably reach all the leaves.
Step 2: Check your orchid carefully
Orchid plants typically have two to four tall, smooth, strong leaves. They develop either side of the plant’s main stems and tend to lean outwards away from where flowers will bloom.
Check each individual leaf for discoloration or wilting before cleaning. The plant may be dehydrated or stressed – and it’s normally fairly easy to tell if this is the case. It’s best to try and fix problems your orchid’s experiencing before cleaning it, just in case it causes your plant extra stress.
After cleaning your plant, remember to check the compost and consider when you last watered it. Otherwise, within a few days, you may have one less leaf to clean!
Discolored leaves may indicate that the plant is dying. If they are damaged or reaching the end of a life cycle, you may decide to cut them off. Therefore, there’s little need to clean them.
Step 3: Check the leaves for pests and/or disease
Using a smartphone camera or a magnifying glass, check your orchid for mealy bugs, aphids and/or mites. At first you may notice spots, small depressions, or even tiny holes across the plant’s leaves!
Sometimes you’ll see insect waste as a black or gray dust-like substance. Alternatively, you may discover a clear or honey-tinted and sticky substance! Remember to check the undersides of leaves, too. You’re going to want to clean this all off!
If your container is heavy to lift or leaves are spreading wide apart, and maneuvering is awkward, try using a mirror to examine the undersides of leaves. You can slide a handheld mirror up and down without moving the plant.
This should save you time and effort, and it also means you can prevent eggs, pests, or mold falling onto the surface of the growth medium or soil.
Always treat and/or remove any undesirables before cleaning an orchid’s leaves. Otherwise, you risk treating unwanted pests to a nice clean meal!
How do I remove pests from my orchid?
If you can spot bugs or other pests on your orchid, you can wipe off the offenders with wet tissue, special plant leaf cleaning wipes, or even tweezers! Do this before cleaning all the leaves with your chosen cleaning solution – the aim is to remove pests and mold without allowing them to spread.
Wet some tissue and place it beneath the infested area. Hold the tissue with one hand as you use the brush with the other (using your paintbrush or makeup brush).
Alternatively, simply lay the wet tissue on the surface of the growth medium. It should be ready to catch the offenders – try to be slow and thorough, as unless you capture all the pests, they can multiply significantly before your next examination.
Let the cleaning begin!
Begin cleaning your orchid’s leaves with your chosen solution, working systematically from the leaves nearest to the center of the plant and working outwards.
For example, if your orchid has two leaves, start from the one on the right or left and work from the bottom of the upper side of the leaf. Then, slide any matter and/or cleaning solution from the bottom of the leaf upwards towards the tip.
Next, swipe the underside of the same leaf, from the bottom, upwards towards the tip. In this way, you will transport any debris, pests, or eggs away from the core of the plant and lift them away from the surface of the container.
If you wipe the leaves from their tip downwards towards the center of the plant, you risk debris, eggs or pests being pushed into hiding! Also, your hand and/or fingers will prevent you from seeing what’s underneath.
Cleaning with lemon juice
Cleaning leaves with lemon juice is super-simple – just dampen a tissue. However, I also recommend you mist the leaves and wipe them. This prevents the lemon concentrate from bleaching leaves as it reacts with sunlight.
Cleaning with detergent (dish soap)
A mild dilution as recommended always works well for me, but if your leaves are looking very grubby, use a stronger dose to begin and apply a froth to loosen debris or eggs. Go slowly!
Rinse off, then repeat with a more diluted mix – and, finally, mist and buff. Always aim to use this liquid at ambient air temperature.
Cleaning with baby shampoo
Baby shampoo is much milder than detergent – but again, for the best results, use it at ambient temperature. Follow the above steps for similar results.
Cleaning with water
When it comes to water temperature, guess what – ambient works best! Hot or cold could shock the plant. Make sure it’s dechlorinated, too, so you’re not wiping chemicals all over the leaves.
Cleaning with store-bought products
Unfortunately, I can’t confirm exactly how you should use all cleaning products on your orchid leaves, so make sure to follow the label.
A word of warning, however, some bottles have a use-by date. Check the longevity of the product before selecting one to buy.
If you have pets or children, be extra careful when reading labels and starting to spray. Some orchid cleaning products and fertilizers may contain ingredients that are toxic – keep your chemicals locked away if you absolutely have to use them!
Cleaning with mayonnaise
Mayo’s thickness makes for a smooth, clean swipe over debris and/or pests. Made with olive oil, it’s extremely kind to leaves and makes for a naturally shiny finish. We suggest a light misting after the initial application.
Again, avoid salt wherever possible – it will harm your orchid if you’re not careful.
Step 5: Buff and polish
After cleaning your orchids, you can polish the leaves and gain extra luster using olive oil. Be tender when cleaning leaves in this way! Although orchid leaves are generally sturdy, they can snap. It’s a shame to lose a healthy leaf, especially when there are so few of them!
Don’t despair If this happens. Ensure your plant is fertilized and watered so a new leaf can form and appear as soon as possible. For orchids, this can take several weeks or even months! But if you love your orchids as much as I do, I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s well worth the wait!
How often should you clean orchid leaves?
I recommend you use your own judgment – it is more important to regulate the solution you are using. If you feel it is necessary to clean your orchid’s leaves weekly, I recommend using only water or the baby shampoo mix one week, and then a lemon juice or store mix a week later. This won’t overstress your plant – don’t worry!
If your orchids appear dust-free, do still check them weekly, especially in the growth season when pests can be prevalent! You may discover a cluster of mites and then have to clean leaves thoroughly.
Alternatively, if your plant is pest and disease free, you may decide to leave a thorough leaf clean for a week or so later.
A weekly clean may be essential if your plants attract large amounts of dust. Otherwise, your orchid(s) will struggle to grow and flower properly! Don’t forget to check if leaves are floppy, discolored, or dying, too – it won’t be too late to take remedial action if you check them weekly!
Remember to use a smartphone or magnifying glass to check for minute debris or residue from pests or mold. If you discover any, immediately separate the victim from other nearby plants. It’s so easy for plants to start infecting others!
How at risk are my orchid’s leaves from pests and diseases?
I’ve talked a lot about pests that can end up damaging and messing up your orchids, but it’s critical to give these sensitive plants the care that they demand.
Spores and pests can easily carry in on air from open windows and drafty doors. Check your room for drafts and be aware of the direction air moves within your home. This may help you position taller plant containers further away from a window, for example, or smaller ones closer to a light source.
After cleaning your orchid leaves, I recommend cleaning the outside rim of their containers and the sides of the container. This will ensure no uninvited guests can crawl back onto your pristine plant or contaminate any others close by.
There you have it – your complete guide to cleaning orchid leaves. Do you have any tips of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re experiencing problems with your pristine plants in different ways, take a look at our guide to resolve orchid leaves which are turning yellow.