This is a great question that came off our Facebook page:

Hello ‘Clean My Space’ Team, I was wondering if you have any tips or tricks to quickly clean the leaves of an artificial tree. I have attached a photo of my tree, so you can see the type of leaves I am talking about … oh and the trunk of the tree is real wood/bark, just the leaves are artificial (made of silk I believe). Thanks, Gizelle. (her photos are below)

That’s a silk plant, up close and personal.

She’s a beaut!

The skinny on silk plants

Silk plants and trees are terrific for people like me who ‘forget’ to water their plants.  Here’s one I’ve sort of nursed in my office for the last year…it looks uh, just ok.  Let me rephrase that: it is lucky to be alive.

The poor thing. I tried, I really did.

Heck, I’ve even lost lucky bamboo (which is basically indestructible) due to under-watering.  Alright, shame aside, it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who has issues with plant maintenance, hence the healthy and thriving silk plant and flower industry.  I think they serve a purpose; add a pop of colour or breathe life into to a space and do not require watering (see above).  However, what I can also tell you is that people have a ‘set it and forget it’ mentality with these arrangements quite often.  Simply put, people forget to dust them.  I’ve been to a few restaurants and seen this quiet sin committed; I even bore witness to a thick layer of dust on flower arrangements at an upscale spa here in Toronto.  I was so horrified at this very well-known spa establishment (supposed to be clean?) that I took a few pictures for my own personal collection.  If a restaurant’s bathrooms are said to indicate the cleanliness of the kitchen, what do dusty floral arrangements say about the cleanliness of a spa?

Forget ‘dusty rose’, I call this ‘dusty lavender’.

Now as we know, dust settles on horizontal surfaces (it’s not interested in vertical), so think of a silk plant as 1,000 little horizontal catchers for your household dust.   Before you squirm too much, these arrangements and plants don’t need to be cleaned all the time, but a good quarterly dusting will do the trick and keep your silk plants looking great.

To clean a silk plant:

Step 1 – take it outside

Dust is going to fly around and re-settle during this process; better to let Mother Nature deal with it than you spending time vacuuming it up (I’m all about saving time here).

Step 2 – different strokes

Grab yourself a clean soft-bristle paint brush and give your plant a quick dusting, leaf by leaf.  To give you an idea of timing, this technique will take about 10 minutes to clean Gizelle’s plant.  As with all dusting, I recommend you start at the top of the plant and work your way to the bottom so that dust does not re-settle on a cleaned area.  I find the paint brush is better than a feather duster (I’m not really a fan of them) because it can get into smaller crevices and more effectivley moves  dust off the leaf.  You can brush the branches and trunk at this time as well, working your way down from top to bottom, of course.

When the leaves are dusted, brush the base of the plant clean of any dust too.

Note: some people talk about taking a damp cloth and wiping the leaves down, one by one.  I’d caution against this because water (or any liquid) can deform the shape of the beautifully crafted plant and  you wouldn’t want that (these things don’t come cheap).  If you use a cleaning product, the colour could run too.  Not pretty.

What about silk flowers?

Well, silk flowers can be treated the same way we would clean a silk plant.  In my worldly travels  I’ve heard of the salt cleaning technique.  Basically, it works by adding artificial flowers to a bag filled with table salt (perhaps a cup of it) and to clean the flowers, one simply shakes the bag (closed) and let the salt shake the dust off the flowers.  Full disclosure, I have not tried this method and it sounds like it could be cumbersome for taller stemmed flowers.  I wanted to mention it to leave an alternative here for those interested, but again, can’t say I’ve had an experience with the technique.

I have tried another technique though; dishwashing silk flowers.  In theory, almost any plastic item be cleaned in the dishwasher so long as it is placed on the top rack (so that it doesn’t melt) and is washed without detergent.  I had heard of this working and decided to put it to the test with some pretty deep purple Dahlias that I had from Michael’s.  So, my expectation was that they would come out clean and they certainly did.  However, the unexpected byproduct of this was that the flowers actually dyed the lining of my dishwasher.  Not hot at all, let me tell you.  Seeing that my house is somewhat of a test lab, I’ve since let it go and don’t pay too much attention to my slightly purple upper rack of the dishwasher.  Having that experience, I don’t know how strongly I recommend that method either.  Stick with the paintbrush!

If you need to get an idea, here’s Bob Ross’ version of the brush that you would be looking for .  Now that’s a guy that knows a thing or two about paint brushes (and hair)!

Gizelle, let us know how your plant cleaning goes.  Be sure to send in your before and after shots of this project too!

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  1. Call me old fashioned, but for some very dense large wreaths, I took it outside and distanced myself and used a leaf blower ( (but do it in the backyard so your neighbors don’t see the dust storm). For those silk greens on the top shelf, I too dunk just the plant upside down in water and leave upside down to dry. For my silk trees, I carefully wrap the basket in a plastic bag and lay sideways over the patio table when rains, shake and turn a few times. The rain water does not leave spots.

  2. I have some that are hung high up, and I am rather height impaired (my ex womb mate received the height gene, and the looks, I am the smart one!) anyway one year I was hosting Christmas, this was in the eighties, and I noticed the dust on the silk plants, I was in a rush to get ready and for some reason I sprayed them with hair spray, and guess what! Not only did they not look dusty, but ended up shiny! I even received comements on how nice they looked. Now only I knew that I had actually hairsprayed the dust on them forever, but it did the trick, and I still do that, once or twice a year, and they still look great! Oh I also use hair spray to kill flying bugs. So some people call me crazy hairspray bird lady!

  3. Hi Melissa and readers!

    I’ve tried many a technique and found the best method is the salt in a bag trick to be tried and true.

    Tip # 1: do this ONLY by using LARGE grained salt! Morton’s is too tiny and can be “caught” in between the smaller spaces. Also, if there’s the slightest bit of a damp spot, those suckers can cling like crazy and drive you nuts trying to get them off.

    Tip # 2: use a large garbage bag for long stems and shake in your garage or outdoors. It’s great to do this inside BUT trust me, you’ll need the space and really don’t want to end up with salt particles on your carpeting, kitchen floor or hardwood flooring either. Again, a pain to clean up and salt may or may not discolor certain types of floors.

    Happy shaking!

    • Trail and error girl here (I;m allergic to everything on gods green earth so I’ve been in possession of quite the collection of fake plants) So I tried vacuuming the silk ficus and well… let’s just say it ended up with some bald spots. I tried covering the end with a paper towel and some cheese cloth to help but it only decreased suction so it was hard to get at all of it to dust. Blowing the dust off with canned air really worked for me!

      • Hi Saakina

        In regards to using cheese cloth & paper towels on the hose of your vacuum, how about a nylon stocking? Wrap the closed end of your nylon (hope you’re not allergic) and bind it on your hose by tying TIGHT or with a rubber band.
        Any leaves, flowers or plastic parts sucked off will be caught in the fine mesh and easily replaced.

        CAUTION: Be SURE the nylon is on tight and there are no runs, rips, or tears close to the hose opening. Sad to say, you’ll be worrying about repair costs more than your flowers

    • That method could really damage the plants or flowers. It sucks up the leaves and flower stems and disfigures the ones that are left. Believe me I tried it. LOL

  4. What about compressed air? Just use a Swiffer duster from top to bottom, and then follow up with the compressed air in the same fashion (outdoors of course)

  5. Hello: Is there any way to clean the spagnum moss or twigs in a plant or hanging basket?? Just wondering. I am worried if I actuallty get them wet that they will mold, etc. Would love your thoughts. Thank you. /Lisa

  6. Thank you for the cleaning tips for silk and plastic flowers. I did use the Salt in a platic bag for the greenery, like the vines that hang out and even some with silk flowers,it worked great for me. Also the swishing them in warm soapy water then a rinse of clean water and let them dry on a towel (always checking them first for color running or not being able to hold their shape), But I like your idea when they just need a quick dusting, thanks

  7. i wash my silk flowers by swishing them around gently in warm water and a little bit of dishwashing liquid. they look brand new by the end of it! just lay them on a towel to dry!

  8. Thanks a lot for your useful tips will be trying them on the flower plants that we have in out office they have not been cleaned in ages.


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