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A leaf shine for indoor plants.

A leaf shine for indoor plants As the weather warms up, take your house plants outside for spring cleaning; they'll look better and be healthier. Dust on leaves reduces the amount of light available to a plant, and increases the chance that some pests, such as spider mites, will appear.

Plants with large, smooth-surfaced leaves (such as rubber plants and philodendrons) can be gently wiped clean with a soft, damp cloth or sponge. But few of us have the patience--or time--to wipe each leaf of a Ficus benjamina or similar plant with dozens of small, smooth leaves. How should you clean them, and with what?

Also, what products make any smooth leaf shine like the lower one shown in the photograph? A new study by Pamela Elam-Wenzel, cooperative extension horticulturist for Fresno County, California, helps answer these questions.

Of seven products tested,

which ones worked best?

For her study, Elam-Wenzel applied seven products to leaves of a rubber plant (Ficus elastica), then judged them for appearance and shine.

Three products came from nurseries: summer oil (1/8 teaspoon oil diluted in 1 cup water), and two spray-on leaf polishes. Four were common household products: liquid dish soap (diluted at the same rate as the summer oil), mayonnaise, low-fat milk, and undiluted vegetable oil.

The polishes made leaves look best, according to the study. However, we read the instructions for applying these products (some also labeled as "leaf cleaners") and discovered that you're supposed to spray most polishes on already clean leaves. In other words, the products don't actually clean leaves, just make them shiny.

Diluted summer oil scored next best, but it didn't clean leaves, either. Soapy water ranked fourth; it cleaned leaves, but didn't make them shiny. Mayonnaise, milk, and vegetable oil left either spots or an oily residue that accumulated dust.

The best way to clean and shine leaves

Take plants outdoors on a cloudy day (to avoid sunburn) and wash them down with a hose-end or hand-held sprayer filled with diluted liquid dish soap. Rinse off leaves and let them air-dry. If spots appear on leaves, gently wipe them off.

If you like the look of shiny leaves, lightly spray leaf polish or diluted summer oil on the top surface only; you don't need to wipe the leaves.
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Date:Mar 1, 1988
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