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).



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!