Why Cleaning Plant Leaves with Olive Oil is Harmful (with alternatives)

Are you aware you may be unintentionally harming your plants? Cleaning indoor plant leaves with olive oil may make your houseplant’s leaves look shiny and new for a brief period – but at what cost?

Using olive oil to clean your plant’s leaves is not a good idea. It can cause irreversible damaging effects on your houseplant’s health. Olive oil will block the pores on a plants’ leaf, and it can cook the leaf by intensifying the heat from the sun. Lastly, one of the biggest problems with olive oil is, unlike other cleaning agents, olive oil will remain on your leaf attracting dust and insects. Which actually makes the appearance of your houseplants worse, not better.

Cleaning Plant Leaves with Olive Oil

We get it – you’ve put so much love and devotion into your indoor plant garden; obviously you want them to look their best. So what options do you have to make your plants’ leaves shine? Don’t worry, we’ve got a few alternate options for you that we will cover later on in this article.

But before we move on, let’s explore the reasons why cleaning plant leaves with olive oil can harm your indoor plants.

STOP Cleaning Plant Leaves with Olive Oil – Here’s Why!

It is easy to see why some indoor plant parents have impulsively used olive oil to clean their plants’ leaves. It quickly converts dull-looking foliage into a sparkling leaf with a shine that you could do your morning make-up in. However, unfortunately that is probably the extent of the benefits.

Olive Oil Blocks Leaf Pores

Let’s begin with the most damaging impact olive oil can have on your plants’ leaves – blocked pores.

Like our skin, a plant has pores along the entire surface of their leaves. These pores play an important function in a plant’s ability to release oxygen and carbon dioxide, as well as absorb essential nutrients.

When olive oil is applied to the surface of a plant’s leaf, it produces an impenetrable layer. This limits any release or absorption via the cells and prevents a plant’s ability to complete critical functions, like photosynthesis, transpiration and respiration.

If a plant cannot complete these functions, it inhibits its ability to produce energy and grow. If oil is continually applied to the leaves, the plant will be stunted and become very weak.

Olive Oil to clean plants

Olive Oil Cooks Your Plant’s Leaves

A common oil to cook food with is olive oil (extra virgin to be precise). The reason we like to use olive oil in our cooking is because it holds up well under heat, efficiently transferring the heat from the hot pan to the food. It also adds flavor to our dishes – but we digress.

Unfortunately, these excellent cooking properties also apply when you end up cleaning plant leaves with olive oil. However, in this case the sun replaces the flame as a heat source, and instead of cooking food, you end up cooking your plants’ leaves. Essentially, the olive oil has acted like an accelerant, and intensified the sun’s heat.

When this accidental cooking occurs, your plant leaves will look like they are burnt with brown crispy patches, and the leaf edges begin to curl inwards.

Olive Oil Leads to Malnutrition

As we have established, applying olive oil to leaves creates a barrier along the surface.

Once this barrier is in place, the plant no longer has access to its food supply. If the barrier remains in place for a prolonged period of time, the plant essentially begins to starve due to malnutrition. This can lead to wrinkled leaves that droop and look sickly.

cleaning plant leaves

Stale Olive Oil Becomes Sticky

We cannot deny when you first apply olive oil to your leaves, they look brilliantly shiny and glossy. It’s a dream – albeit a short-lived dream.

But unlike other cleaning agents, the olive oil doesn’t evaporate or get absorbed by your plant, and remains on the leaves. The old olive oil eventually forms a sticky layer on the surface of your leaves.

As your plant’s leaves come into contact with dust and insects, rather than falling away naturally, they stick to the olive oil. As the days go by, your leaves build quite a collection, making them appear dirtier than ever.

Stale Olive Oil Becomes Sticky (the sequel)

But this isn’t the worst of it. When you try to wipe the dust, old olive oil, and dead insect mixture off your plant, it becomes a sticky mess.

Unfortunately, your only option is to use some hard elbow grease to get the substance off, making it highly likely that you damage the leaf in the process.

To make things worse, even if you do manage to relieve your leaves from the dead insects and dust without any damage, it is likely there are remnants of oil still on the leaf waiting to collect more dust and insects.


Olive Oil Alternatives to Cleaning Houseplant Leaves – How to Clean Plant Leaves Naturally

Hopefully by now you’ve received the message loud and clear that using olive oil to clean indoor plant leaves is a no-no.

So what options do you have for cleaning the leaves of your indoor plants?

Distilled or Rain Water

natural rain water to clean plants

Our preferred choice for cleaning our indoor plant leaves is distilled water or rain water.

We usually recommend distilled water over tap water, because the quality of tap water can vary depending on your location. Particularly if you live in an area that has hard water. Hard water has higher concentrations of particular minerals that can leave white marks on your leaves. Which kind of defeats the purpose of cleaning your plants in the first place.

Another perfectly suitable option is rainwater – for obvious reasons. Our motto is, if it works in nature, then it is good enough for our plants.


Make sure to clean your leaves in the early morning or late evening. Avoid spraying water on your plants during hot periods or when the sun is shining directly on your plant. Water can also lead to leaf burns in the right circumstances.

Neem Oil

Probably one of the most popular products mentioned in indoor plant communities is Neem Oil. But not for cleaning purposes.

Neem oil is an organic solution that is popular for pest control. It helps to get rid of fungus gnats and other annoying pests.

Because it is so popular, many home gardeners have turned to using it to clean their leaves. We do not recommend using pure neem oil to clean your leaves. Since it is an oil, it can have similar effects to olive oil on a plant’s health.

If you do want to use neem oil to clean your leaves, we recommend you dilute the mixture with distilled water. It will help to prevent any build up of oil on the surface, as well as keep your plants healthy and pest free.

To make up your Neem Oil mixture, add 4 teaspoons of concentrated Neem oil into 2 cups of distilled water in a spray bottle. You will also need to add a tablespoon of dish soap to the mixture to help combine the oil and water and form an emulsified solution. Now shake hard and use immediately on your plants.

How to clean plant leaves with Milk

This one may astonish you, but milk is a surprisingly good cleaning agent for plants. Not only does it do a great job and return a shine to your leaf, it delivers many other tangible benefits.

Milk contains beneficial proteins, vitamin B and calcium that promote healthy plants. It can act as a mild pesticide to ward off common pests like aphids. And if that wasn’t enough, milk has certain properties that make it effective as a natural fungicide to prevent the infection of fungal diseases.

To use milk as a plant cleaner, dilute 1 cup of milk with 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. Simply apply the mixture to your plant leaves top and bottom and wipe with a clean cloth.

milk to clean plants

Cleaning plant leaves with vinegar

Another pantry staple that does a wonderful job at cleaning plant leaves is vinegar. Now, before you grab the white vinegar from the pantry, and lather your plant leaves with the acidic liquid, we do recommend diluting it to prevent any unwanted reactions with the sensitive leaves.

To make the correct concentration of vinegar, mix a tablespoon of vinegar with two cups of distilled water in a spray bottle. Similar to the milk mixture, spritz your leaves and immediately wipe the leaves down with a dry, clean cloth.

Not only does it help to keep your cleans sparkling, the vinegar solution can also help to remove stains or hard watermarks from your leaves.

What Kind of Oil Can You Put on Plant Leaves?

If you are dead set on using an oil to clean your plants, there are a few oils that are safer to use for cleaning your plants, rather than olive oil. Here are the few oils you may use (at your own risk).

Neem Oil – Best Oil for Plant Leaves

We’ve already covered Neem Oil in the above section. Please revisit the alternatives to olive oil section for more information.

Cleaning Leaves with Coconut Oil

Some people like to use coconut oil to create a shiner, clean leaf.

Not only does coconut oil create a shine, it also acts as a pesticide and fungicide. It naturally deters sap-sucking insects away from your plants’ leaves. As well as prevents fungal diseases like mildew from forming on your leaves.

To use coconut oil on your leaves, take a tiny (we mean tiny!) amount of coconut oil on a soft cloth and massage it into the leaf. Make sure you do not over-do the amount of coconut oil. Too much will have adverse effects on your leaves, similar to that of olive oil.

Essential Oils to Clean Plant Leaves

Another natural form of oil that can be used to clean your plants’ leaves are essential oils.

Applying concentrated oils will cause horrific damage to your plants’ sensitive leaves, so we do recommend making an extremely diluted form of the oil to use on your indoor plants.

By diluting your essential oil mixture, you will also reduce the chances of the oils clogging up the pores on the leaves.

The types of essential oils that you can safely use on plants are:

  • clove oil
  • tea tree oil
  • peppermint oil
  • rosemary oil

Horticultural Oils for Plant Leaves

Horticultural oils are petroleum-based products with the primary purposes of treating plants for pests and diseases.

Owing to their petroleum content they also produce a very shiny side-benefit. When applied to foliage, they produce nice shiny leaves that look slick and brand new.

Since horticultural oil is manufactured primary for the purpose of treating plants, it won’t harm your plant and is safe to use on indoor plants.

Horticultural oils come in different concentrations and formulations, depending on the type of pest or disease you want to control.