Removing Paint from Plant Leaves: What You Should Know


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Removing paint from the leaves of plants is usually the last thing any plant owner would want to be doing when it comes to caring for their plants.

Paint can be removed from the leaves of plants depending on the type of paint used. Safely removing the paint means using a solvent that could remove the paint without damaging the plant. Solvents such as water and rubbing alcohol is recommended in such cases.

Because of the dangers it involves, cleaning leaves can result in the death of your plant if it’s not done correctly. You may also, in some cases, just have to leave the plant to be as intervention may cause more harm than good. 

When paint gets on our hands, we can easily remove it with non-corrosive solvents which then can be washed off using a soapy mixture. 

Plants on the other hand use their leaves to absorb carbon dioxide and expel oxygen. This is done by the tiny pores located both on the top surface and the underside of the leaf. 

Paint and solvent used to clean the paint can easily clog those pores causing the plant to suffocate.

In this article, we are going to the different paints used when painting and how it can be safely removed from the plant surfaces.

Cleaning plant leaves

How to Remove Paint from Plant Leaves?

When it comes to dissolving things, what they taught us in chemistry class is that, like dissolves like. Meaning that water will dissolve a water based substance and inorganic solvents will dissolve inorganic substances.

Plants are living organisms just like us and any unnatural applications on it can cause damage. Therefore using solvents on plants will have the same effect as if you were to use the same solvent on your hands.

With that being said, when it comes to paint, the type of paint has a great deal in how it can be removed.

Removing Water Based Paint from Plant Leaves

Removing a water based paint from a plant is as simple as soaking a cloth with water and wiping the leaves until all the paint is removed.

Steps to Remove Paint from Plant leaves –

  1. Soak a clean cloth or rag in clean water 
  2. Remove the excess water from the cloth by wringing it.
  3. Gently rub the paint off from the surface of the leaf using a one directional stroke.
  4. Repeat until all the paint is removed from the leaves.

The only downside to this is when the plant had a lot of leaves.

We have used this microfiber cloth, found on amazon, to clean multiple plants after our house was painted they really cheap and effective. You can find it by clicking here.

Removing Oil Based Paint from Plant Leaves

Oil based Paints require organic solvents to totally remove the paint from the leaf. The most non corrosive organic solvent you can use is rubbing alcohol.

What it does is simply break up the paint bonds releasing it from whatever it is attached to. The paint can then be wiped off with a single one directional stroke. 

The steps for removal are similar to that of Water based paint.

Steps to Remove Oil Based Paint from Plant leaves –

  1. Soak a clean cloth or rag in rubbing alcohol
  2. Remove the excess alcohol from the cloth by wringing it.
  3. Gently rub the paint off from the surface of the leaf using a one directional stroke.
  4. Repeat until all the paint is removed from the leaves.

Never use petrol, kerosene, paint thinners or nail polish remover to remove paint from plant leaves.

On plants with shiny leaves can be of a greater advantage in this case since oil based paints don’t usually adhere to oily or smooth surfaces and with such plants, cleaning oil based paint of the leaves is fairly easy.

Here is a list of a few house plants with shiny leaves which oil paint can be easily cleaned off.

  • Corn plant
  • Jade Plant
  • Schefflera
  • Columnea
  • Monstera
  • Snake Plant
  • Peace Lily
  • Some types of Cactus

Removing Latex Paint from Leaves

Latex paint is a water based paint with added acrylic compounds which gives it a rubber or plastic feel. 

This is a good thing when it comes to removal since the paint one caught in the early stages can be wiped off or you can just wait until it dries so it can be easily flaked off. 

You should address the problem as soon as the paint hits the plant rather than waiting for it to dry to painstakingly peel it off every single leaf. 

In all paint cases never use your fingernails or any hard scrapers to remove paint from the leaves of plants.

What can happen is the hard surface of your nails or scraper can damage the surface of the leaf while trying to remove the paint by clogging the pores of the leaf.

This can lead to the death of the leaf and the entire plant if it’s done on most of the leaves.

There are some suggestions that the painted parts of the leaves can be cut off but this can cause more harm than good and therefore, is not a recommended practice.

How can Paint get on Plant Leaves

Paint Splatter from painting Walls

Paint splatter is sometimes unpreventable when painting walls. Harder to reach places make splatter even more common as paint brush control is fairly limited while you’re stretching to get that last unpainted section.

The splatter eventually ends up on any surface below of what is being painted and in many instances plants fall victim to this act.

The paint splatter can range from small spots to large blotches on the leaves, and this sometimes depends on the type of paint being used.

Paint Applied For Decorative Means 

Sometimes when purchasing plants, a plant shop may tend to decorate the plant for it to seem more attractive or maybe to represent a seasonal characteristic.

Christmas is one example where plant shops would spray paint the leaves with a film of white splatter paint to represent a snowy effect.

This is also done on succulents such as haworthias which supposed to make them more appealing to potential buyers and are called Kosmic Kaktus or Kosmik Kaktus.

Here’s a video showing a painted succulent.

Spray Paints (including Graffiti)

Now, I hope this doesn’t happen to you but it is a downright nuisance to have unwanted paint and weird pictures of abstract being portrayed on any of your own surface.

Plants subjected to graffiti are normally those with larger leaves. These unwanted artwork may not only come from some strangers; it can be a playful kid with a handful of paint just making his or her mark and usually, in this case, it’s not just the plant that gets the paint.

Types of Paints and Knowing How to Remove them

Different paints go by different names but are somewhat similar in composition. Most of the time the variation in paint names are based on the quantity of compounds used to manufacture the paint.

There are many different kinds of paint and knowing how to identify the paint can give you a good idea of how to approach the situation.

Water Based Paints –

PaintPropertiesUsesRemoval
Water Based Paintsmanufactured with water as its ‘solvent’Recommended for painting external wallsUse Cloth Soaked in water and wipe
Latex PaintsA type of Water based paint made with a high ratio of acrylic polymersInterior and Exterior wallsUse Cloth Soaked in water and wipe
Acrylic PaintA type of Water based paint made with a Lower ratio of acrylic polymersInterior and Exterior wallsUse Cloth Soaked in water and wipe
PrimersContains synthetic resins, polyethylene (plastic) and other additivesUsed for preparing walls for final paint colorUse Cloth Soaked in water and wipe

Solvent Based Paints –

PaintPropertiesUsesRemoval
Oil Paintmade with either alkyd (synthetic) or linseed oil.Used to paint doors, trims, moldings and interior finishes.Removed with Rubbing alcohol
UrethanesContains both synthetic and natural compoundsUsed in industrial coating of metal surfacesUse rubbing alcohol and rub gently.
Epoxy CoatingsTwo part mixture of an epoxy resin and hardenerused on concrete and steel to give resistance to water, alkali, and acidsCannot be removed without damaging the plant

If the removal of solvent paint is difficult and can cause harm to the plant it is suggested that you just leave the pain on the leaf and let nature take its course. 

The Plant’s Reaction to Painted Leaves-

We know that plants use sunlight for photosynthesis which is the primary mechanism plants use to get energy and grow.

Depending on how much leaves the plant has and the extent of which the leaves are covered or coated with paint may have an impact on the likeness of the plant’s survival.

Plants Can Shed Unwanted leaves if the paint doesn’t flake off for itself. New leaves will sprout.

Although this is true for many plants some plants may not be able to cope with the stress and would eventually die if there is no intervention.

How to Remove paint from cactus

Cactus plants are a variation on the traditional house plants and paint removal follows a similar approach to paint removal.

Cactus plants such as the San Pedro Cactus, Barrel Cactus, Cholla Cactus and the Jumping Cactus because of their prickly characteristics, can be cleaned by carefully spraying water or olive oil on the paint allowing it to soak and run off.

If the paint doesn’t come off initially, keep spraying water once daily just over the affected areas until the paint comes off. This will take some time.

Other cactus with smooth surfaces can be cleaned with a cloth soaked with water.

Precautionary Measures when Painting around Plants 

It is suggested, whenever there is any painting work scheduled to take place, you should secure nearby plants by placing a protective cover or sheeting over them.

This still will not protect them from falling objects when people are working above. 

The best approach when it comes to painting and nearby household plants is to move the plants from close proximity to the painting work.

This is a vital part in taking care of your household plants whenever closeby work activity.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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