Sharing my easy, non-toxic process to clean your disgusting artificial flowers and silk stems & maintenance tips for faux stems
You heard me. Go look and check if you don’t believe me. You need to clean your artificial flowers. Today we’ll discuss exactly how to do this, featuring a method I used myself after I recently acquired a stash of very vintage silk flowers and greenery from the basement of my Mom & Dad (heavily featured in my Spring decor home tour, have you taken it yet?). I wanted to freshen up the house for Spring, so naturally I brought in about 20 stems of dusty, cobwebby silk flowers and artificial greenery. I’m talking Mom-cringes-with-disgust-as-I-pick-up-an-arrangement-as-I-say-“this looks nice”-levels-of-dust. I figured I had nothing to lose.
Once I started getting out my own stash to round out arrangements, I realized they were looking dingy too – something I somehow overlooked as I collected them over the past decade. I had tried other internet suggested methods piecemeal before, with lackluster results and sometimes ending up worse than I started out (yeah, I tried the salt shake. It gave me….salty, dusty artificial flowers. Thanks.)
I decided to take a more aggressive approach to cleaning them to get them truly clean (well, dusted anyway), and am pleased to be able to share the process with you. I cleaned about 30 artificial flower and greenery stems this way in about 20 minutes of active cleaning, and 1-2 hours of drying time.
How to Clean Artificial Flowers
DISCLAIMER: If your stems have little fancy foam berries (look at you!) or anything that’s not plastic or fabric, you’re going to need to be gentler, and probably avoid water. Also, I haven’t incurred any damages in cleaning my artificial flowers this way, but your mileage might vary. I have some great flocked lamb’s ear that I wouldn’t want to be as tough on. Use your judgment.
1. Take a Picture of Existing Arrangements & Separate Artificial Flower Stem Varieties
Take a quick snap to remember what everything looks like before you clean your silk flowers. Document any beloved arrangements you might like to recreate. Then, take apart your arrangement and take pictures of the stems by type. Not to compare the before with your finished clean stems – oddly enough most of my filthy stems looked just as good in photos as they did once spruced up – but to have a reference in case some flowers or leaves drop while cleaning so you know where to stick ’em back on.
Gather each dusty little pile of stems and…
2. Step Outside and Hit Them
Yes. Just take an open hand and hit them. Then, turn them upside down shake them. Very cathartic; highly recommend.
Can you tell which stem in the photo below has had its beating?
That’s right, it’s the one on the left! DING DING DING. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to tell unless you spend a good 5-10 seconds searching for the dust, and you’re busy. The real perceptible difference in cleanliness comes in step 3.
Grouping stems by type makes it easier to have full contact with the different surfaces of the flowers and leaves. You can even just hold your flowers out over the threshold of your back door like I did so the kids aren’t neglected. Whack them and watch the fuzz fly. THE ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS, NOT THE CHILDREN. Ahem.
You should probably extend your arm so you’re not breathing whatever debris that is into your lungs.
My artificial flowers seemed totally fine with a gentle approach, so I just hit them a bit harder until I saw no more dust coming off of them. Surprisingly, I sustained minimal bud loss. But again, use your own judgement as to what your stems can handle. If they’re losing a lot of buds or leaves on your initial beating, you might want to exercise restraint on the upside down shake. Gather any fallen foliage and proceed to a sink.
By now, you should have halfway clean artificial flowers, and hopefully have a little less pent up aggression. Nice.
3. Give Your Artificial Flowers a Bath
Rinse them off thoroughly under cool water, so as not to risk breaking down any adhesives there may be in the stems. Be a bit gentler with this step, since the water will be applying direct pressure. Hold the stems, and them to let water run over every part of the petals and leaves, cradling the petals if you’re worried they’ll fly down the drain. I used a steady stream of water, just not on full blast.
I double fisted this at times with groupings I was confident could sustain the water pressure.
4. Shake & Dry Them
Shake them gently until water stops flying off, and then loosely wrap them with a towel to dry off excess moisture. You can then either lay them on a towel or stand them upright in a vase (better for bushier/fuller pieces) to continue drying. Mine dried surprisingly quickly while I went about other activities. I didn’t time it, but it didn’t take more than a couple of hours max in well-ventilated rooms.
4.5 Optional Vinegar Spray
This is a half-step because I did this after shaking out my rinse but before towel drying, to have just one drying period. If you detect any lingering odors, spray your silk flowers generously with 100% white vinegar (these are my favorite spray bottles I use for all my concoctions). This will get out any mustiness and dry odorless. I sprayed all of my stems just to be thorough.
You can also use your vinegar spray to wipe off marks.
If you have persistently smelly artificial flowers, you can probably shake them up in a baggie with baking soda for a day – I didn’t have to take it that far. Make sure they’re dry before you do this so that the baking soda shakes off cleanly. Then you’re probably going to have to repeat steps 2-4.
5. Repair & Reshape
Replace any fallen flowers or leaves onto their stems – look for tell-tale bare branch tips or reference your pictures if you need to. You can usually spot them pretty easily. See the bare spike on the right of the flower arrangement above? No bueno. Cut your losses (honestly, I’m beyond help) and trim it off if you can’t locate missing blooms.
You can use superglue to reconnect fallen foliage and blossoms if they are too loose to reconnect on their own. Sometimes you can’t tell where they came from. Honestly, if I find this happening, I just place the extra flowers on top of the final arrangement somewhere without securing it – whatever!
If they’re misshapen, you can apparently use a hair dryer to help finesse them back to presentability; I haven’t done this. I usually find that the rinsing and drying rejuvenates the petals enough – just make sure to finish drying in a vase if they’re at risk of getting squished and misshapen under their own weight as they dry.
Spot Cleaning Artificial Flowers
As I mentioned in step 4.5, you can try rubbing out marks after your vinegar spray. For a more powerful spot treat on your artificial flower petals and foliage (an inevitable need especially with tabletop silk flower arrangements – hello smoothie straw splatters!) – I’ve had success with diluted dye-free laundry detergent. I always have a mixture on hand in a spray bottle to spot treat stains on clothes. I like All Free & Clear. The formulation is just a small blob or two of detergent and mostly water – if it’s too thick the optical brighteners will be too concentrated for spot treating and leave lightened tell-tale marks. It should look watery, not viscous like straight detergent. Just spray a bit on the spot in question, rub in gently, and rub under water.
Keeping Artificial Flowers Fresh
White vinegar is your friend for keeping things fresh. Occasional spritzes will help to prevent mustiness.
A Roundup of Already Clean Artificial Flowers & Faux Greenery
I came across some really beautiful artificial flowers this year, so in case you’re in the market for new artificial flowers and greenery that you can beat next year, here are some I’ve purchased personally or have been ogling and bookmarking.
Artificial Greenery & Filler Stems