We humans go to a lot of trouble to keep our plants healthy indoors. And while some of us often jokingly think of greenery as our “plant-babies,” plants and humans are very different organisms. While humans may benefit from using coconut oil as a moisturizer, plants do not derive from the same benefits from it, whatever the collected wisdom of the internet might tell you. Please, stop using coconut oil on your indoor plants.

Coconut oil won’t deter plant pests, but other oils can

I’m not entirely sure where the coconut oil suggestion originated, but there exists an online myth that you can rub your houseplants with coconut oil to deter pests. While scientific studies have shown coconut oil will repel some bugs, it’s not a great idea to use it on your plants, for reasons I’ll get to in a bit.

Instead, you should use a different oil, like diluted Neem oil (which you can pick up on Amazon for under $10). Managing pests indoors is an important aspect of plant parenting, as bugs like thrips spread quickly and are hard to control once they’ve established themselves. You can use neem oil proactively or reactively, but if you’ve got pests already, it’s important to immediately take action. Here’s what to do:

Segregate affected plants to lessen the chances the pests will spread.

Manually remove any bugs and eggs you can see. If the weather is warm enough, take the plant outside; otherwise, take it to the syou can do this in your shower. Carefully wash each leaf with a hose or shower sprayer, which will hopefully be enough to dislodge the rest of the eggs and bugs.

Dunk the plant pot. Fill a bucket large enough to fit the entire plant pot. Submerge the entire soil-filled pot and hold it underwater until no more bubbles rise to the surface and the pot sinks to the bottom of the bucket. (This means the soil is completely saturated.) Leave the pot submerged for 10 minutes, then pull it out and allow it to drain.

Spray the plant with diluted neem oil, making sure to evenly coat the leaves. After treating, keep the plant segregated for a few weeks and monitor it for any signs of unwelcome guests (and its a good idea to more closely scrutinize your other plants, just in case). Once you believe you’ve conquered the problem, return the plant to the rest of your plant-fam. 

Coconut oil won’t moisturize plant leaves either

Here’s the real downside of coating your plants’ leaves in coconut oil: The other use case I’ve seen for doing it suggests coconut oil will “moisturize” plant leaves and help keep them clean, but coconut oil neither cleans nor moisturizes a plant, and can actually harm it. Plants breathe through tiny pores or stomata on the surface of their leaves, and coconut oil can clog those pores and make it harder for the plant to get the carbon dioxide it needs. Beyond that, coconut oil can leave a sticky surface on the leaves that will attract dust, compounding the problem. 

Instead, to keep plant leaves looking shiny and free of dust, you can purchase a product like Leaf Shine ($25 on Amazon); these are generally made from Neem oil and castile soap and are light enough that the plant will still be able to breathe.