Glass terrariums are beautiful additions to any home or office. However, without proper care, these miniature gardens can quickly become dirty and unsightly. Maintaining a clean terrarium takes some work but is essential for the health of your plants and the aesthetics of your display. Follow these terrarium cleaning tips for sparkling glass and thriving plants.
What is a Glass Terrarium?
A terrarium is a transparent, sealed container that creates a self-sustaining miniature ecosystem for plants to grow. Traditional terrariums are made of glass and have a closed lid or cover. The transparent walls allow light to filter in for the plants while the sealed environment retains moisture and regulates humidity.
Glass terrariums come in many shapes and sizes, from tabletop bowls to large free-standing cases. They can contain all sorts of small houseplants, from ferns and succulents to mosses and air plants. The enclosed habitat makes it easy to create a lush jungle or desert oasis in even the smallest living space.
Why Do Terrariums Get Dirty?
While beautiful, glass terrariums are prone to getting filthy for a few reasons:
Condensation and Fog
The humid, enclosed environment leads to condensation forming on the glass walls and lid. This “fog” hides the plants from view and drips down to create streaks and spots.
Dust and Debris
Dust drifting in the air eventually settles on all surfaces of the terrarium, especially the parts not taken up by plants. Dead plant matter, soil particles and other debris also accumulate over time.
Mold and Algae
Excess moisture encourages mold, algae and biofilm growth. These organisms leave behind unsightly residues and stains, especially in poorly ventilated areas.
Hard Water Stains
Water droplets evaporating on the glass leave behind mineral deposits, creating whitish hard water stains. These build up over time, creating a foggy look.
How Often Should You Clean a Terrarium?
For cleanliness and plant health, terrariums should be maintained every 2-4 weeks. Routine light cleanings prevent major buildup that requires deep cleaning.
The cleaning frequency depends on factors like:
- Size of the terrarium: Larger ones need cleaning less often.
- Types of plants: Fast growing plants release more moisture.
- Sunlight exposure: More light equals more algae growth.
- Terrarium soil: Porous mixes retain more moisture.
- Presence of animals: Waste products cause more grime.
- Humidity levels: High humidity accelerates condensation.
Check for condensation, debris and grime buildup to determine when your terrarium needs cleaning. Address any issues before they get out of hand.
Terrarium Cleaning Supplies
Gather these supplies before getting started:
- Soft microfiber cloths
- Cotton swabs
- Small soft paintbrush
- Spray bottle of distilled water
- Dish soap or mild cleaning spray
- Small bucket or basin
- HEPA vacuum with brush attachment
- Toothbrush or algae scrub pad
Avoid using anything abrasive that might scratch or damage the glass. Distilled water helps limit water stains. Work over a basin or sink to contain the mess.
How to Clean the Inside of a Terrarium
Cleaning the inside glass walls and plants takes a delicate touch. Follow these steps:
1. Remove the Plants and Decor
Carefully take out all plants, rocks, decorations, and soil topper. Set aside anything fragile. Moving the plants allows better access to the glass underneath.
2. Wipe Down the Glass
Use a spray bottle of distilled water to lightly mist the inside surfaces. Wipe down the bottom and sides with a microfiber cloth. Cotton swabs are great for getting into small corners.
Be gentle: you don’t want to scratch the glass. For tough stains, spray a bit of mild soap onto the cloth. Wipe clean with a dry cloth.
3. Clean Out Excess Debris
Use a soft brush or HEPA vacuum to remove dirt, dead leaves, and other debris. Brush the decor and plants clean too.
Wipe away any excess moisture or algae growth. Scrape off tough algae with a blunt plastic toothbrush or scrub pad.
4. Rinse and Dry Completely
Double check that all soap residue is removed. Wipe down any excess water or moisture. Allow all surfaces to completely dry before returning plants and decor.
5. Replace the Plants and Decor
Put back the terrarium decor and plants in the cleaned habitat. Water and tend to the plants as needed. They will benefit from the refreshed interior.
Be cautious about over-handling delicate plants. Some leaves and flowers may bruise if disturbed too much. Stack rocks and decor to allow airflow underneath.
How to Clean the Outside Glass
While the inside requires a gentle touch, you can be a bit more vigorous cleaning the exterior. Here’s how:
1. Remove from Light Exposure
Move the terrarium out of any direct sunlight. Turn off any grow lights too. The heat and glare make cleaning tougher.
2. Spray Down the Outside Glass
Apply a cleaning spray made for glass directly onto the exterior. Avoid getting it on the plants inside. Let it soak for a few minutes.
You can also use a mix of distilled water and dish soap in a spray bottle. Opt for a mild soap free of additives.
3. Scrub the Glass
Use a microfiber cloth, sponge or algae scrub pad to vigorously scrub the outside. Wipe in circular motions to remove stubborn buildup.
For tough stains, let the cleaning spray sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing. This helps loosen up the gunk.
4. Rinse Well and Dry
Rinse off all the soap with clean water. Wipe down any dripping wetness or moisture. Buff dry with a lint-free towel.
Streaks means there’s still soap residue left. Keep rinsing and drying until all filmy residue is gone.
5. Check for Streaks and Stains
Inspect closely for any remaining spots, streaks or stains. Repeat cleaning if needed for stubborn areas. This prevents water spots drying on the glass.
Hard water stains may need calcium/lime remover or white vinegar to lift off. Avoid abrasives that could scratch the glass.
Once totally dry, it’s safe to return to its sunny spot.
Terrarium Lid Cleaning Tips
That glass or plastic terrarium lid also needs regular cleaning. Follow these tips:
Remove the Lid
Slide the lid off and set it aside. This prevents water and cleaning solution dripping into the terrarium.
Wash Under Running Water
For simple grime, wash the lid under warm running water. Use a soft cloth or sponge with a bit of mild soap.
Rinse away all soap residue. Dry with a lint-free cloth to prevent water spots.
Remove Tough Stains
For tougher stains, spray both sides with cleaning solution. Let sit for 10 minutes before scrubbing clean.
Use cotton swabs to get into narrow edges and framed lids. Rinse thoroughly and dry.
Do not use abrasive scrub brushes or cleaners. They could scratch the delicate lid surface whether glass or plastic.
Check for Clarity
Ensure the lid is crystal clear before replacing it on the terrarium. Any lingering haze reduces the light getting inside.
Deep Cleaning a Neglected Terrarium
Terrariums that haven’t been cleaned in awhile take a bit more effort. Here is how to deep clean a severely neglected terrarium:
1. Remove Everything
Take out all plants, rocks, decorations, soil, and accessories. anything removable.
This allows you to give the glass a vigorous scrubbing without damaging anything inside.
2. Clean Interior Glass
Spray down inside glass with cleaning solution. Let it soak for 15-20 minutes to penetrate stains.
Scrub every inch of the glass with a cloth, sponge or soft brush. Wipe clean and dry fully.
Use cotton swabs and toothbrush to detail small corners and crevices. Be thorough yet gentle on scratch-prone glass.
3. Wash Accessories
While the terrarium is empty, wash all decorative items too. Scrub off grime from rocks and decor with a stiff brush.
Soak tough stains in mild soap and water. Rinse very well and let dry completely before returning to the terrarium.
4. Clean Plants
Remove dead leaves and rinse dust off plant stems and leaves. Wipe broad leaf plants with a damp cloth.
Trim away any rotting or diseased portions and treat pest problems if present. Healthy plants only.
Repot into fresh soil as needed. Trim back overgrown plants so they fit better after.
5. Refresh Terrarium Soil
Scoop out any old, dirty terrarium soil and discarded. Wipe away debris clinging to the bottom.
Add a fresh layer of clean soil mix suitable for a terrarium environment. Level and distribute evenly.
Moisten with distilled water until soil is lightly damp. This prevents dry soil issues after re-assembly.
6. Replant and Decorate
Arrange cleaned plants and decor back in the terrarium however you like. Mist any plants that appear dry or wilted.
Consider whether a smaller plant might work better for overgrown terrariums. Enjoy the refreshed interior!
Why Distilled Water for Terrariums?
Clean, pure distilled water is highly recommended for terrarium care and cleaning for a few reasons:
- Lack of minerals and contaminants
- Prevents hard water stains on glass
- Won’t alter soil chemistry
- Safely moistens plants
- Humidity without residue
- Prevents water quality issues
- Cheap and easily accessible
Always use distilled or filtered water. Tap water contains minerals, chemicals and salts that leave nasty deposits behind.
Preventing Mold in Terrariums
Mold thrives in the warm, humid environment inside glass terrariums. Prevent mold growth by:
- Allowing airflow: Keep part of the lid or vents open
- Using distilled water: Low mineral content inhibits mold
- Managing moisture: Don’t over-saturate soil
- Adding springtails: Harmless insects eat fungus
- Limiting decaying matter: Remove fallen leaves
- Adding charcoal: Absorbs moisture
- Keeping plants healthy: Prevent fungal infection
- Regular cleaning: Scrub away spores before they spread
Address any suspicious growth immediately by thoroughly cleaning the area. Isolate plants showing mold symptoms until treated.
When to Repot Terrarium Plants
Over time, terrarium plants outgrow their containers or the soil becomes depleted. Know when it’s time to repot:
- Root-bound: Roots circling bottom or poking out
- Stunted growth: Needs more space to grow
- Wilting: Can signal starved roots
- Nutrient deficiencies: Yellowing leaves
- Top heavy: Tipping over from small pot
- Diseased soil: Mold or bugs
- Water pooling: Poor drainage
Repot into clean containers with fresh soil every 12-18 months. Trim back extra long roots and bury back up the stem.
Troubleshooting Condensation Issues
While some moisture is expected, excessive condensation creates problems in glass terrariums. Try these fixes:
Allow more air exchange by opening the lid or adding ventilation holes. This helps moisture escape.
Use a Fan
Point a small fan towards an open terrarium to improve air circulation inside. Just a few hours a day removes condensation.
Add Activated Charcoal
Charcoal in the soil absorbs excess moisture from the air and soil. Recharge occasionally by baking at low heat.
Use Dehumidifying Crystals
Silica gel and calcium chloride crystals absorb ambient moisture. Put packets in hidden areas.
Get Larger Plants
More plant mass means more moisture absorbed from the air through transpiration.
Cut back on watering frequency and amount. Only moisten soil when the top layer dries out.
Improve Light Exposure
More light keeps plants actively growing and using up water. Slow growth means excess moisture.
How do I clean algae out of my terrarium?
Use a dull plastic scrub brush or old toothbrush to gently scrub algae off glass. Wipe clean and dry thoroughly. Reduce moisture levels and increase ventilation to prevent regrowth.
What’s the best way to clean terrarium glass?
Use a spray bottle of distilled water and microfiber cloth to wipe down interior glass. Mist on mild soap for tough stains. Rinse and dry completely. Clean exterior glass more vigorously with cleaning spray and lint-free cloth.
How often should I change the soil in a terrarium?
Terrarium soil should be changed every 12-18 months as nutrients get depleted over time. Scoop out old soil, wipe down the empty tank, add fresh soil mix, replant, and decorate.
What’s the white powder in my terrarium?
White mineral deposits or “hard water stains” on the glass come from tap water evaporating. Wipe with diluted vinegar and use only distilled water to prevent it.
Why are my terrarium plants turning yellow?
Yellowing leaves usually indicate insufficient nutrients in the soil. Repot plants into a fresh soil mix. Also manage watering, light, and maintenance to keep plants green and healthy.
Keep Your Terrarium Sparkling
Terrariums require some simple maintenance to stay looking beautiful in your home. Remove debris, scrub away grime, and wipe condensation regularly to prevent major buildup. Deep clean neglected terrariums to refresh the plants and decor inside. With proper care, your glass terrarium can remain crystal clear for years to come.