Ask Nell: Brown Tips On Houseplants & Water Quality

This Ask Nell topic comes from a Youtube viewer who questions if the brown tips on their houseplants are due to water quality.  Should they use distilled water?  Even fresh water, out in the great outdoors, can contain salts.  And when it comes to city water, my goodness, the stuff they add to it sometimes adds up to a very long list.

Here’s the comment/question:  “Hi. I have quite a few houseplants (75+) I’ve noticed that several have brown tips, would you mind a further discussion on distilled water and other watering options?  Thank you!  My plants are my babies….I don’t want to lose them.”  I totally agree!

Each of these is a topic in itself but I’ll mention them because they are the most common causes of  houseplant tips turning brown.  First is simply the dry air in our homes.  Our indoor environments aren’t the sub tropics nor the tropics and lack the humidity houseplants love.  Another cause can be over watering or under watering – these warrant their own  post.  Or, too much fertilizer building up in the soil (once or twice a year is enough) or environmental stresses are also culprits. And lastly, some houseplants are more prone to tipping than others – like the Dracaena marginata and Ponytail Palm.

Do you love houseplants but need a little guidance care wise?  Be sure to check out Keep Your Houseplants Alive, the book I wrote to help you become a houseplant “green thumb” in no time.

Some Of Our General Houseplant Guides For Your Reference:

Find out more about water quality & houseplants:

City water tends to have a lot of minerals in it, such as chlorides and fluorides, along with many other things like chemicals, impurities, etc. It all builds up in the soil over time.  Your water company, if you have one, should be able to provide you with the stats on what’s in it.  If not, here’s a simple all in one test kit which you should look into.

This is my Dracaena limelight.  Even though I live 7 blocks from the ocean, don’t use a lot of heat in the winter & have my windows open for at least 7 months during the year, the tips still brown a bit. This is just due to lack of humidity.

Chloride is complicated because there are different types but even water found in nature contains some.  It’s a bit sketchy if it evaporates out of water just by letting it sit for a few days or by boiling the water. Fluorides on the other hand have to be distilled out.  Rarely is the amount of both of these in the water a big cause for concern in terms of your plants.

What wreaks havoc more with houseplants is hard water.  Conversely, water that is too soft can be problematic too.  What tends to be an issue with a lot of people is over fertilizing their houseplants. The salts and minerals build up in the soil, have no way of leaching out and ultimately manifest as leaf burn.  So if you only have a few houseplants, then buying distilled water (you can buy a gallon of it for a cheap as 88 cents) is the way to go.


If you have 75 plants, like my Youtube viewer friend daublex 2388, then you might want to look into having a reverse osmosis system installed in your home.  I have one in my kitchen here in Santa Barbara because our water is very hard and has a funny taste.  If you rent or want something less expensive, then check into this water purification filtration pitcher.  It comes in various sizes and gets great reviews.

I’ve already done a vlog on houseplant watering 101.  Brown tips on houseplants and water quality is not a pretty topic but it’s one that needs to be touched upon.  All plants need some water after all, and just like we humanoids, better is best.  Does anyone else have any tried and true recommendations on water to share?

Happy gardening,

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  1. Hi Nell,

    Thanks for the information! I tend to over water my house plants and I never thought about hard water. I live in the NM and the water is very hard and the air dry.
    My question is I think I may have ruined a one of my pathos plants; I re-potted them (2), about a mouth ago and one is doing well while the other is limp and lifeless. What might the problem be? Too much water, not enough light, the air conditioner? I love this plant and I don’t want to lose it

    Need HELP in NM 🙁

  2. Hi Dee – You’re welcome! If it’s limp & soft, then it’s too wet. The lower air conditioning is kept in the summer the more moist plants will stay. Pothos like nice bright natural light to keep them looking their best. Nell

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