The holiday season is upon us, which means it time to get your decorations up! Just like with other products, Christmas trees can bring unintended contaminants into your home. So which trees, plastic or alive, are the safest for the air quality in your home? You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like our 2020 non-toxic gift guide, best & worst cookware, & best & worst air purifiers, now join us as we bring you the best (and worst) parts of real versus artificial tress for you this holiday season. And stick around for the very end where we rate the best & worst artificial trees available today.
Researched and fact-checked by Rebecca Elizabeth Sherrick Harks, RN, BSN.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Live Christmas Trees–That Is, Once Alive
Taking a family outing to pick out a live Christmas tree is so ingrained in many of us as a part of the holiday season that we simply can’t bear the thought of buying an artificial tree. But surely, there must be some problems with live Christmas trees or we wouldn’t be having a discussion about real versus fake holiday trees.
Personally, I still purchase a live holiday tree every year. You may choose differently than me based on the positives and negatives below.
The Benefits of Having a Live Christmas Tree
- Pleasant Smells— first and foremost, the smell of a freshly cut tree in your home is something that most fragrance companies have been trying, in vain, to replicate for decades. It’s a heavenly scent for most and gets a lot of us in a festive mood.
- Tradition–the whole process of picking out and purchasing a live tree is a dearly loved family tradition for so many of us, and in uncertain times, it’s highly important to stick to as many traditions as possible, especially for kids.
- Small Business Support–You’re supporting a small business that, especially in this economy, really need our help. The whole Christmas tree industry provides at least 100,000 jobs per season.
- It’s Not Plastic–Right now, most plastics are not recycled and end up in landfills, so purchasing a live tree avoids adding plastic to landfills.
- Sustainable Farming–Considering Christmas trees are grown in types of soil that other plants cannot grow in and are replaced after every tree is cut down, the sustainability of the system is similar to bamboo. They can regenerate quickly.
- Low Carbon Footprint to Aquire–Providing you go to a local tree farm or booth, your carbon footprint is relatively small.
- Recycling Programs–Most cities do have a Christmas tree recycling program that will take care of your tree after the holidays. Here is a searchable list of tree recycling options in your area (in the US).
The Drawbacks of Having a Live Christmas Tree
- Expense–Christmas trees can be extremely expensive – especially buying them year after year – depending upon your area.
- Real Trees are Fussier–They drop needles, creating a mess, especially as they age. Plus, real trees do require frequent watering to keep the tree fresh-looking.
- Chemicals–Conventionally grown trees are often sprayed with chemicals that can be toxic to children and pets. These chemicals may include pesticides, like glyphosate (Round-Up) which is classified by the WHO as being a probable carcinogen. Other pesticides that may be used that are linked to allergies, cancer and/or birth defects, including benomyl, captan, captofol, chlordane, lindane, and/or methoxyclor may be used on real trees. These chemicals can also lead to environmental problems as they end up in our rivers and bodies of water and can disrupt our ecosystem.
- Safety Around Animals—Animal dangers include animals who are apt to drink the water from the tree which may contain the chemicals listed above which may cause anything from stomach upset to death. Additionally, some pets may eat the needles of the tree which may lead to intestinal perforation and death.
- Safety Hazard for Children–It can be a safety hazard for small children or animals who may play with or chew the lights on the tree, which can cause anything from a major shock to burns.
- Fire Hazard–As live trees age, they dry out and can cause a fire if something around them sparks.
- Allergy Sufferers–Some people notice that they are allergic to the trees in their homes, which is thought to be caused by oleoresins of the tree balsam, which is the scent that most fir trees can give off.
- May Contain Mold–People with mold allergies may also notice symptoms, though of the studies of mold on Christmas trees, none showed the ability for the mold spores to be made airborne.
Mamavation is most concerned with the chemical applications that can off-gas from your live holiday tree. So we recommend you either purchase an organic tree, a smaller live tree that you keep alive year-round, or pick up a professional air purifier to clean the air in the room around the tree.
Organic Christmas Trees
Given that most people who prefer real Christmas trees are still going to be obtaining real trees, Mamavation has a solution for you: organic Christmas tree farms. Though these types of Christmas trees may be hard to find, it’s worth a look to see if you have any organic Christmas tree farms in your area as they tend to sell out more quickly than standard Christmas trees.
- If you don’t live near an organic Christmas tree farm, you can order from Silvertip Tree Farm, which will ship organic Christmas trees to you. They are currently working to obtain their organic status but are currently grown organically.
- Local Harvest is a great resource and website that helps you to determine if you have any organic tree farms (and other delicious goodies) in your area.
- This website may help you search for organic Christmas trees, but a word of warning: this site hasn’t been updated in 4 years and many of the links appear to be dead.
- This list from Naturalbabymama.com will help you easily navigate to find out if your state has an organic tree farm.
Smaller, Live, Year-Round Christmas Tree
Buy a fully-alive Christmas tree, not one that’s been cut, but one that you can enjoy year-round.
These come in all sizes and shapes, and while some may look like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, there are plenty that are fuller and bigger – providing that your home has the room.
You can easily find living Christmas trees wherever you find regular and artificial trees: Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and just about any big box store should have these, as well as the smaller, mom-and-pop shops that pop up.
Here’s some information about selecting and caring for your living Christmas tree, year-round.
Air Purification Technology, Opening Windows & Dusting Can Clean Indoor Air Pollution
If you decide that you want an artificial tree or a live tree that could have been treated with chemicals, we recommend you open the windows every day, dust at least once per week, & get a professional air purifier to clean the indoor air. Not only will a good professional air purifier remove the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that may be off-gassing from your holiday tree, it will also be removing contaminants in the air from other products as well.
The Intellipure Ultrafine 468 professional air purifiers has the ability to remove all the things that worry you like furniture off-gassing, viruses, fungi, bacteria, paints, solvents, aerosol sprays, cleansers, air fresheners, nail polish, pollen, mold, dust mites, & pet dander from the air.
- Their patented Disinfecting Filtration System (DFS) technology uses a high-energy grid, creating microbiostasis condition which prevents anything from being able to live or grow inside the filter.
- The DFS technology has been proven to capture 99.99% of all particles as small as 0.007 micron in size, which is over 40 times smaller than the HEPA filtration standard.
- It’s also been tested on the H1N1 virus, which is a smaller virus from the coronavirus family compared to SARS-COVID-2, the precursor to COVID-19.
Mamavation investigated the air purification industry and settled on Intellipure as the best overall professional system, but please take a venture over there to learn more about the best way to clean indoor air. Here’s a sale on the Intellipure you can take advantage of this holiday season.
- Intellipure Ultrafine 468 ($999, but use MAMAVATION10 for $100 off and free shipping)–We rate this model the highest for the family room next to the entertainment center. Offers 3rd party laboratory results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.007 microns, effective in killing coronavirus H1N1 which is smaller than SARS-COVID-2.
- Intellipure Compact ($459, but use MAMAVATION10 for free shipping)–smaller unit for 500 square foot office or bedroom. Offers 3rd party laboratory results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.007 microns, effective in killing coronavirus H1N1 which is smaller than SARS-COVID-2.
- Intellipure Whole House Ultrafine Cleaner ($2,495, but use MAMAVATION10 for $249.50 off and free shipping)–up to 5,000 square foot home provided there is only one HVAC machine, offers 3rd party laboratory results on particle efficiency, filters down to 0.007 microns, effective in killing coronavirus H1N1 which is smaller than SARS-COVID-2.
If You’re Getting A Fresh Christmas Tree (Organic or Not) Follow These Steps For A Safer Holiday Season
Here are some basic rules of thumb to follow to keep your family safe while you have a live tree.
- Water It. Fresh – i.e. full of water – trees don’t tend to light on fire as often as dry ones. If the tree you have your heart set on has needles falling off? Don’t buy it. Find one with needles that are hard to pull off.
- Watch the Heat. Make certain that you place your tree away from any and all heat sources (even the ones you don’t think about) including fireplaces, radiators, heat vents, festive candles, or lights.
- Certified Lights. Ensure sure all your indoor and outdoor Christmas lights have been tested in a lab by the UL/ANSI 533 or ETL/ITSNA for safety, and throw out any damaged lights and/or light sets.
- Candles Be Gone. Keep all your holiday candles away from your Christmas tree, surrounding furniture, and décor.
- Lights Out! Bedtime means lights off! Trees too! Turn off your Christmas tree just as you do your house lights.
Mamavation’s Investigation of Artificial Christmas Trees
Mamavation searched far and wide for the largest and most well distributed artificial Christmas trees we could find. There was only ONE brand we found that didn’t use any polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and that was Ikea.
Not Our Favorite Holiday Trees
These trees contain primarily polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other nasty contaminants. They are either not transparent with consumers about what their trees are made from OR are almost exclusively PVC.
- Alightup Fiber Optic Artificial Christmas Trees
- Best Choice Products Premium Artificial Spruce Christmas Tree
- Beachcraft Home Norwood Fir Green Spruce
- Bed Bath & Beyond Branded Pre-lit Artificial Tree
- Birch Lane Caroline Pine Green Artificial Tree
- Birch Lane Dunhill Fir Green Artificial Tree
- Birch Lane Nordic Spruce Green Spruce Artificial Tree
- Birch Lane North Valley Blue Spruce Artificial Tree
- Brylane Home Artificial Christmas Trees
- Christmas Time Artificial Christmas Trees
- Evergreen Classics Artificial Christmas Trees
- GE Prelit Artificial Christmas Trees with Energy Smart LED Lights (at Lowes)
- Giantex Artificial Christmas Trees
- Goplus 5′ Green PVC Artificial Christmas Tree
- Gymax Artificial Christmas Trees
- Haute Decor Artificial Christmas Trees
- Hobby Lobby Artificial Christmas Trees
- Holiday Living Fairmont Pine Pre-Lit Traditional Artificial Tree (at Lowes)
- Home Depot Home Accents Sparkling Amelia Holiday Trees
- Hammacher Schlemmer The World’s Best Prelit Noble Fir (with LED Lights)
- KI Store Christmas Trees
- Ktaxon Artificial Christmas Trees
- Pottery Barn Artificial Christmas Trees (mostly PVC)
- Segmart Outdoor Spruce Artificial Christmas Tree
- Target Brand Wondershop Artificial Christmas Trees
Better Holiday Trees
These trees are better than the list above in terms of materials used, but these trees contain an unknown ratio of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to polyethylene (PE). This concerns us because the trend is to have more PVC, which is more potential disruption for hormones. Unfortunately, most Christmas trees use a combination of both PVC & PE.
- Bee & Willow Artificial Trees
- Birch Lane Tiffany Fir Green Artificial Christmas Tree
- National Tree Company Downswept Douglas Fir
- Puleo International Inc Unlit Fir Tree
- Wayfair Laurel Foundry Modern Farmhouse Christmas Tree
- Wayfair The Holiday Aisle 4 Green Artificial Pine Tree with 150 Lights
Best Holiday Trees
These trees have the least amount of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) inside them. They are either composed of 64% or more polyethylene (PE) OR they don’t have polyvinyl chloride (PVC) at all. Ikea was the only product we could verify that did not have PVC. We have linked up all options for you to choose from.
- Balsam Hill Premium Unlit Artificial Trees on Amazon (64% PE & available on Amazon. Confirmed they do not use antinomy trioxide fire retardant)
- Birch Lane Prelit Aspen Green Fir Artificial Tree (82% PE)
- IKEA – Vinter 2020 (NO PVC at all)
- Tree Time Trees 65% PE trees
- Tree Time Trees 72% PE Trees
About the Author
Leah Segedie is a consumer watchdog, author, entrepreneur, environmental activist, and mother of three boys.
She wrote Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, & Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!) in 2018. She’s consistently been featured in the media for the past 15 years in media outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, Yahoo, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Shape Magazine, Fitness Magazine to name a few.
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