Christmas is my favorite holiday. This year is going to be different in many ways with us missing out on seeing extended family and our annual traditions of going to the Nutcracker and get-togethers with friends so I really want to get my place looking merry and bright but there are a TON of chemicals lurking inside holiday decorations.
This year’s task – make my home feel ready for the holidays without the harm!
Even after OVERLOAD, I had no idea the amount of toxins I was eagerly putting all over my house until I started prepping for babe’s first Christmas last year. From artificial trees to lights, garland and ornaments, there are flame retardants, lead, mercury, bromine and arsenic found in MAJORITY of Christmas decor. It was so overwhelming that I went really minimal last year. This year I was not about to be stuck in COVID isolation with a Charlie Brown tree and a festive-less home.
Other sites suggested decorating with pine cones and acorns. I LOVE pine cones and acorns – when I’m on a hike – but I need some pizazz around here for the babe and me and I think I speak for most of us when I say, while we don’t want the exposure to harmful chemmies, it’s going to take a bit more than stringing up some nuts and berries to get in the holiday spirit.
I decided to up my detoxed decor game, find the less toxic alternatives, and share them with you.
If you want a live tree
I chose to go with a real tree. And yes, almost all real trees are sprayed with herbicide, pesticides and dye. There are some organic tree farms but they are not near where I live. Check this somewhat dated list to see if there is one close to you. You can also hit up someone’s land and chop one down but I strongly suggest getting permission first (also pls check for nests before taking someone’s home) Because an artificial tree is out of the question for me (read why below) I called several growers in the area and found one that last sprayed herbicide and pesticides on their crop in July. Long enough for me that it felt like I wasn’t having a tree freshly coated in chemicals coming into my home.
Want to cut down a tree? Use this site to find a farm close to you!
MY FAVORITE STAND – Not specifically cleaner and greener related BUT I have to share the Krinner Christmas tree stand labeled the “world’s easiest to use” and I have to agree. I managed to position and lock in a 7 feet tree solo and in under a minute thanks to this beast of a stand. Made in Germany, holds 1-2.5 gallons of water and has a 3 year warranty, the $70-100 price tag is actually completely worth it given the time (and intense tree-placement-caused frustration) it has saved me.
If you prefer an artificial tree
I have an artificial tree I used for the many years I was a cat mom. I definitely don’t want to throw it away (you may be able to recycle the base or some pieces but the actual branches are a blend of plastics and chems that make it virtually impossible to recycle in most places). Donating it is another possibility. Artificial trees (except literally ONE option below) are coated in flame retardants and are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which can contain phthalates and release lead dust into the air. Brominated flame retardants and PVC are both endocrine disruptors. I definitely don’t these in my home or around my babe who would inevitably be touching the tree (and then putting those hands into her mouth). Breathing in the living room is obviously just as unavoidable.
If you MUST go this route because of allergies, convenience, or budget – either buying one at a big box store or utilizing one you already have in storage – wear gloves or wash your hands after setting up the tree, try your best to keep kids away from it and, if possible, set up a HEPA filter in the same room.
One safe alternative are IKEA trees! They are made with polyethylene and polypropylene (two MUCH safer plastics!) They come in 4 sizes – 83” ($99) can be viewed here. The 81” ($59) here. The 67” ($29) here. And 59” ($19) here or here for Amazon where it’s $65 but can be delivered for those of us a road trip away from the land of Swedish retail goodness.
Every other polyethylene tree on the market still has PVC and flame retardants but you can find better options than most artificial tree brands if you look hard. I have found these Balsam Hill trees, which are still made with the flame retardant antimony trioxide (which, while not brominated, is labeled a carcinogen) and they do contain some amount of PVC but they contain more PE than PVC by a longshot.
(Note: these trees are WAY less expensive on the Balsam Hill website instead of Amazon but ONLY the “Most Realistic” are PE and PVC blends)
- Stratford Spruce Artificial Christmas Tree is made of 84% PE and 16% PVC
- Balsam Fir 83% PE/17% PVC
- Silverado Slim 82% PE/18% PVC
- Vermont White Spruce 80% PE and 20% PVC
I have not been able to find ONE artificial tree without some amount of PVC or flame retardant other than IKEA. Please share in the comments if you have and I will DELIGHTEDLY add them to this post!
Want Christmas lights that don’t contain lead? Want safer electronics in general? (It’s often the PVC insulation over the wiring in MANY electronics that cause the exposure since they can contain lead and phthalates) Your best bet is to look for ROHS compliance. Thanks to the European Union for creating this certification to protect their consumers, the amount of toxic chemicals in products with this label are incredibly minimal, if any at all.
I was so thankful to find the following ROHS certified lights affordable and right on Amazon. I used a 300-light strand on this year’s 7-foot tree and it’s perfect. These lights also feature 8 effect settings so it’s nice to add a twinkle or a flash. When we decide to have an impromptu isolation dance party, our tree can participate.
White lights 200 lights for $18.99, 300 lights for $21.99 and 400 lights for $25.99
Color lights – 200 lights for $18, available in multi, blue, pink, and bright white
The warm glow of candles is divine year round and they especially make a home feel more cozy around the holidays. It’s no secret I am not a fan of synthetic fragrances so I buy unscented candles (soy or beeswax preferred because paraffin wax is like having your own tiny petroleum factory smoke stack inside your home) and then I add essential oil to the candle. I let the candle burn for a couple minutes then put a few drops of 1-3 individual oils or pre-made blends into the melted wax to make the house smell delicious. Best part is that I can change the scent each time I burn the candle.
- Unscented candle options:
- Holiday essential oil options (all 100% naturally-derived, non-synthetic):
This is an an area where I am going to take some pressure off myself about being fully non-toxic and just do my best if my initial ornament crafting plan isn’t a success.
- Our current first step this year is arriving this week. I bought plain solid wood ornaments and we are going to paint them with our IKEA and Kid Made Modern paints. I may add some Mod Podge to finish them off with a non-toxic shine. It’s not food safe, so it’s not suggested for anything that would go in a toddlers mouth, but vintage ornaments and soft plastics aren’t either so I am striking a balance.
- If I do buy plastic ornaments after my potential crafting fail, I will be looking for those described as “shatterproof” or will look for polyethylene or polypropylene versions. I will reuse them until I die, trust me.
- If you do have old, nostalgic ornaments you want to use, then put them up! I would suggest to not have kiddos and babes touch the old ornaments which had even less regulation than our current lackluster protections but I think we established earlier in this post – touch the tree, wash your hands.
UPDATE: Die-cut wood ornaments arrived and crafting was a hit. Babe helped, Christmas tunes filled the air and it was a VERY merry time creating these colorful additions for our tree. No plastic ornament purchases necessary!
It’s really unfortunate that there aren’t too many alternatives to those bright plastic garlands, tinsel and bows. But in case you need some evidence of why it’s better to buy cleaner and greener options, here are some of the results from the study on holiday decorations done by HealthyStuff.org:
- Walgreen’s retailed Santa Hanging Décor: 1,400 ppm bromine, 1,300 ppm chlorine, 290 ppm antimony.
- Lowe’s retailed Beaded Garland: 11,000 ppm bromine, 16,000 ppm chlorine, 600 ppm lead, 2,100 ppm antimony.
- Lowe’s retailed Silver Bells: 120,000 ppm chlorine, 370 ppm lead, 290 ppm antimony.
- Kroger retailed Red Bead Garland: 13,000 ppm bromine, 17,000 ppm chlorine, 140 ppm lead, 3,900 ppm antimony, 150 ppm tin.
- Kroger retailed Silver Jingle Bell Door Hanger: 150 ppm arsenic, 1,900 ppm chlorine, 170 ppm lead, 1,500 ppm tin.
- Walmart retailed Poinsettia Wreath: 900 ppm bromine, 6,500 ppm chlorine, 830 ppm lead, 230 ppm antimony.
- Target retailed Decorative Tree: 1,400 ppm chlorine and 2,100 ppm lead.
- Target retailed Holiday Swag Bundle: 2,400 ppm bromine, 24,700 ppm chlorine, 670 ppm antimony, 152 ppm tin.
- CVS retailed 18 foot Lighted Garland: 65,800 ppm bromine, 310,000 ppm chlorine, 170 ppm lead, 10,200 ppm antimony, 2,300 ppm tin.
- Dollar Tree retailed Decorative Bows: 426,000 ppm chlorine, 1,100 ppm tin.
Why these chems matter –
Bromine, lead, mercury, antimony, chlorine and arsenic are devastating to the body, especially for children and women of child-bearing years. Their negatives include impacts on brain development, cognitive abilities and thyroid function and increased risk of preterm birth among many other things. Endocrine disruption impacts the neurological system, thyroid function and reproductive organs of men, women and children indiscriminately. If it’s “just a small amount here and there” you say, think about ALL of the combined exposures — all the lights, all the garlands, the tree (not to mention the flame retardants often doused on the drapes, the carpet, the couch – I’m REALLY fun at parties, I swear) Limiting what you can, when you can, will add up so when you can’t avoid it, you don’t need to be overly paranoid.
I have found a lot of natural wood decor options (like these untreated pine cones – which do NOT spark joy for me, but might for you). While I don’t want toxins in the home, I personally want something with some color and POP on the tree and around the house. What I did this year was buy the following and I think it’s jazzed the place up to look much more like it did in my pre-OVERLOAD days.
There is also this incredibly affordable nontoxic PET plastic garland!
Felt Christmas Tree – I got my daughter one of these, which comes with 3 dozen ornaments, and she focuses on playing with it a lot more than she does our big, real tree.
Stickers – Look for paper (versus vinyl) stickers to add to decorations around the house. We got this cheap and cute little kit.
Live trimmings and natural pine cones and/or lights mixed in – wherever you can buy a live tree they generally have scraps they will give you for free. These are great to place around the house.
Sure, Christmas is a lot different around here than before I learned about the toxins in everyday products and even more so now that there is a little one who likes to touch (and taste) everything. Hopefully, a few of these items might help make your decorating a little easier. May you have a stress-free, enjoyable holiday season filled with love and lots of (non-toxic) sparkle!