How to Find a Non-toxic Artificial Christmas Tree

How to Find a Non-toxic Artificial Christmas TreeUntil recently, artificial Christmas trees were cut from compressed polyvinyl chloride (PVC) sheets.  Now there’s a newer technology that allows manufacturers to create branch tips that are made from injection-molded polyethylene (PE) plastic using copies of live tree needles.  It creates a more realistic look and feel, while removing worries of toxic PVC, a perfection solution for a non-toxic artificial Christmas tree!

As we talked about last year, lead is a big concern in Christmas decorations because it’s often used as a stabilizer in PVC plastic.  Lead is a neurotoxin that can cause learning disorders, brain and nerve damage, hearing problems, stunted growth, and digestive problems. Scientists are increasingly convinced that there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially for young children. The EPA has also listed lead as a probable human carcinogen.

Tips for Choosing a Non-toxic Artificial Christmas Tree

Many artificial Christmas trees which contain PE also have an infill of PVC branches which are made up of flat strips, so you’ll want to make sure you confirm that your tree is 100% PE with following tips:

  • Keep an eye out for a mention of “molded tip” in the product description.
  • If you’re shopping for an artificial in person, you’ll notice the difference right away, because the needles are three-dimensional rather than flat.
  • According to Balsam Hills, while PE trees are constructed differently than PVC artificial Christmas trees, it is important to note that they often have PVC needles incorporated into their construction. In general, the molded tips are in front while the PVC needles are used to fill in the backs of the branches.
  • Keep in mind that pre-lit Christmas trees are often wrapped with lights strings encased in PVC.  In 2010 Healthy Toys released a report showing that 4 out of 5 sets of string lights tested contained lead, so be sure to keep them out of reach of children.
  • Nearly all artificial Christmas trees seem to be made with flame retardants, so be sure to keep the area around them dust-free.

PVC Free Christmas Tree Options

Tracking down PE trees turned out to be very difficult so it took us quite a while to find the options below (NOTE: see the update on *TruTip and **National Trees below…grrrrr).

  • The Williamsburg Pine is made specifically to be 100% PVC-free. It’s only material is PE, but be sure to buy the unlit version since the lights on the pre-lit trees are not PVC-free. (*NOTE: This tree is already sold out as of 11/19/16, dang it!) We recently interviewed the designer of this unique tree about PVC, lead and flame retardants in Christmas decorations, so be sure to read it here to get the inside scoop.
  • The unlit Charlotte Fir is a tree made of 100% PE. The manufacturer did tell us that it has a wrap around the pole that’s made of PVC, but it can be removed. Still a far safer option than trees made of PVC.
  • Balsam Hill offers two artificial trees that are made with True Needle™ technology using 70-80% PE. They are the Balsam Fir (70%) and the Vermont White Spruce (80%).
  • Thanks to A Green Slate, we just learned that IKEA offers a small, Charlie Brown style PE tree in some areas of the country. They’re small and not available online, but still exciting!

My husband and I still prefer real Christmas trees.  We’ve made it a family tradition to take the kids on a trek to find the perfect live tree each year.  We typically choose a beautiful blue-green fir and enjoy the fresh aroma through the holidays.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity to support your local small business owners too.

P.S. Can’t afford to invest in a PVC-free Christmas tree this year? See our recommendations here!

Update 11/2014: We were originally told by the manufacturer that TruTip™ trees were PVC-free, but this information turned out to be erroneous. The trees are indeed constructed of injection-molded PE, but they have PVC cores. We do, however, feel that TruTip trees are a safer option than 100% PVC trees.

Update 11/2015: It looks as though the “Feel-Real” Douglas Fir and “Feel-Real” Norway Spruce Hinged Trees by National Tree are now being made from PE with some PVC mixed in, so they’re being added to the naughty list this year!

Update 11/2016: The information included in this guide was updated 11/13/2016, so what you see here is all we know at this time.

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  • Irina

    we had a tradition of getting a real Christmas tree until we moved to SD. turns out our youngest daughter is allergic to the local trees 🙁 she gets a rash just being in the same room. so, I am on a hunt for an artificial tree, but worry about off-gassing and negative effects on health.

  • A.

    Hi there Land Sisters! I was attempting to contact TruTip to find out which – if any – of their artificial molded tip trees are 100% PE (and 0% PVC) since the tree descriptions on Christmas Lights, Etc. mostly say “PE/PVC” in the description. However, their contact link isn’t working and returns an error every time I attempt to get in touch. Did you look into which of their trees specifically are 100% PE? Do you have a way of doing so before the next Christmas season is in full swing? Thank you so much! As with irina below, allergies and asthma keep us from having a lovely real tree. Appreciate your help!

    • It was impossible for us to get a hold of TruTip as well, so I called their retailers to confirm the previous information we’d received directly from the manufacturer. Only one problem, it seems that TruTip had provided us with incorrect information! I was able to find out that TruTip does NOT make a PVC-free artificial Christmas tree, and that each of their models does indeed have a PVC core covered in PE.

      To end, we’ll be updating our article to reflect the most current information about TruTip products. ~Laura

  • trace

    Just bought a christmas tree from Ikea: polyethylene!!! And very affordable at $39.99CAD

    • Thanks for the heads up Trace! We’ll contact IKEA to learn more about it (super exciting!). ~Alicia

      • Courtney

        curious to know what you learn from Ikea about their trees. Thanks!!

        • trace

          I contacted Ikea in 2012 about their Christmas lights, here is what they said:

          Thank you for contacting IKEA Canada. In regards to your inquiry, please note lead, cadmium or their compounds are not allowed to be added to IKEA products.

          The safety and security of our customers and coworkers is of utmost importance to IKEA. All of our products are tested to meet the strictest international safety standards at our own accredited test laboratory in Sweden, and at independent labs and institutes around the world. Our IKEA products are tested regularly during both product development and in running production to ensure that they are free of these toxic metals.

          Should you have any further inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us.

          Thank you for choosing IKEA for your home furnishing and decoration needs.

          Best Regards,
          Emma
          IKEA Canada Customer Service

    • ssnnncb

      I’ve looked at Ikea, but didn’t find any. Maybe just in Canada?

  • s.

    Thank you so much! I have been looking and looking for info on non-toxic artificial trees. As we get older, it’s more difficult to get a real tree home and set up. So we’re leaning toward artificial trees but we don’t want PCV. I can’t thank you enough for this info. Suzanne

    • I’m thrilled to hear that you found the info helpful, Suzanne! We’re headed to our favorite local farm to cut down our own tree tomorrow, and although it’s a memory maker, it’s definitely a time/energy investment. ~Alicia

      • Todd

        There are many Christmas tree retailers that provide delivery assistance with your tree. I ran an online Christmas tree delivery company for years in the Seattle area and provided a much needed service for those just like yourselves. Do a little research and I’m sure you will find a Christmas tree lot that will deliver and set up your tree for you. Even though it may add a little to the cost of the tree, it will be worth it to stay away from expensive and toxic made-in-China trees.

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  • Melissa

    Can you tell me how the poisoning occurs, is it only if it is ingested? We love real trees but my son is allergic, so we bought a artificial tree but now I am concerned with the PVC in it. It does have the flat leaves as filler and it is pre-lit. We however do not gnaw on the tree. 🙂 Before I go out and purchase another one, I wanted to understand how the lead poisoning can occur. Thanks so much for any info! Melissa

    • That’s a really great question Melissa! The lead in PVC doesn’t stay put so it sloughs off and ends up in the dust in your home. It’s great that you’re using good supervision to make sure your son isn’t playing around with our mouthing the tree/lights. I’d also recommend you vacuum and/or wet mop daily around the tree to pick up that contaminated dust. ~Alicia

    • Todd

      Melissa, you may receive comfort in learning that your son is not allergic to Christmas trees… he is allergic to the molds, mildews, and other particulates on the tree needles from being in nature. Try hosing your real tree down and letting it dry before bringing it into your home. It has not been proven that people are allergic to trees any more than they are allergic to plants.

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  • britt

    I contacted the National Tree Company, (they have the first two trees for sale from Amazon) and they informed me none of their trees are PVC free, just so you’re aware!

    • That’s fantastic news Britt! That wasn’t the case when we first researched for this article, so I’m thrilled to get such a wonderful update. ~Alicia

      • E

        I contacted them too, and they also said all their trees have PVC, but that they are lead-free if they are unlit. They said the lights have lead per a government mandate. I am still nervous to buy a tree with PVC though!

        • As we mentioned in the article, some trees have a PVC frame, so at least they’re far better than your average artificial Christmas tree. Also, pre-lit trees will always have PVC because the light cords are encased in it. At least we know we can do better with a mostly PE tree. ~Alicia

  • Laura

    Has anyone found PVC free garland?

    • Kiki

      I asked Christmastreeforme.com and they said that a pvc-free garland would be too expensive and would get brittle outdoors. No luck.

  • defame

    I’ve been looking for a lead-free tree and lights in Canada. I’d read the same tip as below and even emailed IKEA myself in the past about their trees but we’d decided to go with a live tree. This year we’re thinking because of the tick/lyme population we’d search out a lead-free reusuable tree. Unfortunately IKEA’s trees appear to have lead in them now. http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/catalog/products/30258687/

    • Tracey

      They have lead now? Yikes! Where does it say that?

    • darcie

      Where on the link does it indicate lead? I don’t see it…

  • Lupine

    This didn’t appear to post the first time so here goes: I contacted Balsam Hill and they responded by email yesterday that all of their unlit Christmas trees were lead free. Then I also sent an inquiry to Christmas in America and they say that all their pvc is made in the US and is lead free. Does anyone know if this is true? I know that most of the Balsam Hill contain some pvc so I’m not sure what to think.

  • Kiki

    I just received a response from the National Tree Company (makers of the real-feel). I asked which of their trees/products are pvc-free and this was the response: ‘All of our trees are either 100% PVC or a PE/PVC blend. We do not carry any trees without PVC.’ So anyone wanting a tree made completely of PE should look elsewhere (unfortunately, their trees are lovely!).

    • Hi Kiki! Thanks for the update. As we mentioned in the article, some trees have a PVC frame, so at least they’re far better than your average artificial Christmas tree. Also, pre-lit trees will always have PVC because the light cords are encased in it. At least we know we can do better with a mostly PE tree. ~Alicia

  • Suzanne Holt

    Who knew there was that much to think about when it comes to artificial trees? Interesting! As an independent consultant for Norwex, I am always trying to figure how to avoid chemicals in my home. Thanks for compiling these ideas.

  • jules

    PVC free maybe, but not fire retardant free as most manufacturers spray it on at the end.

    • You’re right Jules, it seems that flame retardants are another concern with artificial Christmas trees. We’ll be spending some time researching brands that use less toxic flame retardants (halogenated instead of brominated) next year. ~Alicia

  • darcie

    Would washing a PE tree help remove fire retardants?

    • That’s a great question Darcie! It might help a little, assuming the flame retardants are actually sprayed on after production. If they’re added during molding, they would be bound to the plastic and couldn’t be easily removed. Another research project for next year! ~Alicia

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  • Mica

    Does anyone know of artificial trees that do not have fire retardants on them?

    • I’m afraid we haven’t delved into the flame retardant issue yet, Mica. But it’s on the top of our priority list for next year! ~Alicia

  • mica

    Just ordered a PVC free 100%PE tree from “Christmas Tree for me” Charolette Fir 7.5′, price not bad either compared to other sites like Basalm hill or Frontgate. It does have flame retardants though. The only tree that I think didn’t and was 100%PE was from the UK. Wouldn’t get in time for Christmas probably and needed to confirm the use of fire retardants.

    • peach-teach

      Where did you find one and would you recommend the place? Been looking without much luck. Thanks

  • Great info! We have a used, fake tree.

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  • disqus_4Fqze84bkd

    I bet most people here drink water out of plastic bottles
    yet they worry about a tree that they touch once a year.

    • Well actually, most people who worry about plastic Christmas trees don’t typically drink out of plastic water bottles.

    • AB

      I am worried about my baby touching or ingesting the lead, and he only uses plastic bottles that are BPA free. So even though I use plastic bottles I am still worried about this.

  • JC510

    How abiut a flame retardant free artificial christmas tree….do those exsist?

    • That’s a really good question, and one we’ve been looking into. So far it’s not sounding very positive, but we’ll provide more info as soon as we have it.

  • Lina Malink

    I’ve only ever had a real tree maybe twice in my life. Before we moved, I had a 4-foot artificial that the cats played/nested in. Last year, we lived in a tiny NYC apartment, so we basically had a table top live tree, but the cats were chewing on it. This year, we have room to spare and really high ceilings, so we kind of wanted a big tree. The BF requested artificial because of the cats… he doesn’t want them to get sick chomping on pine. What brand do you recommend that will look nice, be safe for us and the cats while not breaking the bank (We still pay NYC rent!)?

  • Katie

    After 17 years we finally decided it was time to replace our artificial tree. We have returned to the only company I feel comfortable buying from. Christmas In America. Beautiful trees, built to last and made in America. They are made right in New York. They do not sell prelit trees, the trees are flame retardant and lead free and for those that cannot get to them their website explains everything that goes into the making of their trees. I hope my sharing is a help to anyone that is on the market for a realistic artificial tree this year.

    • Hi Katie! Thanks for suggesting Christmas in America. I’m happy to hear that they’re made in Americia. The bummer is that doesn’t always guarantee safety. In looking at their FAQ page, I see that their trees are made from PVC and listed as flame retardant (not flame retardant-free). Also, you’ll want to ask for their lead testing certification before taking the claim at face value (it can be a lot like other buzzwords “natural,” “organic,” etc. with nothing to back it up). ~Alicia

  • Tina Taylor

    Are there any artificial tree flame retardant free?

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  • Vicky

    It makes me angry that that here in America, with all the technology we have, that we can’t even produce a safe alternative to these cheap toxic products. In many places in Europe, they have banned certain types of plastics and other toxic materials, but not us. What a shame. Anyway, if you are going to buy a real tree, make sure it’s not one from a tree farm where they spray it with pesticides. That could be just as bad. Since I don’t feel comfortable with an artificial tree or possibly a real tree, I’m going with a ceramic tree that was given to me some years ago. We always had a real tree every Xmas season, but with an oil furnace and dry heat, many of the needles fell off, even though I watered the tree. A ceramic tree sounds dated I suppose, but I don’t care. I have other decorations I use and they too probably contain some chemicals, but as far as I know, not PVC or PE in them. I’m not going to worry myself about not keeping up with the Jones or having a Xmas tree. I just want to hang on to whatever good health I have left. I’m likely more susceptible to certain toxins and/or chemicals since I’m getting older and have an autoimmune disorder – Hashimoto’s disease – a low functioning thyroid. In the meantime, I hope America wises up and realizes what is happening. Our leaders need to start paying attention and stop supporting corporations for profit and votes. It’s killing us all and our children. Autism, childhood cancers, Asthma, etc. are on the rise because of our toxic environment. Greed and power are ruining our planet. The environment as to toxicity and climate change, are crucial to everyone’s well being.

  • Meagan Hall

    I’m wondering how big of a threat this is. I just bought a beautiful tree from the national tree company. It uses PE but has pvc branches as filler and is prelit. As soon as I got it all set up, I saw a piece of paper saying that it had flame retardant, which is when I got online. Now I’m reading all this stuff about lead poisoning! What in the world?! Now I’m freaking out because my kids were playing in the box it came in, and I’m just imagining my whole house now being coated and contaminated with lead dust! From the air to my floors to my furniture, and we are all suddenly unsafe, ever since I took it out of the box.
    Am I overreacting?

    What has confused me is that in a post lower down, when someone mentioned having a tree of mixed pe and PVC, you said it was ‘better’ than an all pvc…..how is that? Is the lead dust minimal, and mixing the two materials further reduces the dust output? Because if pvc is as scary as it is sounding right now, then if there is any pvc in it, we are risking being poisoned, and it doesn’t sound like having less of it could be that much safer.

    At this point, I’m wondering if my tree poses a big enough risk that I should just re-box it and return it and sadly forgo the christmas tree all together, or if I’m overreacting and the risks to my family are minimal, and can be further reduced by not allowing them by it, and wet mopping, spraying down furniture, dusting, etc.

    • Less PVC is always better. But like you said, it’s tough to find a perfect solution when it comes to artificial trees, so we usually recommend being diligent about keeping the area around them dust-free and making sure your kiddos don’t spend a lot of time touching the tree itself. That way you’ll minimize contact with lead and phthalates.

      • Meagan Hall

        I contacted the National Tree Company and they said lead was contained in the electric wiring, but no more than what you’d find in any other regular home appliance.
        Not being able to put it to rest, or stop seeing my home as contaminated, I bought a testing kit and used several different tests and areas, testing for lead on the pvc branches and wiring, and on the floor, in case lead dust had fallen, but every test came up negative. So….?

  • Clio A

    Isn’t PVC what the new our plumbing pipes are made of now–instead of copper? Are you saying we need to get rid of our pipes too? Of course the old copper pipes have lead joints so that creates a risk in older houses where the water isn’t run often. Am I misunderstanding something here?

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