Like many other families this time of year, you may soon be considering putting up a Christmas tree. Whether you use a real tree or an artificial one, there are a few indoor air quality concerns you should keep in mind. Christmas trees are a significant source of allergens that can irritate your respiratory system and coat your home with contaminants. Even artificial trees that contain plastics can be harmful to your health depending on the material and how they’re stored. Here’s everything you need to know about protecting your home’s air quality this holiday season.

Potential Christmas Tree Hazards

One of the most attractive features of live trees is their natural pine scent. Unfortunately, the strong smell coming from your new tree is likely a mix of chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Many tree farms spray additional terpenes on their trees to enhance the smell and ensure it lasts while they’re waiting to be bought. Specifically, pinenes are the form of terpenes that give them their distinct smell. This same chemical is also used in products like pine-scented home cleaners.

VOCs like pinene may irritate your eyes, throat or nasal passages. You may struggle with excessive sneezing, coughing, headaches, fatigue or dizziness. While you may not notice any immediate side effects while shopping for trees, the impact of the VOCs becomes more substantial in your home. Interacting with the tree can spread chemicals and other contaminants to your couches, rugs and clothes. At-risk loved ones like children, the elderly or those with respiratory conditions with asthma are most likely to experience uncomfortable health symptoms.

Another live tree concern you should consider is the presence of pests and mold spores. Christmas trees are often cut weeks in advance of being delivered to the tree lot. This gives them plenty of time to begin growing mold or mildew inside their branches. You may also have to contend with hidden bugs nesting in the nettles. Inhaling mold and other pollutants can cause your household to suffer from perpetually stuffy noses, fatigue, rashes and stiff joints.

If you want to circumvent your allergies with a plastic or artificial tree, you should be aware these can also harm your air quality. Fake Christmas trees typically contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC) chemicals as well as flame retardants. Unfortunately, some of these compounds are carcinogenic and can have lasting impacts on your organ and neurological health. You may even have a tree that’s comprised partly of phthalates, which are a type of forever chemical. As the name suggests, their man-made compounds won’t ever break down and can exist for centuries. When you handle your artificial tree, you can spread this harmful chemical residue to other objects and rooms in your house.

Artificial trees can also accrue dust, insects and mold spores over time. How you store your tree and holiday decorations plays a huge role in their condition and lifespan. For example, continuing to use a cardboard box instead of plastic can allow moisture and dust inside, which leads to mold and material degradation. No matter what type of holiday tree you prefer, there are several ways you can minimize how it impacts your household’s health.

Tips to Limit Christmas Tree Allergens

Properly handling and storing your tree every year will keep it in better condition and minimize the spread of dust. You should also take special care to properly clean and prepare your live tree before bringing it inside. Keep these helpful tips in mind when decorating for the holiday season this year.

Shop Safe Live Trees

When you buy your Christmas tree, make sure to research your chosen tree farm. If they have a website, search for any information on what terpenes they use and how frequently they spray. It’s better to search for trees that were cut recently as you’ll have a lower risk of mold. It can also be helpful to find a tree farm that shakes the tree out for you, releasing any pests or loose needles before they can make their way into your home.

After getting your new tree, you’ll first want to hose it down outside. This will get rid of any lingering bugs, needles or pollutants. You can then keep it in your garage or a safe, warm place out of the elements while it dries.

Keep Skin Covered

As you decorate your tree with lights and ornaments, avoid touching any of the needles or limbs with your bare skin. Live trees have sap that can stain fabrics and leave your hands sticky and uncomfortable. All types of Christmas trees can have dust or mold spores that harm your respiratory health. Try to keep other family members like children away by fencing the tree off from the rest of the room.

Consider an Air Purifier

Maintaining your air quality with a Christmas tree in your living room can be a difficult task. To ensure the best air quality possible, consider installing a room or whole-home air purifier. These systems will pull contaminants from the air and stop them from spreading to your other living spaces. A dehumidifier may also be helpful to limit the presence of airborne moisture and mold spores. Please be aware that all live trees must be kept constantly watered, so you shouldn’t place a dehumidifier too close. If the tree dries out, it can quickly become a fire hazard.

Properly Store Tree and Ornaments

While you can dispose of your live tree at the end of the season, artificial trees need to be stored. Taking the time to put the tree away securely can limit your exposure to contaminants next season. Plastic or metal tubs are safer than fabric or cardboard containers. It’s also often better to store your ornaments, tree and decorations in an upstairs closet or the attic rather than the basement. Underground levels tend to hold more moisture, which attracts more pests and mold spores.

Invest in High-Quality Decorations

If your tree becomes infested with fungus or insects, it can quickly spread these issues to your ornaments and vice versa. Some materials like cotton, wool and other breathable fabrics are more susceptible to mold growth. To limit cross-contamination, you can upgrade to sturdier ornaments. Try buying plastic, metal or glass bulbs and figurines. It’s best to avoid putting any candy or food on the tree that can attract pests. These types of decorations can also encourage pets and children to interact with the tree, potentially causing damage or knocking the whole thing over.

Expert Comfort Control Company

From maximizing your comfort to boosting your air quality, Southport Home Services is your ideal choice of HVAC company in Madison, WI. We’re a BBB-accredited business and a Carrier Factory Authorized Dealer. Count on our NATE-certified technicians to deliver great customer care, exceptional services and transparent pricing. At Southport Home Services, we can repair, maintain or install your heating or cooling systems. We offer a variety of plumbing services like drain cleaning, fixture replacements and bathroom remodels. Schedule your HVAC appointment with our indoor comfort team in and around Madison today.

Meet the Author
Thomas Suchla
Thomas Suchla


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