Christmas Tree Safety

Choosing and Caring for a Fresh Christmas Tree

family buying christmas tree
Choosing and properly caring for a fresh cut tree might be the difference between life and death. Erin Lester / Getty Images

As far as safety goes, decorating with an artificial Christmas tree is much safer than using a real tree. Take a look at some artificial trees and avoid the potential fire hazard all together. And when you decorate the tree, be careful of the ladder.

Artificial Christmas Tree

Just because the danger of fire is significantly reduced with an artificial tree, doesn't mean they can't come with their own safety issues.

Artificial trees that spin on their bases may not be safe to leave unattended—at least not while they're spinning.

I understand the allure of the pine scent during the Christmas season. Just promise me one thing, if you're going to light the tree, you will not use candles! Electrically lighted trees have been around since 1882, so I think the tradition is well-established.

If you decide to have a real tree adorning your living room during the 12 (or 30) days of Christmas, make sure the batteries in your smoke alarm are fresh and here are some important things to remember about choosing and caring for a fresh-cut Christmas tree.

Dry is Bad, Moist is Good

All of the fires we hear about Christmas trees causing are brought on by dead, dry trees. The US Fire Administration provides video of a Christmas tree catching fire and engulfing the family room in less than 40 seconds. All of these tips are intended to keep the tree alive and moist.

It's Alive! It's ALIVE!

Keeping the tree alive starts with choosing one that hasn't turned into firewood before it got off the lot. Your best bet is to buy a tree that is still growing and cut it yourself (or have someone cut it for you). If you are buying one pre-cut, make sure it is still alive and healthy.

Pull on the needles, if they come off easily, it is probably not in great condition. The trunk should be sticky and the limbs should be very flexible. Lift the tree and bounce the cut end on the ground, if a bunch of needles come tumbling off, it isn't a safe tree to take home.

Fresh Cut Means Fresh Cut

When you get the Christmas tree home, cut off the bottom two inches of trunk. This will create a fresh, raw cut for the tree to soak in water. If you don't do this, the trunk may not be able to drink in the water in the Christmas tree stand.

Water, Water, and More Water

Keeping your thirsty Christmas tree well hydrated is the best way to fireproof it. Keep the water in the stand well above the fresh-cut bottom of the trunk. No need to put more than water in there—your tree isn't picky about flavor or caffeine or sugar. Water is the best for Christmas trees.

There are products available to help you keep your Christmas tree from getting too thirsty. 

Keep it Cool, Baby

Christmas trees dry out with heat, so place your tree away from heat sources like the fireplace or heater vents. The cooler the Christmas tree stays, the better.

Burning is Bad, Even After Christmas

Don't dispose of your tree by burning.

A burning Christmas tree is hard to control and may burn much faster than you are expecting. This video of a burning tree in a house shows just how hot it can get. Burning Christmas tree clippings in a fireplace may result in a chimney fire; pine and fir trees produce a lot of creosote when burning and may lead to deposits on the chimney. You don't want carbon monoxide in the home or manage to burn yourself with an out of control fire. 

Throw it Away Before Valentine's Day

Your lights may stay up as long as your neighbors are willing to let it go, but your Christmas tree needs to go by the second of January.

The longer your Christmas tree stays in the house, the more it dries and becomes a fire hazard. Dispose of your Christmas tree following local laws.