Unfortunately, just like with artificial Christmas trees, 100% non-toxic Christmas lights don’t really exist (sorry!). Almost all holiday string lights contain at least small amounts of toxic chemicals such as lead, other heavy metals, and phthalates.
That being said, there are definitely some things you can look for in safer, low-tox Christmas lights. In short, you’ll want to look for string lights that are RoHS compliant and free from Prop 65 warning labels, if possible.
There are also a few simple things you can do to reduce your exposure, like leaving the tree-lighting to the adults and washing your hands afterwards. More on that below.
In this article, I’m talking about what to look for in Christmas lights in order to decrease the amount of toxic chemicals you bring into your home during this holiday season.
P.S. If you’re looking for more resources on how to have a low-tox holiday season, check out these related guides:
- Non-Toxic Christmas Tree Guide
- Where to Buy Holiday Decorations Made from Natural Materials
- Organic Gifts for Everyone On Your List
- Organic Stockings & Non-Toxic Stocking Stuffers
- Matching Organic Pajamas for the Whole Family
- Non-Toxic Winter/Holiday Candles
- Roundup of Black Friday / Cyber Season Sales from Non-Toxic Brands
Table of Contents
- Are Christmas Tree Lights Toxic?
- What to Look for in Less-Toxic Christmas Lights
- Are There Lead-Free Christmas Lights? (Lead-Free vs. Low-Lead)
- 4 Brands for Low-Lead Holiday Lights
- 1. Quntis
- 2. Holiday LEDs
- 3. Reinders
- 4. Total Outdoor Lighting
- Are IKEA Christmas Lights Lead-Free?
- Are Philips Christmas Lights Lead-Free?
- How To Use Christmas Lights Safely and Reduce Toxin Exposure
- 1. Consider Leaving the handling to the adults.
- 2. Wash hands after handling and decorating.
- 3. Keep lights away from babies and toddlers.
- 4. Consider going light-less.
- Where to Find Non-Toxic Christmas Ornaments and More Christmas Decorations
- In Summary
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Are Christmas Tree Lights Toxic?
The two main toxin concerns in Christmas tree lights are lead and polyvinyl chloride (PVC):
Back in 2007, CNN purchased four common brands of Christmas lights (Walmart, GE, Sylvania, and Phillips) and tested them for lead. The results? “In the four brands of lights tested, [the lab] found surface lead levels far exceeding the CPSC’s recommended children’s limit of 15 micrograms.”
In 2008, another researcher at Cornell found that the levels of lead in holiday lights were higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined as safe for flooring and windows.
Yet another report from Bloomberg in 2010 found that over half of lights tested had more lead than what is allowed in children’s toys (some of them had up to 30 times as much!).
Most people know by now that lead can cause a whole host of health concerns, even in small amounts. It’s especially dangerous for babies and young children. Health risks include:
- lower IQ
- learning disabilities
- hearing impairments
- central nervous system damage
- seizures and death (at high levels of lead)
We’ll get back to how to reduce lead exposure around the holidays in a minute. But first, let’s talk about the other common toxin found in Christmas lights: PVC.
PVC contains chlorine, which creates byproducts called dioxins and furans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins “can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.”
Not only that, but PVC almost always contains phthalates (which are usually used to make the plastic more flexible). Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with one’s natural hormone function and lead to infertility and developmental toxicity. They’re also linked to things like early death, diabetes, and asthma, and also may be carcinogenic.
Phthalates can slowly leach out of consumer products and land in household dust, which we then inhale.
Why Are Lead & PVC Used in String Lights?
Unlike with other types of products, it’s much more difficult to find string lights and other electronics that are completely free from these types of toxic chemicals. This is mostly because it’s more difficult for manufacturers to remove these substances from holiday lights for safety reasons. Electronics are more susceptible to fires than, say, a mattress.
When it comes to holiday lights, lead and PVC work hand-in-hand with one another; they are both used to insulate the wiring. In addition to being a fire retardant, the lead stabilizes the PVC in order to decrease the cracking and disintegrating that comes with age. When it comes to electrical products, you can see why these factors are important.
That being said, there are other, safer materials available that do the same job as lead. (They just tend to be more expensive, which is why many manufacturers choose not to use them.)
What to Look for in Less-Toxic Christmas Lights
Even though 100% non-toxic Christmas lights are pretty much non-existent at the moment, some brands are certainly better than others. Here’s what to look for when buying the least toxic holiday lights available:
RoHS Compliant Christmas Lights
One of the best things to look for in your Christmas lights is a certification from the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) organization. This organization is based in the E.U., where chemical standards tend to be more strict than they are in the States.
RoHS looks at heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, along with other types of toxins like polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), and four different phthalates (DEHP, BBP, BBP, DIBP).
In order to be RoHS compliant, a product has to have less than 1000 ppm (.1%) of lead content. So although RoHS compliant lights do not mean they are completely lead-free, it means they generally have less lead compared to other, non-RoHS brands on the market.
You’re likely to find California’s Prop 65 label on your Christmas lights, too. If you see that warning label, it means the product contains at least one substance from California’s Prop 65 list of toxic chemicals. Lead is on that list, as are several different types of phthalates.
According to California’s website, “By law, a warning must be given for listed chemicals unless the exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk of cancer or is significantly below levels observed to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.”
When it comes to lead, any product that is available to California residents and causes exposures of more than 0.5 micrograms of lead per day requires a Prop 65 label by law. It will usually look something like this:
Are LED Christmas Lights Any Better?
LED lights are less energy-intensive and less of a fire hazard compared to traditional string lights. But are they any less toxic? Well, it just depends! Since it’s what the wires are wrapped in that really matters here, LED lights aren’t inherently any less toxic. It really just comes down to the brand and how the lights (LED or not) are manufactured.
Are There Lead-Free Christmas Lights? (Lead-Free vs. Low-Lead)
Again, 100% lead-free Christmas tree lights are difficult to find… Almost all Christmas lights contain at least minuscule amounts of lead, other kinds of heavy metals, and/or phthalates.
That being said, there are some brands that contain a lot less lead than others. Here are several brands that are RoHS compliant (or carry some RoHS compliant options), meaning they contain only small amounts of lead.
(Plus, keep reading for more tips on how to reduce toxin exposure even while using imperfect Christmas lights this holiday season.)
4 Brands for Low-Lead Holiday Lights
This is the only RoHS-compliant brand I was able to find that’s available at big box stores like Walmart. They have a lot of different kinds of LED string lights, from warm white to multi-colored, from globes to star-shaped. Also available on Amazon.
2. Holiday LEDs
All of this company’s lights are RoHS compliant—they even have a whole guide about it. They have a really wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes of safer LED string lights. As a bonus, they also have a light recycling program, which will help keep these electronics out of the landfill when you’re finished with them.
Reinders carries RoHS-compliant LED string lights, replacement bulbs, wire spools, and more. Make sure to check the Product Specifications before purchasing because not all of their products (like the rope lights, for example) are specified as RoHS compliant.
Not all of TOL’s lights are RoHS compliant, but you can filter to find the ones that are. They carry various shapes and colors of LED lights. The company also explicitly states that the lights are free from mercury.
‘Tis the season for cuteness! Here’s where to find matching organic Christmas pajamas (for the whole family!) for the 2023 holiday season.
Are IKEA Christmas Lights Lead-Free?
When searching online for non-toxic holiday lights, you’ll probably come across several articles stating that IKEA’s lights are RoHS compliant and/or lead-free. On one hand, it makes sense that IKEA’s string lights may be RoHS compliant since the brand is based in Sweden and most likely has to comply with E.U. chemical safety standards…
However, when I looked into it, I couldn’t actually find any RoHS labels on any of their lights, nor info about it on the website. When we chatted with their customer service team last year, they weren’t able to give me an answer one way or another.
Furthermore, their lights do come with a Prop 65 warning, indicating they probably do contain lead and/or other environmental toxins such as phthalates.
Are Philips Christmas Lights Lead-Free?
Many of Philips Christmas lights do come with a Prop 65 warning (and some don’t). They are not RoHS compliant (maybe in part because they’re not sold in Europe).
That being said, a few years ago, Tamara at Lead Safe Mama tested some Philips string lights she got from Target and did not detect any lead in them. This probably means that if the lights do contain lead, it’s in a very low, non-detectable amount, making these lights a pretty safe option. If you do go with Philips lights, try to go for one of the boxes without a Prop 65 label on it.
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How To Use Christmas Lights Safely and Reduce Toxin Exposure
Regardless of which brand of lights you choose, it’s always good practice to follow the directions on the box and use precautions to keep toxic chemicals away from little ones. Here are a few pointers:
1. Consider Leaving the handling to the adults.
When CNN did their Christmas light lead test (referenced above) and then contacted the brands to ask for comment, most of the companies said something along the lines of ‘Christmas lights are electrical appliances, not toys’ and suggested that kids be kept away from them.
Decorating the tree is fun, but if you really want to play it safe, consider leaving the light-stringing part of things to the older adults in the house and let the kids stick to the ornaments.
2. Wash hands after handling and decorating.
It’s a good idea for the whole family to wash their hands after handling the lights and decorations so that any lead particles get washed down the drain before they make their way into your eyes, mouth, etc.
3. Keep lights away from babies and toddlers.
Babies and toddlers are not only most at risk for damage for long-term damage from lead, but they’re also much more likely to put them in their mouths, increasing the potential amount of chemical absorption. Yes, those baby-wrapped-in-Christmas-lights photos are super cute, but they’re probably not the best idea.
4. Consider going light-less.
Twinkly string lights are certainly fun and beautiful, but you don’t necessarily have to use them! Especially if you have lots of little ones in the house, you may want to consider forgoing lights and opting for traditional garland made from natural materials like wool or pinecones instead.
Where to Find Non-Toxic Christmas Ornaments and More Christmas Decorations
We’ve got a couple of separate guides on where to find non-toxic Christmas decorations (or make your own!) coming soon—so stay tuned!
Although it’s quite difficult to find non-toxic Christmas lights that are completely free from potentially toxic chemicals, there are some brands that are safer than others. Looking for Christmas lights that are RoHS compliant and free from Prop 65 warning labels are going to be your best bet!