We recently wrote about what to look for in a non-toxic (or at least less toxic) Christmas tree. But what about holiday decorations?
In this article, we’re going to talk about what to look for in less-toxic, lead-free 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 less-toxic holiday season, check out these related guides:
- Non-Toxic Christmas Trees
- Organic Gifts for Everyone On Your List
- Matching Organic Pajamas for the Whole Family
- Non-Toxic Winter-y Candles
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.
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!).
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)
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 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 diabetes and asthma, and also may be carcinogenic. More recently, they’ve been linked to early death.
Why Are Lead & PVC Used in String Lights?
It’s worth noting that, unlike with other types of products, it’s more difficult for manufacturers to remove these substances from holiday lights for safety reasons.
Both lead and PVC are 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.) Keep reading to find out which brands’ Christmas lights are lead-free.
What to Look for in Non-Toxic Christmas Lights
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.
In order for a product to be RoHS compliant, they have to be free from 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).
But Beware of RoHS 6 Compliance
You should be aware that there are different types of RoHS certifications. If there is a number included in the label, that means certain chemicals have been exempted.
RoHS 6 compliant products, for example, are lead-exempt. That means RoHS 6 compliant holiday lights may still contain lead.
You’ll likely find California’s Prop 65 label on many boxes of Christmas lights. 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.”
So it’s best to choose lights that do not have a Prop 65 warning label on the box.
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. However, most of the lead-free light brands we found are indeed LED.
Where to Find Lead-Free Christmas Lights
So, what are the safest Christmas tree lights? We’ll be honest: lead-free Christmas tree lights are difficult to find—we had to dig hard to find a few brands for you!
(Note that we did not do our own independent testing on these lights; rather, we are taking the brands at their word. For this reason, we still recommend that only adults handle the lights. More on that below.)
This is the only RoHS compliant brand we were 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.
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 safe, lead-free, LED string lights. And as a bonus, they have a light recycling program, too!
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.
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, this makes sense because IKEA is based in Sweden, so they most likely have to comply with EU chemical safety standards.
However, when we looked into it, we can’t actually find any RoHS labels on any of their lights, nor info about it on the website. Furthermore, their lights actually contain a Prop 65 warning! For this reason, we cannot say that IKEA’s Christmas lights are lead-free at this time.
Are Philips Christmas Lights Lead-Free?
Philips Christmas lights don’t contain a Prop 65 warning, which is definitely a good sign. But they aren’t RoHS compliant either (probably because they’re not sold in Europe). A few years ago, Tamara at Lead Safe Mama tested some Philips string lights she got from Target and found that they were, in fact, lead-free. Although it may not be as guaranteed as purchasing from a company with RoHS compliance, you’re probably pretty safe buying Philips lights.
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 helpful pointers:
Leave 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.
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 eyes, mouths, etc.
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.
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 (links below!).
BONUS: Our Picks for Natural, Organic, and Non-Toxic Christmas Ornaments, Stockings, and Other Holiday Decorations
Non-Toxic Christmas Ornaments
- Preserved Eucalyptus and Dried Oranges
- Felted Acorns
- Mini Macrame
- Fair Trade
- Wooden Snowflakes
- Personalized Wooden Shapes & Characters
- Natural Wood Beaded Shapes
- More Natural Wooden Beads
- Natural Wood Slices
Non-Toxic Christmas Candles
- Beeswax + Coconut Christmas Scented Candle
- Sanari Pine/Douglas Fir Coconut Wax Candle
- Beeswax Snowmen Candles
- Colored Beeswax Snowflake Pillar Candles
- Beeswax Christmas Tree Candles
- Colorful Wool Felted Mushrooms
- “Comfort and Joy” Themed Wool Felt
- Pinecone Garland
- Red, Green, and White Felt Balls
- Simple White Felt, 100% Organic
Other Natural & Organic Christmas Decor
- Hemp & Organic Cotton Stockings
- Straw Star Topper
- Forest Friends 24-Pocket Advent Calendar (Organic Cotton)
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 much safer than others. And while you’re decorating for the holidays this year, be sure to check out our guide to non-toxic Christmas trees and our gift guide filled with TONS of organic gift ideas!