Toddler and Preschool  |  Infants  |  Christmas and Winter Holidays  |  Holiday and travel  |  Pet hazards

Christmas Tree Preservatives

The Bottom Line

Christmas tree preservatives aren't necessary. Commercial preservatives may cause stomach upset and vomiting in children and pets who swallow them. Home-made preservatives may contain ingredients that are harmful to children and pets.

The Full Story

From mid-November to mid-January, many children and pets crawl on the floor and sip from the Christmas tree stand. Parents and pet owners are often concerned if there is a Christmas tree preservative in the water.

Commercial preservatives typically contain some kind of fertilizer, some type of sugar, and perhaps fungicides. The amounts usually consumed by children, cats, and dogs are not poisonous. There may be some stomach upset and even vomiting, but no serious problems are expected.

Home-made preservative recipes contain anything from lemon-lime soda, sugar, and corn syrup, to aspirin, bleach, even whiskey. Some contain both bleach and vinegar or lemon juice; this combination can form a poisonous gas called chlorine. Aspirin is not recommended for children, even in non-toxic amounts, nor is it safe for many pets. Alcohol, in the form of whiskey or any other alcoholic beverage, can be dangerous for children if swallowed.

Bacteria can grow in the stagnant water in Christmas tree stands, whether commercial or home-prepared Christmas tree preservative solutions are used. Drinking a contaminated solution could cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in children and pets.

The National Christmas Tree Association recommends using ONLY plain water in tree stands – and plenty of it! These professional tree farmers specifically recommend against using anything other than plain tap water.

There are many reasons to keep children and pets away from Christmas trees. They could break or chew on ornaments, swallow tinsel, trip over light cords, or tip the tree and suffer an injury. It’s best to keep the tree behind a closed door or gate. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends keeping the bottom of the tree covered to minimize the chance of pets taking a drink.

If someone does drink from the Christmas tree stand, poison specialists are a phone call away. Call 1-800-222-1222 twenty-four hours a day, even Christmas day.

Take-Home Messages:

  • Christmas tree preservatives aren’t necessary.
  • Commercial preservatives may cause stomach upset and vomiting in children and pets who swallow them.
  • Home-made preservatives may contain ingredients that are harmful to children and pets.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist


For More Information

FAQs from the National Christmas Tree Association

How to Care for Your Farm-Grown Christmas Tree

Poisoned?

CALL 1-800-222-1222

Prevention Tips

Keep the trunk of your Christmas trees in plain water.

This Really Happened

A 70-lb dog knocked over the Christmas tree. His owner found the tree on the floor; the empty tree stand had contained water with a Christmas tree preservative in it. The dog was acting lethargic. His owner took him to the veterinarian who called Poison Control for toxicity and product information. Because the exact product was known, Poison Control was able to identify the ingredients. They were mostly water and sugar, with less than 2% other ingredients such as aluminum sulfate. Poison Control advised the veterinarian that no serious poisoning was expected.