Christmas Tree Clean-Up: Here's How to Tidily Take Down A Real Evergreen

Follow these five expert-approved tips and skip the mess this year.

Woman taking down christmas tree lights before taking down tree

What goes up, as they say, must come down. And when it comes to Christmas trees, the "down" part can be plenty messy if you opt for a real evergreen. Before you start pulling down lights and shaking off needles, check out these expert tips for neatly cleaning up and taking down your Christmas tree.

1. Remove the Ornaments

The first step to breaking down a tree is removing the ornaments. As you remove them, carefully wrap each one in tissue or packing paper, and place them in your storage box. Fill any unused space in your box with extra packing paper (or discarded gift wrap) to prevent movement, and be sure to place your most delicate ornaments on top (this will ensure that they are safely unpacked first).

2. Remove the Lights

When taking down string lights, start where you finished when putting them up, then work backwards. As you remove the lights, hold one end of the strand in your hand while wrapping it around your elbow, creating a large loop. Tie each looped light strand with a string, then place each in its own Ziploc bag and store together in a waterproof container.

3. Bag Up Your Tree

Believe it or not, this doesn't have to end with a living room covered in pine needles. If you're a planner, buy a Christmas tree removal bag before you set up your tree. These disposable bags fashion around the tree stand and hide under your tree skirt during the holidays. Then, when you're ready to remove the tree, you simply pull it up and tie it off at the top, creating a convenient trap for the needles. Once it's bagged up, remove the tree from the stand and carry it out of your house.

Opt for a Garbage Bag

If you don't remember to buy a tree-specific bag or would prefer a DIY method, try this trick from Kevin Urrita, the founder of Maid Sailors, a New York City-based cleaning service. "What we do is take a big garbage bag and put it around the top of the Christmas tree, then tie the bottom of the bag around the base," he says. "This will collect the pine needles when you flip over the tree and start moving it."

Try Using an Old Sheet

In place of a bag, you can also use an old sheet to contain needles.

  1. Place the sheet on the ground next to the tree.
  2. Siphon any water out of the tree stand with a turkey baster.
  3. Flip the entire tree, stand and all, sideways onto the sheet (trying to wrangle the tree out of the stand first will send needles flying).
  4. Once the tree is on the floor, tightly wrap the sheet around it, remove the stand, and carry it outside.

4. Dispose Responsibly

Before putting your tree out with the trash, research local recycling options first. In most residential areas, your curbside recycling program will pick up your tree, but only for a week or two after Christmas. (If you need help disposing after this, you may need to call for pick-up services).

Recycle the Trees

Once collected, these evergreens are "treecycled:" shredded and chipped into mulch, soil erosion barriers, and hiking trail material. However, be sure to remove the plastic bag or sheet first—these can't be processed along with the tree. If you are able to transport the tree yourself, check to see if your neighborhood has collection sites or events—you may even receive free mulch! For more information about recycling trees visit the National Christmas Tree Association or call 800-975-5920.

5. Sweep Up Needles

Don't run your vacuum over pine needles, as these can jam roller brushes and completely ruin some machines. Instead, use the hose or crevice attachment to suck up needles. Or skip the vacuum and use a rubber broom. The tough bristles are well-suited for corralling pesky needles, and can even dig them out of carpeting. For problem areas—think nubby upholstery and floorboard cracks—use a large lint roller or duct tape to remove stubborn needles, says Urrita.

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