Many of us have been there. You’ve done everything you’re supposed to to keep your Christmas tree fresh and healthy: you’ve watered it, fed it, sang to it… Still, somehow, you haven’t managed to keep the dreaded needle drop at bay.
Now your tree is shedding its needles at an alarming rate, and you’re beginning to fear that you’ll have to open your presents under a bald tree on the 25th. What to do? And how to avoid this scenario from plaguing your holiday home in the future?
Cue the good old hairspray hack. Presumably, it goes like this: you spray your tree with hairspray and this will keep the needles in place. Sounds divinely simple and effective. But does this hack actually work, and should you attempt this Christmas tree care technique in your home? We’ve asked Christmas tree experts to weigh in on this issue.
Does hairspray stop pine needles from dropping?
The short answer is yes. This much-discussed hack not only works, but it has a legitimate study to back up its effectiveness. A group of Australian school kids, under the supervision of a researcher, tested out five popular methods for preserving Christmas trees, including the hairspray hack, for a month.
The findings were published in the Australian Journal of Botany and, remarkably, the hairspray trick came out on top, more effective than feeding trees energy drinks or submerging cut ends of branches in boiled water. Amazingly, the pine needles retained 90 percent of their ability to photosynthesize after 27 days.
How does hairspray work to stop pine needles from dropping? It blocks the stomata, or respiratory holes, in the needles, which allows the needles to retain more moisture longer.
Should you use hairspray to stop pine needles from dropping?
So, should you reach for that can of hairspray right now? The Christmas tree experts we spoke to are not so sure. Greg's Trees owner Greg Walsh agrees that the hairspray trick is a tried and tested way to preserve pine needles, but cautions people that 'it also turns the tree into an extreme fire hazard'. For that reason alone Greg does not recommend using hairspray to preserve your tree.
ISA-certified arborist and co-founder of Urban Forest Pro Lisa Tadewaldt is also cautious, admitting that she herself has not tried this method and believes that, 'It’s much more important to maintain the tree’s moisture from within by daily watering.'
The fire hazard concern is a very valid one. Most mainstream hairsprays contain alcohol as a solvent and polyvinyl acetate, both flammable ingredients. A Christmas tree that’s been sprayed with hairspray will be even more flammable than a regular Christmas tree and must be kept away from any source of open fire in your home, including candles. In fact, it’s good practice to do this anyway, if you’re not using any hairspray to preserve the needles.
Lisa Tadewaldt is the co-founder of Urban Forest Pro, a tree care company based in Portland, Oregon, U.S., and an ISA Certified Arborist.® Lisa has been in the tree care business for over 20 years and has established a great reputation as a tree care expert within the industry.
But by far the biggest hazard is the spraying itself. Aerosol hairspray contains gas (propane, butane, or the like) as propellant. Guess what happens if you spray propane near an open fire? A gas explosion. This could truly ruin your Christmas holiday by landing you with an expensive home repair bill, or worse, a personal injury. Make absolutely sure you’re nowhere near an open fire source when you’re doing the spraying.
Finally, hairspray can be harmful if inhaled in large quantities, especially if you have respiratory issues. It’s best to wear a mask when spraying your tree and to spray from a safe distance of about 8-10 inches (15-20 centimeters) away.
This isn’t necessarily to say that you shouldn’t use the method. Just be aware of the potential hazards and take appropriate precautions.
Greg Walsh has been in the tree business for over 30 years. Starting with a few friends, they brought their passion and love of Christmas to deliver beautiful Christmas trees to NYC.
What hairspray is best for your Christmas tree?
The great news is that you don’t need a fancy, expensive hair product for this purpose. What you do want is a hairspray that says ‘strong hold’ or ‘extra hold’ on it for best results. You can’t go wrong with the good old L'Oreal Elnett Satin Hairspray Extra Strong Hold hairspray, at Amazon. It does the job well, leaves a nice gloss on your needles, won’t leave a sticky residue, and doesn’t have a scent. On that note, avoid scented hairspray, unless you want your entire living room to smell of hairspray.
Wax sprays also work well on Christmas trees and are a good choice if you don’t want a shiny finish. Avoid anything that says ‘soft hold’ or ‘preservative free’ – you want the hold, and you want all the preservatives to help the needles stay fresh.
Alternatively, if you don't like the idea of using hairspray at all, you can try using a Christmas tree flocking spray, at Amazon. It will add a beautiful snow effect and will also help to preserve the needles. The ingredients in tree flocking or artificial snow sprays are, in fact, pretty similar to hairspray, with preservatives and acrylic resins helping to conserve moisture in the needles.
Can I use hairspray to preserve a wreath?
Yes! You can use any leftover hairspray to preserve a wreath made with real pine branches. It will also work to preserve any fresh flowers or berries you may be adding to your wreath. So, go ahead, and spray to your heart’s content. Your wreath should last all through the holiday season without shedding needles.
The research this hack is based on tested the freshness of pine needles after 27 days, so you can expect your needles to stay in place for about a month. Obviously, you should still keep watering your tree and avoid too much heat for best results.
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Anna K. Cottrell is now a freelance writer, having previously been a Content Editor for Future's homes titles. She writes about interior design, property, and gardening. On H&G, she specialized in writing about property – buying, selling, renting – sustainability and eco issues.
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