why oh why did our christmas tree turn yellow?

yellow christmas tree

It’s a tragedy. It’s a mystery. It’s a crying shame: Our artificial white Christmas tree turned an unfortunate shade of yellow. Of course, a white Christmas tree is meant to imply (okay maybe only half convincingly) that it is a green tree covered in a fresh dusting of pristine snow. But if it has suddenly become splotchy with yellow, what does that imply? Don’t answer that – I think we all know.

To our knowledge there are no animals to “leave their mark” in our basement where the tree has been stored for the last year. Our mistake: we didn’t cover it. But we didn’t cover it last year, and this didn’t happen. So I have been left to theorize. Readers of this blog know that I am terrified of our unfinished basement. No matter how many bare lightbulbs Rob has tried to rig up, it’s still dark. It’s cobwebby. It’s never been wet down there but, like many basements, it does have a bit of a dank-ish scent. Though the stairs are solid, they do have a creepy creek. This is all to say that I avoid the place as much as possible.

While I was ignoring the tree down there, thinking it was on deck and ready to make it’s third annual appearance in our living room, it was transforming into something…something straight-up unsightly and somewhat gross.

tree in basement

I’d posit that it’s a simple matter of dust build-up, but no amount of rubbing at the branches changes the situation. Clearly some kind of chemical reaction has occurred. Here are some hypotheses:

  • Did he get a suntan from the nearby window?
  • Overheated/burned by the furnace? (Which is not that nearby; we’re not complete idiots.)
  • Radon poisoning?
  • Jaundice?
  • Spider pee?
  • Coffee addiction? After all, the same thing is gradually happening to my formerly white teeth.
  • Spontaneous case of self-antiquing?

A quick internet search revealed that we are not alone. Sounds like it’s pretty common for white plastic to turn yellow and there is little you can do about it. Some suggest trying to scrub it with vinegar, others suggest spraying it with fake snow. Neither of those things were likely to happen at this point, so after this sad discovery we ordered another tree online, and got a cover for it. Granted, the concept of having a fake tree is an attempt to be a bit environmentally conscious – to keep one less tree (or thirty, over the years) from getting chopped down. I love the smell and the look of a real tree, but I also like the retro-vibe of white and colored ones. Of course, now we’ll unfortunately be putting one in a landfill. Feeling guilty about this. (But I’d also feel bad subjecting Santa to that yellowing mess, too. He shouldn’t have to look at that.)

The good news is that new tree has arrived, and it’s white as freshly, fallen snow. Rob set it all up and I did the trimming. There are few things I enjoy more than busting out the ornaments, and thinking about all the kind folks who have given them to us over the years.

white tree day

I love how the tree reflects off our picture window.

white tree reflection

And I especially love how it looks from the street, through the trees, as I drive home from work at night.

tree from street

With any luck (and I often am this lucky) the fire-place is a-blazing and a warm, delicious dinner is almost done. Cozy epitomized. Gotta love this time of year.


Do you have any theories why our tree turned yellow? Has this ever happened to you? Do you think the cover is going help? Please advise.

73 replies

    • Just made the unfortunate discovery. My tree was stored in the box, in the attic. Husband’s first guess was dust, which I quickly dismissed. My first guess was heat, since we live in the deep south & have a metal roof. But I looked at the needles and there is too much consistency, roughly 50% of the needles have turned completely “tan”. No splotchy-ness, no darkening at the tips, just uniform color. I think they were programed to self-destruct after “X” amount of years. Mine was dated Nov. 2006. I guess seven years is a pretty good run for a $40 product. Hopefully whatever chemical reaction that turned those needles from white to tan didn’t have an adverse affect on us!

      • This would be our third year for our white Christmas tree. Last year when I got it out the inside branches which were different than the outside branches were turning yellow so, my sister-in-law told me to get it out about a month early and set it outside in the sun and see if that helped it. When I got it out last week, it was tan and looked awful. I am setting it out and will see if it helps. She had some white garland that did the same thing but she still used it outside and she said the sun restored it back to white…we will see if if works!

  1. i must say the yellow looks pretty pathetic. i thought you were going to work some magic with it and own that yellow (which could have been fun), but i’m glad you went with a new white, it’s GORGEOUS! i love how it looks in that window. so festive. happy holidays!!!!

    • Thanks, yup, the frugal fanny in me wanted to figure out how to “salvage” (your word), but I just don’t have it in me right now…hopefully we can preserve this one a little better… 🙂

  2. Sadly any white plastic will eventually give way to some yellowing. It’s sort of like the white t-shirt phenomenon where your super crisp white t-shirts after a season start resembling a car wash rag. Maybe it decided to get a tan. Let’s go with that. The new one looks awesome! I am all for spying in peoples windows with attention getting Christmas decorations.

    • I know, it’s the only time of year when you WANT people to see in your window!

      If that’s a tan, then maybe some 45 SPF sunscreen will work this time around?? You KNOW I’m “this close” to busting out some XXL sunglasses for him 🙂

    • So, if we left the white tree up all yearin our room where it was put out for Christmas it would still turn yellow? I’ve had 4 white trees because I love therapy the ornaments pop on them but each one turned yellow. The longest lasting was my Martha Stewart white tree. I got 4 years out of that one. Why can’t they make a white Christmas tree that won’t turn??

  3. OH man!…. even fake trees die. Who knew? Clearly a two-toned Christmas tree is a little strange, so always best to start “fresh”. LOVE the new snowy white tree and how pretty it looks all lit up in the window.

    I do believe storing it in a box or sealed bag will help. I think it’s probably air and light that do that…. so putting it in tree hibernation will most likely prevent the yellowing. (just a guess) We have several aluminum trees that we keep in rubbermaid boxes and each individual branch has it’s own cover. So far so good.

    “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”!!!

    • I know, disappointing – put this in the “things I didn’t expect” file.

      Yes, I hope you’re right – we are going to seal this sucker up this time for some serious hibernation 🙂

      Hoping you’re going to share your aluminum trees and other holiday decorations??

      • I put my white tree up and I am telling anyone who comments about the color that, Santa put it in his sleigh for some fun and got it dirty.

      • I think it’s interesting that every single, well almost every single branch of the tree turns yellow at exactly the same time . It does appear to be a chemical reaction of some kind. I had my tree 3 years kept it in the original box taped it and for 3 years it was beautiful . Fourth year it turned yellow !! I bought a new white tree last year and this year it was fine. I’m wondering if storing it in your home where room temperatures are adjusted if that would make a difference??

    • I have a beautiful white pre-lit tree with pastel lights and I had it in a box and then in a christmas tree plastic storage zipped and it still turned yellow, it’s awful and such ashame because it was very expensive and made well. I can’t even paint it because of the lights.

      • I read somewhere that some people put the trees that turn brownish yellow on their porch for decoration. Putting it outside excuses the dirty effect.

  4. Urban legend re: white plastic Christmas tree color changes –
    (1) Stays white – Santa will visit as normal
    (2) Turns green – You will win power ball (you must split with whoever told you about the urban legend or it won’t come true)
    (3) Turns black – Coal in your stocking (irreversible)
    (4) Turns yellow – The stage just before black. You may have a chance to turn your year around & get tree back to white – many expensive gifts to friends & family is probably your only chance.

  5. ummm, white spray paint? Bleach? Ick! But a new tree was deff the way to go. Love the reflection in window effect. You know, real green trees go yellow brownish too, perhaps the white needles would have fallen off and you would have had just spindly branches?

    Cover, cover, cover girl. All things in the world below. 🙂

  6. LOL… I vote for jaundice. Or maybe a longing to return to his/her more colorful roots… but the secret smoking suggested above seems possible too.

    I have to say that your basement seems WAY less scary than ours. And you have that nice window. I hate to think how you would judge ours… dungeon-like, probably.

    Nothing prettier than a lit-tree in the window. 🙂

    • Yes, we are lucky we have a basement window and a sliding glass door on the other half…bodes well for future re-finishing (which is the fantasy). But basements have scared me since I was a little kid – and the one I grew up with was finished beautifully!

      BTW, when pulling out my Christmas stuff I found my “disco” Christmas tree – a cone about 18 inches tall and very mirror-y – Hubs got it for me our first Christmas together. It’s now on our mantle – you would be so proud 🙂

  7. Uh oh.. I didn’t know this could happen. And – we just got our white tree last year, which means this is my first chance to experience a yellowing-white tree. Fingers crossed that ours wasn’t inspired by yours. 🙂

    The new one looks great, though!

    • Paperwork in the tree’s box indicates you must cover the tree very well in plastic during storage. I thought I did all that and it is yellowish anyway. I tried to return it but no store would take it back. Maybe we should write to Martha Stewart since it is a Martha tree.

  8. I’m sorry, but the pee jokes are just too numerous and obvious, so I’ll keep them to myself since I’m interacting with polite society. My vote for the cause of the yellowing, clearly the tree exfoliated too soon after using tan-in-a-can.

  9. I have had a total of four white table top Christmas trees over the years and they have all turned yellow!! I have tried several things to keep them white but nothing works. Last year I covered it with plastic and left it in a sunny spot in the basement and it stayed white so far but this tree is only four years old. Keeping it in the sunlight is the best method so far as the sunlight bleaches it and keeps it from turning that sick yellow. I tried spraying one white but it looked awful and ended up outside that year. Good luck with your new tree!

  10. I’ve gone through several white trees in the last few years. I believe a higher quality (i.e. more expensive) tree lasts longer. But they have all turned yellow at some point. The tree I bought last year looked brown when I opened the box this year. It was sealed in a rubbermaid container all year. Our tree resides in a sunroom. I believe the sun somehow breaks down the chemicals in the plastic branches and they just simply turn yellow or brown. It’s really annoying and getting expensive to have to buy a new tree every year.

    • This. Our Martha tree died because of the sun! The side that faced the window went uniformly yellow. It’s not even a nice enough cream color to dress up, it looks like it spent a decade with a chain smoker.

  11. I just put up my two tone tree…I had a beautiful pre-lit tree that I stored ever year. First went the lights, so we removed those last year (God Bless my husband and snips.) Then, there were a few yellow spots so I chose not to put it indirect sunlight, agreeing with Jerry Doll above. It still looked great but then came this year. The entire middle section has yellowed (the primary recipient of my past years of sitting in my front window, part of the lower section, and the lower parts of the topper. I definitely think the sun, more specifically, the heat from the sun, has done this. Further, white plastic does not respond well to heat, so I think my beautiful little twinkle lights have contributed their heat to my yellow tree. It looks great at night and I am not going to buy a new one this year (I have to replace our older green faux tree since branches are coming off of it…) I am going to attempt to flock it once Christmas is over and I can have a warmer (but not smoking hot) day up here in Colorado (where I am a mile closer to the sun and its tanning rays.)

  12. Nope – I store my artificial white tree in the box it came in and after 2 years (maybe 3), it has turned yellow. Maybe I should get a green one??

  13. Our tree is fresh out of the box and already has a few yellowish branches already! This is very discouraging. Our last white tree lasted 3 years before going yellow. All our ornaments are gold, silver, crystal and bronze and really look best on a white tree… I am frustrated as are most of the others who have left comments.

  14. I know this is an old post, but did you store it in a cardboard box? Cardboard will eventually start to stain the tree…. When storing your new tree, line the box with white trash bags, and put a box of baking soda in the box with it. Hope this helps!

  15. My tree was stored in a box, but just the bottom part. The middle to top part of the tree had a tarp covering it. It is about 3 years old and this is the first year I have noticed yellowing, I think I’m gonna go ahead and decorate it and just hope nobody notices. I will try after Christmas to clean it. It is one of many trees I have…so it is no big deal. I must say though that it was a “cheap” tree……not sure if the expensive white trees yellow or not.

    • So, I flocked my tree this year and while it helped with the yellow, it is not pristine white and decorating it has been frustrating to say the least (I had to put a tarp down to catch all the paint falling off from the flocking). I am calling it antique white and while it is in the window this year, next year I am buying an unlit white tree, using LED lights, and putting it away from direct sunlight.

  16. I bought a very expensive white tree last year (fortunately it was on sale) and after Christmas, re-wrapped it in the original bubble wrap, placed it back in the box, taped the box shut, and then put it in the back of my office closet (a dry cool place). Yesterday I took it out and it looks like a chain smoker was in the box with the tree. The interesting thing to note is that none of the plastic branches faded, only the heavier paper consistency “filler” branches. My theory is they are made of paper so they are going to fade but it should not look that bad after one year. It is not a total loss, but the tree does have a three year limited warranty and I still even have the original paperwork from inside the box so am going to call the company for some type of resolution.
    If I do buy another white tree I will more closely inspect the material the tree is made of. Good luck everyone. I just have to wonder if everyone was hit with the same amount of disbelief and shock at seeing their faded yellow trees. I felt like Ralphie when he learned that his secret Little Orphan Annie decoder ring message was “Be Sure to Drink your Ovaltine”

  17. I bought my white tree maybe 3-4 years ago and first noticed it’s brown tint last year. I blamed it on my down stairs neighbor who has a giant black smoker grill on his balcony and as I kept the tree, in the box I bought it in, stored in a storage closet on my balcony I assumed his smoke had gotten to my tree. However, after storing the tree in a closet inside my apartment away from said smoke I unboxed it this year and the browning is worse, so I suppose it must be as someone else wrote and it’s the nature of white plastic. I see you wrote this a couple of years ago so I have to ask if you’ve noticed any “yellowing” of your new tree?

    • Hi Gary, as a matter of fact, yes, the new tree has yellowed and it was stored in a special xmas tree bag. We put it up anyway and we were able to hide most of the yellow in the back. But I must say, this blog post is TRENDING right now, so it is pretty clear that this is a thing! Not sure where we will go from here, assuming that this is just inevitable with white trees – I really do prefer white for our house…but we’ll see. 🙂

  18. I have had my tree 2 years and i set it up for easter and it was white, got it out friday and it was mostly yellow. i got white vinegar, sprayed it straight, and set it in the sun, it’s much more white again than it was on friday, will be keeping it outside all week hoping it goes back to white. mine was kept in a garage in a plastic box.

  19. I just put my “yellowed” white tree on the front porch and turned it on at night as an outdoor decoration. My porch had a roof to protect it from rain and it still looked pretty at night.

  20. We have two white trees a 6.5 ft and a smaller one I use in my kitchen. They have both turned a brownish color. After reading all these posts about everyone white tree. I think it is from the heat. But it may be just the plastic breaking down on the tree. It’s a shame when you want a white tree.

  21. I contacted the manufacturer, Balsam Hill about my white tree turning brown. I was told that any exposure to ultra violet rays will cause the white needles to turn brown. My tree was placed in a window with UVA and UVB protection and even the low amounts of sunlight for only about an hour a day was enough to cause the tree to turn brown. There is nothing that can be done to correct the problem except get a new white tree and keep it away from windows and sunlight.

  22. Have just been on the Internet in regards to this very problem after taking down my white tree last night. Can’t believe how yellow some branches look and it’s only 3 or 4 years old. I’ve always stored it correctly- wrapped and boxed in a dry dark cupboard, and put up throughout December well away from windows and sunlight. The last thing on the minds of most in the UK during the summer months (well what little we have) is getting the darn thing out to white vinegar spray and lighten it by the sun out in the garden and come the time Christmas might be on our minds the weather is usually lousy. So wanted to be a bit more unique after years of having a common green one but it’s seriously put me off. So tempted to going back to getting boring green again- it can’t look as bad as a white tree with a bad nicotine habit. Such a shame.

    • I had same issue. I sprayed tree with white vinegar and put tree out on patio in sun during whole month of November and it turned white again. I live in Florida so sun was pretty intense so not sure how it will work in colder climates.

  23. My white tree had branches that turned a yellowish-tan color. I put it outside on the patio in the sun during the month of November and it turned white again. I live in Florida so the sun is pretty intense, even in November, so not sure if it will work in colder, cloudier locations.

  24. Everyone is talking about the tree yellowing. I want to know if anyone knows how to store a flocked tree so it will not turn yellow

  25. Same here, but I stored mine in a Rubbermaid container and it yellowed. The next tree was stored in only the original box in my closet and lasted 3 years. I purchased another last week and I have not opened the box yet. When this one turns, I will look for one of those old time silver aluminum ones!

    • Mine did the same thing this year ur not alone i even had mine stored in a tote in the basement so i dont think a cover will help

  26. I stored my white tree back in its original box. It turned yellow. I still use it. I put it our in the screened porch. I will get a green one

  27. This happens to all of the white ones. Between myself and my parents we have gone through 4. Each were stored differently. In an attic, garage and shed. One was just boxed, one was wrapped. Certain parts of these white trees are made of a slightly different material and only those sections turn yellow or dark. I would also suggest the fake snow spray. Did anyone try the sunshine idea?

    • I have not tried this idea yet but I think it might work (my white tree is yellow in spots too). When I finished being married in my white wedding dress i took it to the cleaners. They packed my dress and wrapped in in a blue plastic. The blue paper or plastic is supposed to prevent the dress from yellowing or turning (worse) dingy. Maybe someone could try it for the tree!

  28. My 2 white trees, one 6 foot , one small table top one were in a sealed boxes under the bed, both turned brown, so…nothing to do with light, heat, dust, etc. ugh sounds like they will brown no matter where/how you store them. The large one did not brown til like the 4th year, I threw it out. The small one I put in the box white after last Xmas, just opened it to put it and and it has yellowed/browned, lasted 2 years. I will try the sun or vinegar and sun trick, I’m in FL.

  29. I have a $200. White tree, kept it in the box it came in and stored it in the attic, it has lasted 4 years, not sure what to do, love the white tree , but that is to expensive to replace every 4 years

  30. I had a white tree for almost 9 years and gave it’s last bit in 2013 from the yellowing, I had it in a plastic green tree bag which didn’t help. I purchased another one in 2013 and the salesperson told me to wrap it in a white sheet when storing it and place in a dark place back in the box. So I have done that for the last 3 years. Lo and behold I open my box today and the middle sections are yellow on the branches, not every one but definitely you can tell the difference. The tree had a 4 year warranty on it (only the green tree). The white tree said 1 year (which I did not see until I just read the directions again). So, does that tell you something. It is definitely what they use for the branches. So, this will probably be my last year for a white tree. This one cost me $249 on sale in 2013. I can’t keep replacing them every 3 to 4 years. Too bad because the white tree goes great with my living room. They also told me not to place in direct sunlight. Well, mine is in the window but I have vertical blinds and I don’t let the sun in for the whole day, I turn the blinds. At night I open them more so outside could see the tree lit. They need to figure something out. I would spray it white, but don’t think that will work.

    • Lololol! Don’t think I’ll try the paint then! I also never had my tree in the sun. It was in a corner of my living room that doesn’t get direct sun. Don’t think I’ll ever buy another white one. Paid $300 for it! Ridiculous

  31. Mine did the same thing this year ur not alone i even had mine stored in a tote in the basement so i dont think a cover will help

  32. Just bought a white flocked tree this year, expensive, even on sale. Wish I knew about the yellowing factor, I would have stayed with green. Had a small one that did that, but had been stored in a storage shed during the summer. I live in FL. Well, we shall see what happens when I store it. Will stay in the house, but from what I am hearing, this doesn’t work either.

  33. Well at least I feel good that everyone here came to the conclusion that is just happens. My white artificial tree was put away neatly stored in its box and taped up, opened the box tonight and what a shock, completely yellow, almost as if it were peed on, which wasn’t possible. I’m glad I found this post or I would still be forever smelling my tree trying to figure this out.

  34. I have had this happen to three different white trees. I refused to throw out the latest one. I saw online to spray it with bleach cleaner and hose it down. After it dried in the sun, I sprayed it with a light coat of white spray paint. It isn’t perfect, but looks a lot better. Mine were all stored in boxes in the interior closet when yellowing occurred.

  35. I guess I’m glad I’m not the only one this has happened to, but it doesn’t help my situation. The first white tree I got turned yellow after only one year. I thought it was due to storing it in our hot attic, in it’s original box, all taped up. So I bought a new one and sure enough, this one is 50% yellow/tan after one year as well. I stored the 2nd one in a bedroom closet where the temperature was constant and comfortable. Didn’t matter. So I guess I’ll buy the cheap ones each year and toss them. Seems like an expensive decoration! But I just love our white tree in the window! It’s weird how only certain branches have the discoloration??? Looks as if it got smoked on one side. The manufacturers are making a fortune if everyone is only getting a year or two our of them. Conspiracy? Haha

  36. I ordered my white tree nearly 5 years ago from Treetopie & kept it inside the green Christmas zip bag it arrived in. Hadn’t taken it out of the storage room which had A/C & no sun light. Well when I took it out it was now TAN. I called Treetopia to let them know that the tree was defected but figured there was nothing they would do for me. To my astonishment I had a 5 year warrantee which would expire in 25 days so they sent me a new one!!! Good to know in the future.

  37. I paid $300 for. White flocked tree last year before Christmas! Stored it out of the sun in a tree bag on a shelf in my storage building and mine and a friend that were bought at the same time are turning brownish yellow! This is ridiculous to pay that much and have this happen

  38. I know why they turnbrownish yellow…. They must be kept out of direct sunlight or any light while being stored…This happened to ours..The part of the tree that was exposed to the light of the window turned it brown…We wrapped it in a black plastic garbage bag and it didn’t happen again…These white trees do not do well in front of a window…My theory is that the branches are originally a yellowy plastic and they are coated white..This coating breaks down in the sunlight…Look at the top of the tree in the picture…The only part of mine that turned brown was the part exposed to the window…. I keep the blinds shut in front of my new tree…..

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