DIY Bottle Brush Trees for Vintage Christmas Decorations

You’ll never look at a toilet-bowl brush the same way again!

In the 1930s, Addis Brush Company, an American manufacturer of toilet bowl brushes, began dyeing bristles green and assembling them into artificial Christmas trees. These new artificial trees were especially popular in Britain, which had lost many of its trees during WWI.

In 2017 Nielsen conducted a survey for the American Christmas Tree Association. Results? Of the about 95 million households in the United States planning to display a Christmas tree last year, 81% were choosing artificial.

The history of the much smaller bottle brush trees used in Christmas displays for a century or more is a bit fuzzier. I remember them alongside decorative cardboard houses during my childhood in the 1960s. They were part of my mother’s decorations.

According to The Golden Glow of Christmas Past (, “Putz items, by true definition, were any figures or buildings that when displayed together, told the Biblical story of the birth of Christ. The term today is loosely used for any item that is used under a Christmas tree to create a Christmas ‘garden’ or ‘yard.’ Buildings, homemade or mass produced, composition figures and animals, bottle brush trees and any assortment of various accessories, possibly a toy train and usually a Nativity set at the heart of the display are just a few things that might spark one’s creativity when designing a ‘putz’ for under the tree.

“Displays under a tree were first photographed for Victorian postcards and a lot of times included gifts under the tree that were brought by Santa. Elaborate ‘putz’ scenes reached their heights in the 1940s and 1950s. Today you will generally find them under the trees of diehard collectors of antique Christmas items.”

Bottle brush trees today are popular not only in displays under trees but also across fireplace mantels and tabletop displays. I decided I wanted to get that vintage bottle brush tree look in some nontraditional colors in some displays this year. Enter bleach and dye! I chose teal and petal pink for use in the displays I had in mind.


2 buckets

rubber gloves

bleach (You might want to try Rit Color Remover. I haven’t tried it, but it looks pretty simple to use.)

liquid dye (I used Rit. They have a large variety of colors.)

hot water

2 large frosted bottle brush trees and 10-piece medium and small bottle brush frosted trees – #1065943 – $22.50 – available in-store or by contacting customer service

*Be sure to wear old clothes that won’t be ruined by an accidental splatter of bleach or dye.

*This really is a two-day project. Let the bleached trees dry well the first day and come back the next to dye them.

Do … 

Day 1

  1. With rubber gloves on your hands, fill a bucket about 3/4 full with equal parts hot water and bleach. (The size of your bucket will depend on the height of your tallest tree. You want to be able to dip it completely without bending it.)
  2. Submerse the tree into the bleach mixture. Soak the tree and swish it around slowly until the tree has lost all its color.

3. Set it aside to dry (standing upright if possible). If your branches clump a bit, this is the time while its still very wet to reshape it a bit.                                            4. Repeat until all your trees are bleached.

I really liked the minty green of our partially bleached tree and almost decided to leave it that color. But I couldn’t resist the dye and caved.

Day 2

  1. With rubber gloves on your hands and following the directions on your dye package (I used Rit liquid dye), mix dye and hot water to fill a bucket about 3/4 full.
  2. Submerse the tree into the dye mixture. Soak the tree and swish it around slowly until the tree reaches the depth of color you desire (longer for darker shades, shorter for lighter shades). You can also obtain an ombre look by submersing the tree at different levels for different lengths of time in the dye mixture.
  3. Set it aside to dry (standing upright if possible). If your branches clump a bit, this is the time while it’s still very wet to reshape it a bit. Remember that trees don’t grow perfectly so yours shouldn’t look that way either.
  4. Repeat until all your trees are dyed.

When your trees are completely dry, you can decorate them if you wish with glitter, sequins, beads, pearls, pom-poms, etc.

I was really pleased with the effects the dyed trees brought to my displays.

Try clustering our 20 LED Warm White Light Set With Sparkle Orbs or our Star 35 Twinkle Pure White LED Lights behind and around our blue nutcracker creates an icy, magical effect! Shop Bronner’s nutcrackers.

Select a light strand and wind it through a swag of your choice to bring texture and light to your display.

Bronner’s offers a larger selection of bottle-brush trees in-store for your decorating pleasure. They fit perfectly in an endless array of holiday displays.

My mind wandered to other colors and holidays … How about orange and purple or black and red for Halloween, a multitude of pastels for Easter and spring? Orange, red and yellow for autumn?

Whatever color palate you choose for your next display, please share photos of your dyed bottle brush trees with us on Facebook or Instagram.

Additional Featured Product:

Lighted Angel Wall Art – no longer available

Lighted Tree Wall Art – no longer available

Angel Figurine with Trumpet – no longer available

Angel Figurine with Book – no longer available

“The Night Before Christmas” Golden Book – $4.99 – available in-store or by contacting customer service

Blue Distressed Metal Truck – no longer available

Kurt Adler Polar Bear Nutcracker – no longer available

Ceramic tree

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