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Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac: Tips for Washing

Topic Overview

If you have contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, immediately wash areas of the skin that may have touched the plant. Sometimes the resulting rash (contact dermatitis) can be completely avoided by washing the affected areas with plenty of water and a mild soap. Use creek or stream water if you are outdoors. By 30 minutes after contact with the plant, most of the oil has been absorbed into your skin.1 But you may still be able to reduce the extent of the rash by washing affected skin up to 2 hours after contact.

  • Do not scrub hard when you wash, so you don't irritate the skin. Also, be careful to clean under the fingernails, where the oil can collect and spread easily.
  • Special products, such as Tecnu, are available to remove urushiol from your skin. A hand cleaner, such as Worx, also may help.
  • If your pet was in a area where poison ivy, oak, or sumac grows, you may want to wash your pet with water and a mild soap to make sure the oil doesn't spread. For example, you could get the oil on your hands by petting a dog that has urushiol oil on its fur.

Urushiol can remain active on clothing and other items for many months, especially in dry climates. If these items are not cleaned properly, handling them can spread the urushiol to the skin and possibly cause a rash.

  • Wash all clothing, shoes, and other items that had contact with the plant or with a person who touched the plant.
  • Clean surfaces such as camping gear, gardening tools, and sporting equipment.
  • Wear vinyl or cotton gloves when handling or washing items that have touched poison ivy. Thin rubber (latex) gloves offer no protection, because urushiol can penetrate rubber.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Gladman AC (2006). Toxicodendron dermatitis: Poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 17(2): 120–128.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised October 28, 2011
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