Washing after contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac

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 (allergic contact dermatitis) can be completely avoided by washing the affected areas with plenty of water within 10 or 15 minutes of contact. 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 and cannot be washed off.1

  • Water works well to neutralize or deactivate the plant oil (urushiol) and will keep it from spreading to other parts of your body or to other people. Also be careful to clean under the fingernails, where the oil can collect and spread easily.
  • Use a lot of plain water before showering with soap and water. Washing with soap or scrubbing too strongly right away may spread the oil.
  • Special products, such as Tecnu and Zanfel, are available to remove urushiol from your skin.

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 an allergic rash.

  • Wash or soak 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 with rubbing alcohol.
  • 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.

Citations

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

Last Updated: September 17, 2009

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