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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 soap (such as dishwashing soap) or rubbing alcohol. Rinse often, so that the soap or rubbing alcohol doesn't dry on the skin and make the rash worse. Use creek or stream water if you are outdoors.

  • 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 and Zanfel, are available to remove urushiol from your skin. A hand cleaner, such as Goop, 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

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised August 19, 2013

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