Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac: Tips for Washing

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.

  • Wash right away with plenty of water. If you can, use liquid dish soap or a mild soap and very warm running water.
  • Do not scrub hard when you wash.

    Scrubbing too hard can irritate the skin. Also, be careful to clean under the fingernails, where the oil can collect and spread easily.

  • Rinse often.

    This can prevent the soap from drying your skin and making the rash worse. Use creek or stream water if you are outdoors.

  • Consider using special products.

    Products like Tecnu and Zanfel can help remove the plant's oil from your skin. A hand cleaner, such as Goop, also may help.

  • Wash your pet.

    If your pet was in an 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.

  • Clean clothing and other items.
    • 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.

The oil from the plant 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 oil to the skin and possibly cause a rash.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: November 15, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine