How to Get Poison Ivy Off Your Skin and Avoid Getting it There in the First Place

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Anyone else gardening around poison ivy?

How to Remove Poison Ivy Oil on your Skin

I’ve been wondering what to do about the poison ivy in my garden, so clicked on this video about how to avoid the rash with great interest. It’s on a channel called “Extreme Deer Habitat,” which seems to be for hunters. (So if you don’t want to see photos of dead deer, don’t browse the channel.)

In the video he demonstrates the efficacy of 3 products in removing poison ivy oil (urushiol) and concludes that what’s far most important is shrubbing. He illustrates the point by using grease, which we can see, unlike the invisible PI oil.

Sounds reasonable, but does he know what he’s talking about? For the answer I go to the Garden Professors Blog FB group (now with over 23,00 members worldwide!) and search the name “Tecnu,” and found lots of members familiar with the same research illustrated in the video. Excellent!

Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine compared Tecnu, (a chemical inactivator), Goop (an oil remover) and Dial ultra dishwashing soap (a surfactant) against no treatment and found these percentage reductions in the amount of urushiol left on the body, compared to no treatment.

  • Tecnu – 70%
  • Goop – 62%
  • Dial – 52 %

While Tecnu was the best, the difference wasn’t determined to be statistically significant, so probably not worth paying more for it.

Other suggestions from commenters at the Garden Professors group:

  • One wrote “Scrub, scrub, scrub,” but another cited a new source saying too vigorous may make the impending rash worse!
  • Someone with repeated exposure to tons of PI wrote that she uses Tecnu pre- and post-treatment products, with great results. (I couldn’t find a Tecnu pre-treatment product, just a “pre-contact” product called IvyX.)
  • Wash with COLD water.
  • Use a harsh soap like Fels Naptha.
  • Use a degreasing detergent like Dawn.
  • Scrub with a fingernail brush.
  • If you already have a rash, the only effective treatment is with Clobetisol, available by prescription only.

How to Avoid Skin Contact when Removing Poison Ivy

I have poison ivy in my garden in spots like this one, where somehow it’s arose from a thick patch of Sedum takesimense, as well as in other wilder spots around town that I’m still trying to tame. But when I’m out weeding I avoid dealing with the damn stuff because I don’t have a plan for keeping it away from my skin.

But then a friend told me about a simple but safe way she removes PI using 2-3 plastic bags. I looked for a video about it and the top results show a full hazmat suit contraption that may require a second person’s help: googles, taping of pants and gloves, etc. There’s one by This Old House and this video by Pesky Pete Barron.

“Survivalist Gardener”

Another search result on YouTube was “How to Kill Poison Ivy on One Day – Without Poisonous Chemicals” by “Survivalist Gardener,” who naturally recommends copious spraying with vinegar. 

Moving on, how about something simpler, when you just need to remove the occasional bit of PI in the border?

On a channel about “drought-proof urban gardening” I found this video about PI that demonstrates the exact plastic bag/disposable glove process I was looking for, starting at 6:32.

Using Google, I found some answers in text-only:

Readers, what do YOU do about poison ivy in your garden?

9 COMMENTS

  1. Well the plastic bag method is very familiar to all of us dog owners who have been inverting plastic bags over dog poop for years. If you can keep poop of your hands, you can probably be as successful with PI. Thanks for the post!

  2. We’ve used empty bread bags for years to pick the occasional PI plant out of the gardens. The bags are long enough so stray leaves aren’t creeping up your sleeves (that you failed to tape up) and a good re-use for one of the many single use plastics out there.

  3. My husband and I used the same “plastic bag dance” that you describe.

    I learned about it at Mike McGrath’s “You Bet Your Garden” podcast’s Question of the Week archive at https://www.gardensalive.com/product/poison-ivy-problems-pulling-is-the-way-to-go.

    He recommends just cold water or rubbing alcohol followed by cold water. No matter what is used, make sure to clean off the bottle and fawcet. We just used the water, and it worled well with no rash.

    Hope this helps!

  4. I am the horticulture person for my city’s dog park association, and PI removal is something I routinely do. The dogs don’t get PI, but they get the oils on their fur and their owners get it from touching them! I often pull it using disposable gloves over my garden gloves. I sometimes resort to triclopyr, if it’s growing among nice natives I don’t want to disturb. I focus the spray inside a plastic milk jug with the bottom cut off, and a circular opening cut out of the top. As for vinegar, I seriously doubt that a 20% solution of 5% vinegar will do anything more than annoy the poison ivy! Horticultural vinegar is 20% strength, used full strength, and it only kills the top growth, not the roots. Not a definitive solution, to say the least! I found the strategy of rubbing down with a washcloth after slathering on Dawn to be a very useful tactic–I will definitely try that!

  5. We’ve used tecnu for years and have found it effective. I apply techu to dampened skin and work up a lather. It’s never a very sudsy. I scrub with only my hands for a minute or so then use luke-cool/ slightly warm water to rinse. Rinse well and rinse again. Often when weeding I come across PI seedlings or bits that have gotten away from me. I don’t wear gloves to garden. I have found if I grab the PI at ground level it usually pulls out fairly well and I pull following the trailing vine if present. I only use 2 or 3 fingers for grasping and then work my hands down into to the soil or take a handful and rub it between my hands. Removal of the oil is essential and the dirt rub has worked well enough that I don’t worry much about getting PI. If there has been a lot of contact with PI I will use tecnu when I get in. I am allergic but not unusually so.

  6. I don’t know about safely removing the PI plants, but I never let my medicine cabinet be without a box of DOMEBORO astringent powder, available in any drug store. Mix it up like a thick baking powder paste and dab it on at the first inking of an itch. It doesn’t sting, doesn’t stain clothing. Dab it on as often as you want and you’ll it is dries out the poison ivy. Keeps it from spreading. Hallelujah! I am very allergic so the Domeboro is like magic!

  7. I’ve been using the plastic bag method for years. I also carry a small bottle of bleach ( I know it is harsh) to wipe down my hands, legs, etc if I’ve gotten into a large patch of it. I also carry alcohol to wipe off my tools and wristwatch (for those of us who still wear a watch), boots. When I get home I wash with brown soap and my clothes are washed with soap and bleach if the can handle it. I know it sounds like a lot, but the oils can persist on tools, shoes, etc. I have had only very minor reactions if at all.

  8. I use the plastic bag method with the bags my newspaper come in (yes, I still get a newspaper–though I don’t wear a watch 🙂 ) I always have a container of wet wipes on hand and scrub off with one of those in case I touch a PI without gloves by accident. I think the alcohol in the wet wipes is helpful.

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