Family, Personal Improvement 

How to Treat Poison Ivy – And Kill It If You Know Where It Is

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Poison IvyOne of the staple of summer, it seems, is poison ivy. Whether you stumble upon it while camping, or whether you’ve got a problem with it on your property, poison ivy can cause a great deal of discomfort. Your reaction to poison ivy depends largely on your body chemistry, and how it responds to urushiol, an oily resin common to poison ivy, as well as to poison sumac and poison oak.

Reactions to poison ivy vary. My husband is quite sensitive to poison ivy. He breaks out in severe rashes when he comes in contact with it. I, on the other hand, am not as sensitive. While contact will produce some discomfort, it is not usually the full-blown rash my husband experiences. In most cases, poison ivy isn’t a serious problem. However, you will want to treat it as best you can to alleviate the discomfort until the symptoms subside.

How Do You Know If You Have Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy is marked by a rash that includes redness and itching for most people. More severe symptoms can include swelling and blisters. Depending on the way you brush up against the plant, you might have a rash in a straight line, or it might be spread out. You can receive a poison ivy rash from rubbing against clothing or pet fur that has the urushiol on it.

You are likely to see a rash 12 to 48 hours after your exposure. This is one of the reasons that it can be hard to go back and eradicate the poison ivy; you might not remember right where you were when you had the exposure. Depending on how much exposure you end up with, you rash can last up to eight weeks. Realize that you won’t get a rash unless the urushiol from the poison ivy directly contacts with your skin. Bursting blisters won’t cause the spread of poison ivy. The biggest worry you have is causing an infection as germs get into the scratches you make as you scratch.

Treating Poison Ivy

You can treat poison ivy through self-care. Some of the home-based remedies for poison ivy (and poison sumac and poison oak) include:

  • Oatmeal bath
  • Cool compress
  • Over-the-counter anti-itch creams and medications

Remember that you are just treating the symptoms. The rash will go away on its own eventually. If you have a severe reaction, especially if blisters occur, see a doctor. He or she can prescribe appropriate medications. This is especially important if you develop an infection.

Getting Rid of Poison Ivy

If you know where the poison ivy plants are located, you can work to get rid of them. The best way to get rid of poison ivy is to pull it up by the roots. Make sure you are properly protecting your skin before you begin. And realize that you won’t want to touch the portion of your gloves that touched the plants.

Another method is smother the poison ivy. Cut it back, close to the ground, and then cover it with mulch, newspapers, old carpeting, tarps, or other items. Eventually, the poison ivy will die, and it will be easier to pull out the roots. Understand that the urushiol is still present on the plants, though.

Finally, you can use herbicides to kill poison ivy. Ortho Brush-B-Gon and Roundup are both effective in killing poison ivy and other similar plants. Just be aware that it will kill everything else it comes in contact with as well, so you don’t want to spray it on plants you like.

Warning: Never, ever, under any circumstance, burn poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Not only can your skin be coated in the urushiol, but you can also inhale it in this form, causing problems with your respiratory system.

(Photo: Mark Sardella)

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13 Responses to “How to Treat Poison Ivy – And Kill It If You Know Where It Is”

  1. I subscribe to a couple personal finance blogs and I enjoyed a post on ‘life’ – its a nice change…

    Oddly I’ve never had an issue with poison ivy, but poison oak is my nemesis.

  2. Shirley says:

    A firefighter friend inhaled urushiol filled smoke in a forest fire and ended up with poison oak blisters in his mouth. That took several Dr visits and Rx meds to clear up/get through.

  3. Michael says:

    I live in the Northeast where poison ivy is common and blends in with the summertime ground cover. Having dealt with it before and being sensitive enough where I look at it and get a rash, I’ve found two ways to deal with it.

    1. If on a vine on a tree, cut the vine near the ground in two places leaving a 1′ gap. Allow it to die and dry for about a year, once the leaves have dried, the vines can be safely removed from the tree without pulling up the bark.

    2. If near the ground get a sprayer of a broadleaf herbicide with a dye marker. The dye will allow you to paint the leaves knowing that you hit the ivy without hitting anything else. You also are using the least about of herbicide to get the job done (and for us guys it’s like a video game, shooting the bad guys:)
    The leaves will dry up in about a month, and manual removal is either straightforward or may not be needed.

    I’ve seen where removal of the live full plants gives a really bad dose of rash to the person removing it even with precautions, so killing it and allowing it to dry before any removal is a really good idea.

    Hope this helps.


  4. zapeta says:

    My way of dealing with poison ivy is to stay indoors. 🙂

  5. Matt M says:

    I find that it is not worth it to kill poison ivy plants around my house as there are so many plants in the woods and other places you have no control of.
    A good tip is to wash skin with soap and water as soon as possible after exposure to poison ivy.

  6. Ann says:

    I get it every spring when cleaning out my yard. An inexpensive weed killer I’ve used is apple cider vinegar, combined with salt and a little dishwashing liquid (see internet for recipes). Spray it on entire plant every day till it dies (works with one dose on normal weeds). Agree with other person about washing immediately after coming inside from working in yard. I also follow up with a little rubbing alcohol just in case…

  7. Joannie says:

    Another way to aleviate the spread and rash caused by posion oak is to bath immediately using Fels Naptha soap. It’s the only soap known to truely remove the poison. Also, use it in the wash when cleaing clothes and gloves that have the poison on it. Fels Naptha has a helpful site about what to do.

  8. Seth says:

    If this would have come out a week earlier…

    It’s horrible stuff. I had it bad enough it was keeping me up at night scratching.

  9. Seth says:

    Oh, by the way, I recently read an alternative to using herbicides/harsh chemicals for killing weeds. Apparently pouring boiling water on weeds (presumably poison ivy as well) is supposed to be just as effective as any chemical options. The source I read did an experiment where they compared several things, and the boiling water actually proved to be the most effective, with the added benefit of being free and “green”.

  10. elloo says:

    Have you not heard of Tecnu? It’s a lotion you rub on your skin to remove the urusiol even hours after exposure to poison ivy. It works great. You can buy it at any drug store. There is also Ivy Block to put on before you venture outside which I always forget to do. I keep a big bottle of Tecnu on hand in the summer.

  11. I was helping my husband clean out the barn over the weekend. It’s not even Easter and I have poison ivy all over. I have a new mission this summer!

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