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2 Effective Methods to Clean Poison Ivy Off of Your Tools

2 Effective Methods to Clean Poison Ivy Off of Your Tools

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You probably know touching poison ivies prompts an intense allergic reaction characterized by a rash, bumps, and itchy blisters.

So, it’s only natural to immediately remove them with your gardening tools the moment you see them growing in your yard. One problem: These tools now carry the plant’s poisonous chemicals and can transfer them to you.

Do you know how to clean poison ivy off your tools? No? Then, I’ll take you through every step of the cleaning process to ensure you do it properly.

How Does Poison Ivy Cause Allergic Reactions?

How do you expect to fight off the effects of poison Ivy if you don’t know what causes them in the first place? It’s time for a quick biology lesson!

The first thing you need to know is that the problem isn’t in the plant itself. It’s in what’s inside it. Poison ivies contain urushiol, an oily substance that exists in their roots, leaves, and stems.

That’s the true villain. It soaks through the skin, causing an allergic reaction and contact dermatitis.

Not only does it stay active on surfaces for years, but it’s also highly contagious. It can transfer from the plant to your skin, clothes, or tools, especially if the weather is dry.

Here’s the catch: Most people don’t know that touching poison ivy isn’t the only way to prompt that allergic reaction.

If the plant is being burnt, the smoke can carry the urushiol. So, inhaling these fumes is another quick way to get a rash. Talk about a real buzz killer.

How to Prepare to Remove Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy Sign

Removing the remaining traces of poison ivy from your tools isn’t as simple as mindlessly grabbing them and washing them. There are various precautionary measures you need to take to avoid getting poisoned. These include:

  • Appropriate dress: I recommend wearing proper clothes to avoid making direct contact with the plant. Stick to long sleeves, leather gloves, long pants, boots, and eye protection. That will at least afford you some measure of protection.
  • Use poison ivy-resistant lotions: Yes, there are a few poison ivy lotions, like Bentoquatam and Sarna anti-itch lotion, that can prevent these poisonous rashes. Just rub them onto the exposed areas of your skin, and you should be fine.

Note: You might be tempted to use latex gloves like the ones you use to handle food because they’re cheaper and more accessible. Don’t.

These are usually quite thin, so urushiol can easily penetrate them. Go with durable leather, vinyl, or cotton gloves. These are thick enough to provide proper protection.

How to Clean Poison Ivy Off of Tools

Boots And A Garden Shovel

So, how can you ensure that your gardening tools are cleaned properly? Well, there’s more than one way to do it, and I’ll cover them all in this section.

1. Warm Water and Detergent

You probably saw this one coming. After all, that’s the most famous cleaning method in the world. So, let’s see how you can use it here:

  1. Fill a bathtub or a bucket with hot water.
  2. Add a grease-fighting detergent to break down the poisonous chemical compounds in poison ivies.
  3. Put your tools in the water solution and let them soak for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Remove the remaining traces of poison ivy with a piece of cloth or by rinsing them off with water from your garden hose.
  5. For power tools, dip your piece of cloth in the water solution and wipe their surfaces carefully. Make sure they’re disconnected, and keep the solution away from the motor.

2. Use Isopropyl Alcohol

Using isopropyl alcohol, aka “rubbing alcohol,” is pretty straightforward.

All you have to do is dip a piece of cloth in the alcohol and wipe all the tools that have come in contact with poison ivy. Rinse your tools with warm water and let them dry before storing them.

What to Do After Washing Your Tools?

Washing your tools isn’t the last step of the process. There are still a few post-washing precautionary measures you want to take.

1. Wash Your Clothes

Remember, urushiol oil is easily transferable. It’ll stick to your clothes while you’re washing your tools, so clean them properly after you’re done.

Throw your clothes in the washing machine, but don’t mix them with your regular clothes. Use the highest temperature your clothes can handle and add a full scope of washing detergent.

Choose the longest washing cycle to ensure your clothes stay in the machine as long as possible. If you’ve worn too many items, separate them into multiple patches.

Leave enough room in the machine so your clothes can agitate properly. When you’re done washing, make your machine do one last hot self-cleaning cycle to eliminate the remaining traces of urushiol oil inside it.

2. Wash Your Hands

Washing Hands With Soap And Water

Even if you wore gloves while cleaning your tools, you still need to wash your hands afterward. Lukewarm water and soap would be ideal, but you can use a regular dishwashing liquid.

What Can You Do If Poison Ivy Gets on Your Skin?

Some things are just out of your hands. You can wear all the protective clothing you have and still get infected. If that happens, immediately wash the parts that came in contact with the plant.

The process of washing urushiol oil off your skin is similar to that of washing it off your gardening tools.

A mixture of water and soap or laundry detergent should be enough to remove the oily residue, but you can also use rubbing alcohol. Make sure you don’t leave it on your skin for too long because it can dry it out and make the dermatitis worse.

Pro tip: Avoid scrubbing the affected parts too hard, as it could irritate them even more.

What happens if you come in contact with poison ivies while you’re outdoors or out camping? You might not have any rubbing alcohol or soap on you. Should you just let that rash eat you alive until you’re nothing but a deteriorating skull?

Of course not! Find a nearby source of water, like a creek or a stream, and douse the affected area in it. It won’t heal the rash, but it’ll prevent it from getting worse.

Final Thoughts

Now you know how to clean poison ivy off your tools. It’s a straightforward process that involves using everyday cleaning tools. That doesn’t mean you can let your guard down, though. Remember, urushiol can easily stick to your clothes.

So, make sure you’re wearing enough layers to avoid directly touching the plant and wash your clothes and hands after cleaning your tools.

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Francis H

Monday 26th of June 2023

Hi Ivy, I got a bad case of poison oak dermititis a year or so ago and had been leery of touching my tools since. Need to work with them again so your article will help me clean them properly and not get a recurrence. Thanks so much!!

Pat Kashtock

Sunday 7th of August 2022

Hey -- awesome article! I have been wrestling with an ancient poison ivy patch at our church property that backs a forest. It was brutal. I need to decontaminate my tools and am grateful to find your information. It turns out to be exactly what I was going to do, but do by a bit of putting two and two together. It helps to find out this actually works.

If I could make a suggestion? The picture at the top of the article appears to be wild blackberry. 1) Poison ivy, while at times the vine (or more likely roots) can be hairy, it never has thorns. Thankfully. 2) While I have seen several differing varieties of poison ivy, the leaves never have edges with small and sharp jags like that. They are quite a bit larger. 3) And while some poison ivy can lack the jagged edges altogether, or mostly, the two bottom leaflets are not jagged on both sides. They are only jagged on the outside (bottom if you hold the leaf upright in front of you). But the middle leaflet is jagged on both sides.


Friday 12th of August 2022

Hi Pat, Thanks for pointing that out! It looks like the picture was mis-labeled. I have replaced it with a new one.

Happy Planting! Lisa