Poison ivy grows like a weed in some places. It might appear nice and green but the itchiness caused by contact with the leaves can be frustrating and uncomfortable for many.
If you have a bad case of poison ivy in your yard, it’s a good idea to get out there and get rid of it.
All About Poison Ivy
Urushiol is the oil compound in poison ivy that causes the allergic reaction and contact dermatitis. Unfortunately, it can stick around for months on tools and even on clothing, especially if the weather is dry.
Preparing to Remove Poison Ivy
Many people understand how uncomfortable the allergic reaction to poison ivy can be and they take reasonable precautions.
If you need to get rid of some poison ivy in your yard, here are some precautions that you should take:
- Dress appropriately: Before you attempt to remove the poison ivy, it’s wise to wear the correct clothing to protect you from exposure. Wear long sleeves, hardy rubber gloves, long pants, boots, and eye protection. This will at least afford you some measure of protection.
- Use a lotion: You can also buy specific poison ivy lotion from the store. This can be rubbed liberally onto exposed areas of skin to protect against poison ivy.
You also need to know that the oils can actually get through the thin latex gloves that many people wear for handling food and other things around the home.
The best way to ensure that it doesn’t get onto your skin is to wear much more durable rubber gloves that are thick.
What About Your Gardening Tools?
You can wear protective clothing and take plenty of precautions but if your tools are covered in the residue from poison ivy, you’ll suffer the next time that you pick them up with your bare hands.
In fact, many amateur gardeners make this very same mistake. They slather themselves in lotion and dress appropriately but they forget about their tools. They simply put them away until they need to use them next time.
Unfortunately, because the tools have already come into contact with the poison ivy, they will cause an allergic reaction as soon as they are handled.
How to Clean Poison Ivy Off of Tools
So how can you ensure that your gardening tools are cleaned properly? Here are some tips:
1. Warm Water and Detergents
If you’ve just used your gardening tools to get rid of the poison ivy in your yard and you want to clean them, one of the best ways is to fill a bathtub with hot water.
Once you’ve done this, you can add detergent. It can’t be just any detergent, though. It has to be the kind of detergent that will cut through the grease on dishes.
This type of detergent will actually help to break down the chemical compounds that make up the poison ivy and the hot water will simply wash it away. Once you’ve done this, you can use the water from your garden hose to wash away all of the remaining soap.
The action of the water will also help to remove any remaining urushiol oils.
2. Use Isopropyl Alcohol
Isopropyl alcohol, otherwise known as rubbing alcohol, can commonly be found in hardware and drug stores. By rubbing down all of the tools and other areas that the poison ivy has come into contact with, you can get rid of the oily residue and clean it up for use next time.
What to Do If it’s on Your Skin?
If you come into contact with poison ivy, you may develop contact dermatitis. This is an allergic reaction to the urushiol that the poison ivy contains. So what should you do under these circumstances?
- Soap and water: The first thing that you need to do is thoroughly wash the area of skin that has come into contact with the urushiol with warm water and soap. By using dishwashing liquid, you can help to remove the oily residue of the urushiol and wash it off completely. Alternatively, you can simply use regular soap if you don’t have access to a good dishwashing liquid.
- Rubbing alcohol: If you have some isopropyl alcohol, you can simply rinse the affected area with it. You also have to make sure that you don’t leave the rubbing alcohol on your skin because it can dry it out and make the dermatitis much worse. Just keep rinsing the area.
- Be gentle: Because the area of skin will be irritated, scrubbing it hard can irritate it some more. This will simply worsen the dermatitis and cause it to become sore.
Sometimes you might come into contact with poison ivy when you’re outdoors or out camping. You might not have any rubbing alcohol or soap under these circumstances, so what can you do?
If you happen to be near a source of water such as a creek or a stream, you can douse the affected area in this water. At the very least, this will eliminate as much of the poison ivy oil as possible and lessen the chances of dermatitis becoming worse.
Poison ivy contains an oil called urushiol. This oily residue can cause itchy skin irritation and contact dermatitis. Unfortunately, the chemical compounds that make up urushiol can remain active for quite some months, especially if the weather is dry.
This means that clothing and gardening tools that have been exposed to the urushiol can cause skin irritation and contact dermatitis when handled.
Apart from wearing the appropriate clothing and wearing thick rubber gloves, you need to be mindful of any contact that your gardening tools have had with the poison ivy.
Make sure that you soak them in a mix of hot water and grease-cutting detergent in a tub. You can then wash them down with water from the garden hose.
If you do happen to have it on your skin, you can simply wash the area with soap and water and use detergent and rubbing alcohol.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.
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
Wednesday 1st of June 2022
The photo at the top of this article is NOT of poison ivy. Poison ivy leaves are not serrated - they have a notch or two along the edges. It would be better if you put up a true photo of poison ivy.
I would never advise anyone to place tools contaminated with urushiol into a bath tub! Instead, I would recommend using a basin of some sort thatis not used for human washing, and which itself can be washed out more easily.