Poison ivy is already a pain to deal with once. Having to deal with it twice is just cruel! However, many people don’t know that poison ivy tends to linger on your clothes and shoes long after it spreads to your skin. While the rash-causing agents won’t hang around on your skin for long, your clothing is a different story.
As such, knowing how to get poison ivy stains and residue off of clothes and shoes is essential for preventing future infections. Fortunately, the process is a bit labor-intensive, but it’s not complicated. In this guide, we’ll go over how to get poison ivy off shoes and other clothes in-depth, so you’ll be prepared if it ever happens to you.
Urushiol might sound like a word in a different language, but it’s actually the substance that poison ivy leaves behind on your skin to cause a rash. Urushiol is an oily residue that the poison ivy plant creates. The substance has a long life, too; besides staying on your clothes for up to two years, it can survive on dead poison ivy plants for up to five years!
Urushiol is secreted by the entire poison ivy plant, so you’re not safe if you only had a brush with the stems or leaves alone. Since the substance is oil-based, it tends to persist until it’s removed from whatever surface it’s adhered to rather than washing or evaporating away. Clothes and shoes are no exception!
Removing Urushiol from Clothes
Fortunately, eliminating urushiol from clothes and shoes is not particularly difficult, though we recommend that you do it carefully. Vinyl or cotton gloves, preferably long ones that extend to the elbow, are highly recommended, too.
Before you begin doing anything else, however, you should isolate both your shoes and the clothing that you wore that day altogether. Either leave them outside away from people and household surfaces or bundle them into a plastic bag to keep them isolated. As long as your clothes and shoes don’t touch any other surfaces, the urushiol won’t spread.
Be very careful not to let your clothing and shoes come into contact with other surfaces! The urushiol can spread quickly from any points of contact, and if you’re not careful, you could end up with multiple infected surfaces in your home. This is why isolation is so necessary.
Once you’re ready to wash your clothes, all you need to do is throw them into your washing machine. If you don’t have access to a clothes washer, hand-washing is an option, but it may be best to take them to a laundromat instead to ensure thorough cleaning.
Wash your clothes on the highest heat setting they can handle, making sure to select the load size acceptable for the number of articles you’re washing. Use a good-quality detergent along with the wash, too. Once the first wash is done, send the clothes through another wash with detergent just to be thorough. You may want to wash them a third time if the infestation is particularly bad.
Of course, the safest way to purge the urushiol from your home is to throw the clothes away permanently. However, putting them through several wash cycles is the next-best thing if you’re not willing to throw them away.
Don’t put your clothes in the dryer after they’ve been washed! If by chance, any urushiol makes it through the washing process and into your dryer, any subsequent loads could become contaminated as well. Always dry your urushiol-contaminated clothes on a line after washing them.
While cleaning your clothes of poison ivy is quite simple; knowing how to get poison ivy off shoes safely is not nearly as straightforward. After all, while some boots are safe to send through the washing machine, most aren’t. To clean your shoes of poison ivy residue, you’ll need:
- Laundry detergent
- Hot water
- Vinyl or cotton gloves
- A bristle brush or sponge
Start by mixing about two tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent with two cups of boiling water. It should be as hot as you can stand while still allowing you to clean your shoes thoroughly. Alternatively, if your boots provide washing directions, refer to those.
Start by donning your protective gloves, of course. Then, remove the laces of your shoes, opening them up as much as possible in the process. Remove the insoles of your shoes if they are removable.
Use the scrubbing brush or sponge dipped in the detergent-water solution to thoroughly agitate all surfaces of the shoe, including the insoles and shoelaces. Try not to saturate your boots, but don’t miss any exposed surfaces, either.
Once you’re satisfied that your shoes have been thoroughly cleaned, make sure to let them dry thoroughly in a cool, breezy place. Don’t leave them in the sun or near a heating vent. You may want to repeat the process at a later time to ensure that the shoes have been fully cleaned of any remaining urushiol.
Keep in mind that these strategies also work to remove poison oak and poison sumac infections, too.
About Poison Ivy
Though most of us were taught to avoid the three-leafed tops of poison ivy plants when we were young, there are many things that you probably never learned about the plant. Poison ivy is related to cashews, for example – it’s a member of the nut family!
Poison ivy is most likely to grow in sunlit forests, and it can occasionally climb telephone poles, trees, or fences as it seeks out sunlight. While poison ivy tends to grow on vines and in large patches, it isn’t actually a real “ivy” – it just looks and acts like one.
Contrary to popular belief, the poison ivy rash itself is not contagious. However, if any trace of urushiol remains on the skin or a person’s clothing, the poison ivy rash can spread quickly through cross-contact. Once the oil has been absorbed or removed, however, a person is no longer contagious.
Poison ivy is also not actually poisonous. However, an enormous percentage of people are allergic to the urushiol that poison ivy secretes.
Not everyone is allergic to poison ivy, though! The plant causes a persistent, itchy rash in about 85% of Americans, but the other 15% do not react to the urushiol that the plant produces. However, repeated exposure can increase one’s risk of responding to the plant, so just because you seem immune doesn’t mean you’re safe!
Contrary to popular belief, the rash from a poison ivy infection doesn’t appear right away after you touch the plant – it can take several days for a rash to appear.
Unfortunately, pets can have reactions to poison ivy plants, too. If you see poison ivy plants on your property, it’s best to kill them with an appropriate weed killer right away. Alternatively, you can remove the plant carefully with gloves and pack them into garbage bags for disposal.
If you see poison ivy in a public area, alert any officials in charge if you can. In the meantime, be careful to keep your pets away from any poison ivy plants you find. If you’re worried your pet has come into contact with the plant, bathe them immediately and thoroughly. Use long, elbow-length vinyl gloves and protective clothing to make sure the infestation does not spread to you.
Never, ever burn poison ivy plants to kill them. While this might seem like a suitable method of getting rid of the plants, burning poison ivy releases the urushiol it produces into the air. If you inhale these vapors into your lungs, they can cause lung irritation and allergic reactions thereof. If your airways are restricted because of your response, this can be deadly!
If you’re lucky, you can stave off or prevent the onset of a poison ivy infection by washing any contacted areas thoroughly. Use dish soap and water and scrub the area for several minutes. It’s thought that, if you remove the oils within the first fifteen minutes of coming into contact with them, you may be spared from the rash that usually comes afterward.
Believe it or not, though, a rash is not the only side effect that can accompany a poison ivy infection. While itchy rashes are the most common occurrence, the poison ivy rash is, in essence, an allergic reaction. As such, those who are more sensitive to the urushiol can also experience things like:
- Breathing issues
- Swollen eyelids
- A swollen tongue
- Difficulty swallowing
- Rashes in places other than the points of contact with poison ivy
These allergic reactions can be even worse if the victim breaths in the smoke of the poison ivy plant, which can irritate and inflame the tissues of the nose, throat, and lungs.
Treating Poison Ivy
While poison ivy will eventually disappear on its own, there are also plenty of treatment options available to make your recovery process quicker and easier.
The best way to treat poison ivy is with prevention. When working in wooded areas or around tall grass and trees, always wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, tall socks and shoes, and protective gloves. Clothing provides an excellent measure of protection against urushiol infections, though you have to remember to wash them after!
The next best thing is to wash up right away if you think you’ve come into contact with poison ivy. If possible, shower immediately after you realize you’ve come into contact with the plant. The longer the urushiol is on your skin, the more becomes absorbed, and the less can be removed with soap and water.
If you do end up with a rash from poison ivy, there are several things you can do to calm the itching and soothe the rash. Some of these things include:
- Cool water baths (avoid hot or warm water)
- Calamine and cortisone creams
- Oral antihistamines
- Oral corticosteroids
- Oatmeal baths
- Cold compresses for painful areas
- Pre-contact prevention creams, such as IvyX
While the treatments above may not make the rash go away any faster, they should help soothe your skin and make the experience less unpleasant overall.
If you develop any blisters or sores from your poison ivy infection, doctors recommend against popping or irritating them, as this can lead to further complications. The fluid from these blisters is not contagious, and it will not infect others with poison ivy.
Cool water is an excellent remedy for the sore skin caused by poison ivy infections. Cool water will work to soothe the burning sensation that many people experience with poison ivy, though it won’t relieve the symptoms. Be careful to bathe in cool water, not cold water.
Calamine and Cortisone
Calamine lotion is a very basic lotion that helps to dry out skin irritation. By doing so, it is thought to help reduce the itchiness of blisters and rashes. It’s an effective treatment for the itchiness that comes with a poison ivy infection.
Cortisone is a steroid that works by suppressing the body’s immune response to an allergen. Cortisone typically comes in a cream, which can be applied to the skin to suppress itching, blistering, and rashes. Cortisone often comes with cooling agents, skin moisturizers, and vitamins and minerals added in, too.
Since our reaction to poison ivy is technically an allergic reaction, oral antihistamines may be able to play some role in lessening or preventing the response. Oral antihistamines are especially useful before sleep, as these medicines can frequently cause drowsiness. Some oral antihistamines to keep in mind include:
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra)
- Loratadine (Claritin)
Oral corticosteroids are a more powerful version of the cortisone cream we discussed earlier. Steroids work by inhibiting the body’s immune response to specific allergens, and as such, it can prevent people from reacting to urushiol, too.
If a person has an extreme reaction to poison ivy or any of its cousins, doctors may decide to inject them with corticosteroids to prevent the infection from getting worse. However, it will not stop or cure an ongoing infection.
An oatmeal bath is an age-old and effective treatment for itchiness and rashes, especially poison ivy. The oatmeal that we use in baths is a different type than we eat. It’s called colloidal oatmeal. This oatmeal forms a protective layer above your skin when you bathe under its effects, and it helps to detoxify the skin, too.
Oatmeal baths are an excellent way to clean, protect, and moisturize the skin at all times, not just when you have poison ivy.
Cold compresses can soothe inflamed skin in the same way that a cool bath can. Soak a rag or towel in cool water, then apply it to the worst areas of your poison ivy infection. The cold water will provide instant pain and itching relief.
Contact Prevention Creams
Contact prevention creams are thought to work by creating a natural barrier between the skin and any urushiol oil that may come into contact with it. While these creams are not a fool-proof solution, it’s always good to add an extra layer of protection if you know you’ll be working with poison ivy.
Poison Oak and Poison Sumac
Believe it or not, poison oak and poison sumac plants both also contain the toxin urushiol. These two plants can be found across North America, in much the same places that poison ivy can be found. If you’ve seen poison ivy recently, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the appearance of these two plants, too, as they may not be far away.
Poison oak looks very similar to poison ivy. However, the leaves of the poison oak plant look more similar to, well, oak leaves. Poison oak and poison sumac leaves don’t always grow in groups of three, either – poison oak can also be seen in groups of five or seven, and poison sumac grows in clusters of seven to thirteen leaves.
While poison oak and poison ivy tend to manifest as vines or large patches, poison sumac is a shrub or small tree. Poison sumac is also regarded as more dangerous than poison oak or poison ivy.
Poison ivy is not a fun plant to encounter, so must of us were taught to avoid it when we were young – and with good reason. A bad poison ivy infection can leave us out of commission for weeks! Luckily, with the help of some smart home remedies, the knowledge of how to get poison ivy off shoes, and proper prevention techniques, poison ivy is not a scary enemy to battle with.
As with many things, the best way to deal with this problem is with prevention. Wearing plenty of clothes, applying skin protectants, washing thoroughly, and cleaning your clothes well are all ways to prevent poison ivy from ever reaching your own skin. While these techniques are especially important for people who work among poison ivy to know, anyone who sees poison ivy on a regular basis can benefit from knowing how to deal with it!