If you’re allergic to poison ivy (or oak, or sumac), you know just how miserable this rash can make you. But how can you keep from getting a rash, short of sealing yourself off from all the good stuff that’s outdoors?

Photo Credit: PatersonGreatFalls

Getting Urushiol Off Your Skin

I found my answer when I chanced upon this YouTube video (you can click here or below to watch). The creator used axle grease as a visible substitute for urushiol, the oil in poison ivy that causes a rash in susceptible people. The axle grease made it very easy to see what was – and wasn’t – working to thoroughly clean the skin.

Basically, if you know you’ve been exposed to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, the instructions boil down to this:

  • Wash three times, with any soap and a washcloth. Be careful to get every inch of potentially exposed skin.
  • Use vigorous friction and rinse off between washes.
  • If you’re out in the field or woods all day, it’s only necessary to wash occasionally, since a rash will result only after at least two hours of contact with urushiol.

Do watch the entire video, though! The visuals with the axle grease really are informative.

When I know I’ve been around poison ivy, I follow these recommendations. Since I’ve done that, I’ve never gotten a rash after knowingly being around the plant.

What If You Already Have Poison Ivy?

But what if you get a rash anyway? This can happen even if you haven’t touched a plant. For example, you pet a cat or dog that’s been outside and has brushed by poison ivy. Urushiol remains on the animal’s fur. The allergenic oil is transferred to your skin, you don’t know it, and well, you can guess the outcome.

The most effective over-the-counter medicine we’ve found (so far) for that situation is a granular paste called Zanfel, available at most drugstores. Used as directed, it’s worked really well for us.

(Hat tip to our friend, Steve, who told us about it. Steve’s a frugal guy; when he said Zanfel is expensive but it really works, we paid attention.)

Of course, there are a number of other remedies out there. I’m sharing one that works well for us, but I don’t expect you to feel limited by that. 😊

How to Get Rid of Poison Ivy Plants

If you seek to make your backyard just as much a haven to birds as it is to you, you’re likely to have some poison ivy seedlings show up. The birds eat the berries, the berries contain the seeds, the birds deposit the seeds over hill and dale . . .

Poison ivy may be a native plant with a legitimate place in the ecosystem, but this is one place where I draw the line. I do not want it growing in my yard.

Here’s how I remove it.

Equipment needed:

  • Clippers
  • A disposable bag
  • Glyphosphate concentrate
  • An artist’s paintbrush
  • Gloves

I gather my equipment together and then:

  1. Clip the poison ivy plant close to the ground.
  2. Immediately dip the paintbrush into the glyphosphate concentrate and paint the top of the “stump” of the poison ivy (or oak, or sumac) plant. It is important that you do this immediately. Be careful that the glyphosphate is applied only to the stump.
  3. Use the clippers to pick up the cut-off piece of vine and place it in the bag. Close off the bag and dispose of it in the trash. Do not compost or burn.
  4. Wash up as described in the video above.

Do I feel great about using a poison? No, not especially. I have my eyes open for an effective alternative.

Meanwhile, this is one of the only instances where I’ll resort to its use, the other being with certain invasives. Using a paintbrush, rather than a sprayer, allows me to be extremely precise and targeted in my application, thus minimizing exposure.

There’s always an analysis of risk versus benefits to be calculated and your own calculation may result in a different answer. This is simply how I do it until I find a better way that’s equally effective.

In Conclusion

Well, I hope one or more of the resources in this post will be useful for you as they have been for me! Life is too short to waste any of it on a bumpy, oozing, itchy rash if there’s a good way to avoid it.

What poison ivy treatment or prevention has worked well for you?