Poison Ivy: Identifying and Treating Poison Ivy Rashes

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy Rash

By George and Becky Lohmiller
June 8, 2018

It is important to learn how to identify both poison ivy plants and rashes in order to prevent a rash from spreading.

Pace University

Poison ivy can cause a nasty rash, so it is important to learn how to identify the plant as well as how to treat poison ivy. There are many home remedies that can be helpful in relieving the itch, but your best bet is to avoid getting it in the first place!

Leaves of three, let it be: Poison ivy has a nasty habit of rewarding those who touch it with two or three weeks of blistering misery. It is nature’s nasty revenge, but with a little education you can learn to identify it, prevent it, or treat it with a bit less aggravation.

Poison Ivy Identification: Plant and Poison Ivy Rash

Poison Ivy Plant

  • Poison ivy’s “leaves of three” are glossy-green, but are tinged with pink in the spring, and take on a brilliant orange in the autumn.
  • These leaves sometimes vary in appearance, however. They can be either shiny or dull, and some are lobed or toothed while others are not. Usually, they are shiny when young and turn dull green as a mature plant.
  • Poison ivy can grow as an erect shrub, a winding vine, or simply along the ground.
  • It has small, pearl-colored berries. These are a favorite treat of many birds, which spread poison ivy seeds around the countryside.
  • Seedlings of the boxelder tree look similar to poison ivy with three leaves, but they do not have berries and are yellow in the autumn. The leaves of Virginia creeper also look similar to those of poison ivy, but Virginia creeper has five leaflets rather than three.
  • Poison ivy is especially common around fences or along roadways.

Poison Ivy Rash

  • A poison ivy rash will usually occur within 12 to 48 hours. The area will severely swell, itch, and turn red. Later, blisters will form. The blisters eventually become crusted and take about 10 days to heal.
  • Red bumps also might form where the blisters will soon appear.
  • Often, a poison ivy rash appears in a streaked pattern. This mimics the way in which a person has rubbed up against the plant.
  • It is a common misconception that touching a body part with a poison ivy rash, and then touching another body part, causes the rash to spread. The rash might appear on some body parts later than others, but this is only due to a difference in the time it takes for the poison oil to absorb into the skin.
  • Be careful not to confuse poison ivy with swimmer’s itch. They might seem similar at the beginning, especially because poison ivy might be in a lakeside or pondside area where you’re swimming. For more tips on swimmer’s itch, look at this article.

Photo Credit: Michigan State University. Poison ivy always has three leaflets, but their coloration can change from green to orange to red.

What Causes a Poison Ivy Rash?

The “poison” in poison ivy is an oily resin called urushiol that occupies every part of the plant, including the roots.

  • The leaves, especially young ones, contain the most toxin.
  • The oil can remain on tool handles and clothing for as long as a year. Dogs and cats can carry its potency on their fur. This is why you can come down with a rash without having seen poison ivy in months.
  • People may become more sensitive to the oily resin urushiol with multiple exposures. If you’ve had poison ivy before, be sure to avoid it in the future.
  • Different people have different sensitivities to poison ivy. The older you get before coming into contact with it, the better: You will have a lower chance of developing an allergy. Only about 15 percent of people are resistant to poison ivy.

Fortunately, the oils don’t always go to work immediately, especially on dirty or work-hardened hands. If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash up at once and launder your clothes using old yellow laundry soap or boraxo to cut the oil. (Soaps made with fat are ineffective.)

How to Treat Poison Ivy: Home Remedies

If you become affected, there is no shortage of remedies, but many of them are useless and some can even make matters worse.

  • If you realize that you or your clothes have touched poison ivy, get to a source of water immediately. If you can clean yourself and your clothes with cold water within five minutes of touching the plant, the oil might not be absorbed into your skin. Soap is helpful within the first 30 minutes as well.


  • Be sure to wash any clothing or gear that comes in contact with poison ivy, as the oil can persist for months. Bathe animals as well if they may have touched the poison ivy.
  • Mild cases can be helped by calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams, and saltwater soaks, but severe cases require prescription cortisone. Soaking in cool water or a lukewarm bath with a baking soda solution also might help.
  • A barrier cream, IvyBlock, containing quaternium-18 bentonite, which bonds with the urushiol, promises to be effective 68%of the time, if applied before any contact with poison ivy.
  • Excessive itching of blisters can cause infections. Try to ease the itch, or simply find a distraction, so as not to make your rash even worse. Wash broken blisters lightly, and cover with a bandage to prevent further itching and infection.
  • Prevention is key. Use our tips for identifying poison ivy, and wear long sleeves when walking outside. Also, wash any clothes or equipment if you have been walking in a wooded area with shrubs.
  • Eradicating poison ivy is probably the best way to remain itch-free. The plants can be destroyed by covering them with black plastic or spraying them with appropriate herbicides. But beware—even dead plants are infectious. And do not burn the plants! Smoke from burning poison ivy can cause great irritation to your lungs.
  • One great home remedy for poison ivy rashes—as well as most other itches—is oatmeal.
  • Be sure to check our page on Summer Itches to know when you need to take a trip to the hospital based on complications of a poison ivy rash.

Perhaps someday, plant scientists will develop a non-poisonous variety. Rumor has it that they have already crossed poison ivy with four-leaf clovers, hoping to get a rash of good luck. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)


This page was first published in 2010 and is regularly updated.

Reader Comments

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Jewelweed always works for me

After many years of trying just about everything for poison ivy, I discovered jewelweed, (touch me not). It also works for stinging nettle. And who says Mother Nature doesn't have a sense of humor. Almost everywhere you see poison ivy and/or stinging nettle growing, if you look, you will usually see jewelweed growing near by. :)

Poison Ivy Remedies

Cypress Tree Oil rubbed on affected areas 2-3 times a day will eliminate the rash in 2-3 days. Itching is stopped immediately.
Have also used Tea Tree Oil with similar results.

Poison Ivy remedy

Take 1 bottle alcohol, 24 uncoated aspirin and 2 camphor bars (purchased at pharmacy), mix well together. Put on rash as needed, with cotton ball, will to the trick every time.

poison ivy

this is the most simple,effective,and fun way to get rid of poison ivy-go to the BEACH and get in the water.the salt water dries it up right away.my husband was very allergic to it,and I suggested this after we had tried everything else.he was amazed that he was healed that fast and we had a great time too.

poison ivy

I am extremely allergic...been covered from head to toe....have tried a number of supposed solutions...most don't work....will try the bleach....what I have learned is if you cut of the air supply once you're infected and have broken out is to cover with ointment...oil...i use neosporin with the numbing agent and then cover with a bandage to cut the air flow.......no itching whatsoever so no scratching....works every time....if you do touch the plant...cold water immediately....if you have to shower with your clothes on and strip in the shower....do it....then soap it up

Poison Oak/Ivy

I have found that showering with Burt's Bees soap immediately after contact will prevent the rash.

Best Poison Ivy "Save your Sanity" Remedy We Found

My husband was extremely allergic to poison ivy. We tried everything you could purchase to no avail. Luckily we had friends with great tips. Here is how to keep the sanity in your family.

If you can't avoid it, wash your skin and clothes as soon as possible. Don't forget to clean shoes and upholstery (car/home) if you are super allergic.

Denorex Medicated Dandruff Shampoo - takes care of the oil, drys out the rash and relieves the itching. (The smell is a small price to pay for relief plus it is a lot cheaper than poison ivy remedies.)

You can also run hot water or a hair dryer over the area to release the histamines and give yourself a break from the itching for several hours. Of course it will be itchy while you do that.

Aloe Vera (from the plant) is excellent for itching but be aware that any clothing it comes in contact with will be permanently stained and your skin will be sticky.

Poison Ivy

I agree with Alphine. Jewel weed mashed up real well. If you are lucky enough to know where some is, pick it, mash it or blend/food processor it and make ice cubes. This way you always have it on hand.

Poison ivy

What about Jewel Weed ? it is suppose to be the natural antidote for poison ivy

poison ivy remedies

We think it’s in the eye of the beholder. There aren’t any medical studies to prove that jewelweed is effective treatment. However, jewelweed is a traditional, natural remedy remedy that has been used for centuries. If you get poison ivy (and we hope not), see if it works for you!

Poison Ivy vs Jewel Weed

I contracted Poison Ivy while fishing along a stream and let me tell you-- what started as a scratch on my left wrist from it tangling with my watchband, turned into a nightmare. Some have said you can't spread it from part of body to another-- YES you CAN!!! Severe itch at site, then blister came and while sleeping, I ended up with wrist under right bicep which broke out, then to an ear, then legs-- wherever I touched spread it. The most intense burning itch you can imagine. Feels like you could go loco from it!! Went to hospital, they put a cortisone cream on it and spread it even more!! Tried lotions, ect. An American Indian friend told me to try Jewelweed (Snapdragons). Happened to have a huge crop of it along my creek. Gathered, wrapped in bandana & smashed/crushed. Squeezed juice onto my arm where I could see & reach-- instantly stopped the itching!! Squeezed remainder where I could & it relieved the burn/itch on contact. Does'nt smell the greatest but after a couple days of misery, I was grateful to finally get relief. I then gathered Jewelweed up and cut into pcs and simmered in boiling water to extract the juice. Again this didn't smell good but after cooling the remedy down and chilling-- it felt great just lightly rubbing it on. Then got idea to wrap affected parts with gauze bandage & saturate the gauze with the concoction. Instant relief and within 2 days all blisters and symptoms were gone.

Do not forget that poison ivy

Do not forget that poison ivy also grows as a vine.....a hairy vine will itch you divine....

Hairy vine

Been there....definitely don't try to weave the hairy vine into a wreath! Talk about regret!

white shoe polish it gets rid

white shoe polish it gets rid of the itching and clears poison ivy up

Dawn *used* to contain

Dawn *used* to contain phosphates, which DEFINITELY cleared up rashes. But phosphates have all but been eradicated from any soaps out there today. Amway had a soap that was under the FDA radar for a while, and it always cleared up my poison ivy---but this idea that "blue dawn" works to clear rashes is outdated. I have had MUCH success with bleach on *unbroken* skin that has just started to show bumps.

I was in the scouts we used

I was in the scouts we used to take plain simple Deodorant "right guard " spray on the busters and it help'dry up very quickly

Yikes! Speaking of home


Speaking of home remedies, I knew someone who swore by an iron brush and bleach. Thankfully, I never tried it.

When ever I get poison ivy, I used this stuff called Itch Juice (www.mypoisonivytreatment.com). It's pretty good. The rash doesn't go away for a day or so, but because I am a landscaper I order get poison oak and this is the best stuff I've found so far.

I have poisin ivy right now.

I have poisin ivy right now. I just put bleach on it. Goes away every time. Dab some bleach on it. Works every time.

My dad swears by bleach on

My dad swears by bleach on poison ivy. But he says you have to scratch it open first.

bleach for me too. if i have

bleach for me too. if i have been around poison ivy or oak and get those familiar tingles the following day--i wait and see where the bumps appear, and then:

Qtip with bleach,
1) apply to new bumps for a couple of minutes
2) wipe bleach off
3) rinse area with water.

I am EXTRRRREMELY allergic to poison ivy. I have tried EVERYTHING. Most products are bullsh#t claims. Bleach works. Do your own research, my experience is my experience. It eorks for me, but is dangerous. I accept no resonsibility for any damage done to you if you put bleach on your own skin. Cursed urushion oil, I hate you!!!!

the bleach treatment has

the bleach treatment has worked again.
--I will say, I am familiar with the tingle of poison ivy, it is different than dry skin or a mosquito bite. I use a q-tip and lightly dab bleach on any new bumps of poison. IT DOES NOT HURT. People assume that it does. It has NEVER damaged my skin, people also assume that it does. Anyway I was off the bleach with water. In 5% of new spots I need to reapply. I have never found a better treatment than bleach. I was an Eagle Scout and got poison dozens of times--no "products" worked. Prednisone does, but it is also nothing I want in my body. I hope my comments help somebody.
--One final comment-- I personally would be very aprehensive about putting bleach on an already developed rash. It may work and dry up the rash, but that the skin is broken would have me scared to chance any skin damage. Mainly, I'd say that if you "think" you may have gotten into some form of poison and start feeling intense tingles the next day, THAT is when I treat with bleach. Spot specific for about one minute, then rinse off.

Poison Ivy v\s Bleach

Oh I had a friend of mine got carried away with the bleach and got a chemical burn it was awful. Leaves of 3 let 'em be leaves of 5 let 'em thrive is the rhyme I heard as a kid as a reminder.

brush and bleach

I resort to this remedy every summer. Usually, I get a scouring pad and scratch the irritated area and then pour bleach on it. It burns like crazy, but later that day the itch is completely gone and within a day or so, there is no traces of it at all. Because of the pain, I use it only as a last resort, but I can't think of a summer that I haven't had to turn to it.

Heat it with a blow dryer as

Heat it with a blow dryer as long as you can stand it. It feels great and gives you about ten hours of relief. I do it his with bug bites as well.

It won't make the rash

It won't make the rash resolve any faster, but Sasquatch Itch Cream or even Tiger Balm (the old fashioned stuff) will give you about 10-12 hours of itch relief. Both act as counter-irritants and confuse the nerves that carry itch signals to your brain. I've spent many days on the river fly fishing and scratching my hide off before I discovered this.

A poison ivy remedy that

A poison ivy remedy that really works!


3 cups vinagar 1/2 cup of salt 1 Tbls Dawn dish liquid heat till salt disolved spray poison ivy every 3 to 4 days till all is gone. Also great to use on skin that has been exposed to poison plants. This is the best and safest weed killer I have ever found!!

I have aleays had great

I have aleays had great relief by using Fels-naptha soap. If I have been out where I might have been exposed I wash with it. If I have broken out I wash the affected area and then I lather that area and let it dry on. Works great!

Liquid dish washing soap is

Liquid dish washing soap is very good at cutting oil and should work on the oily resin of poison ivy.

You must be kidding.

You must be kidding.