Poison Ivy: Identifying and Treating Poison Ivy Rashes

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy Rash

By George and Becky Lohmiller
June 12, 2020

Poison ivy has three shiny leaves, with one in the center. “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Pace University

Misconceptions about poison ivy have led desperate sufferers to adopt some pretty bizarre (and totally useless) cures. Here are some tried-and-true home remedies that can be helpful in treating poison ivy rash. But the best way to foil the itch is by minding the old saying, “Leaflets 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.
  • 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.

Does poison ivy rash spread?

  • 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.
  • Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, “poison ivy rash is NOT contagious — blister fluid doesn’t contain urushiol and won’t spread the rash. And you can’t get poison ivy from another person unless you’ve touched urushiol that’s still on that person or his or her clothing.”

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 (yoo-ROO0she-ol) found in virtually all parts of these poisonous plants. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 85 percent of the population is sensitive to urushiol, making it one of the most potent allergens on Earth.

  • 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

The road is littered with herbal and home remedies, many of which do reduce swelling and itching, such as the teas and poultices that American Indians and pioneers prepared from jewelweed, chamomile, gumweed, goldenseal, and Solomon’s seal. 

Bizarre remedies

Many home remedies also included futile treatments concocted by desperate souls that may have caused more trouble that to cure it: bathing in horse urine, scrubbing with kerosene or gunpowder, and soaking in strychnine, bleach, or ammonia. Contemporary sufferers have been known to apply hair spray, deodorant, and fingernail polish to poison ivy and poison oak rashes in hopes of suffocating the itch. 

Let’s not make matters worse! 

Preventive barrier creams seem to be the hope of the moment. 

  • Treat mild cases of poison ivy itch with soothing lotions such as calamine lotion, over-the-counter cortisone creams, and saltwater soaks, but severe cases require prescription cortisone.
  • 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.
  • Soaking in cool bath helps relieve poison ivy rash, especially with a baking soda solution.
  • Another home remedy for poison ivy rashes—as well as most other itches—is a tepid oatmeal bath. Put a cup or two of rolled oats into a piece of cheesecloth or into the cut-off leg of an old pair of pantyhose, tie it loosely, and set it under the faucet as you draw a tepid bath. Let the oats soak for a while in the water, periodically squeezing the stocking-bag to release the liquid, As you soak in the tub, rub the bag of oats over your skin like a bar of soap to increase the soothing effect.
  • Try not to itch! 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.


What to do if you come into contact with poison ivy

  • If you realize that your skin 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 after exposure as well. Scrub under your fingernails!

  • Don’t forget about your pet! They can also touch poison ivy and get the oils on their fur. Put on long rubber gloves and give your pet a bath.

  • Be sure to wash any clothing or gear that comes in contact with poison ivy, as the oil can persist for years! 

Poison Ivy Prevention!

  • Prevention is key. Use our tips for identifying poison ivy, and wear long sleeves and gloves. Also, consider a barrier cream that will act as a barrier between your skin and the oils that cause the rash.
  • Try to stay on cleared paths, don’t tromp off path. If you are camping, camp in a cleared area, not in the middle of brush.
  • 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 pulled, but broken-off rootlets may sprout again the next year. The plants can be destroyed by covering them with black plastic. Even the environmentally conscientious usually resort to chemicals; plant and garden stores carry a number of commercial products. But beware—even dead plants are infectious.
  • And do not burn the plants! Because urushiol molecules are carried in smoke, it is never safe to burn poison ivy (or poison oak).

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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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.

I kid u not - Dawn (the blue

I kid u not - Dawn (the blue stuff) is the best - take a shower with it if you think you came in contact with poison ivy. No more rash and way cheaper than Technu.

Try a mixture of Bleach and

Try a mixture of Bleach and water. it must a 60%-40% or 50%-50% mixture. The water activates the bleach. Straight Bleach DOES NOT WORK!!!! It needs the water.
Let me know of your success'

I could remember a bleach

I could remember a bleach called white Monday and we would use it for different helmets it was not like Clorox bleach and mix it half-and-half it was good home abrasions poison ivy poison oak and sumac one must remember whatever you touch the affected area it spreads when you scratch It , it is like a chemical biological warfare this solution being pushed out by your body is toxic when you break the blisters the water is the poison so wherever you scratch and you Scratch some where else you spread the Toxic oil, The bleach helps dry it up

I have used straight bleach

I have used straight bleach no diluted solution for years. Clears up that spot every time

A poison ivy remedy that

A poison ivy remedy that really works! Look for a weed which grows along roadside ditches whose juice acts as a treatment for poison ivy rash, relieving that awful itch. The weed is called, "jewelweed" (sometimes misspelled as "jewel weed"), or "touch-me-not" ). Its taxonomy, Impatiens capensis, classifies it as a wild version of the colorful impatiens plants sold so widely for shady annual beds, and if you cannot locate jewelweed, you can try using the juice from impatiens stems. You can purchase extracts online, or you can collect the jewelweed, split the stems and rub the juice on the affected area. Relief is prompt and lasting!