The unpleasant results from a brush with poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac may last for days, weeks, or even months. Fortunately, taking care of poison ivy-exposed clothes, shoes, and boots is simple and effective, but it requires using a few precautions. The same cleaning techniques recommended for fabrics exposed to poison ivy can be used to remove poison oak and poison sumac.
The itchy rash that most people get from poison ivy is caused by a clear, sticky, oily resin called urushiol. Urushiol is found in every part of the poison ivy plant, throughout the year, and can remain active on dead and dried plants for two to five years. Unwashed clothing, shoes, and other items that are contaminated with urushiol can cause allergic reactions for one to two years. The only way to get rid of the toxic oil is with a thorough washing with detergent and water.
|Stain Type||Oil-based plant toxin|
|Detergent Type||Standard laundry detergent|
Equipment / Tools
- Vinyl or heavy cotton gloves
- Washing machine
- Laundry detergent
Before You Begin
When it's time to wash poison ivy-exposed items, it is best to handle them while wearing vinyl or thick cotton gloves or pick up the soiled items with a clean, heavy cloth to avoid contact with your skin. Urushiol can penetrate rubber, so thin latex gloves do not provide reliable protection.
Also, be sure to clean the laundry basket or hamper that contained the clothes after loading them into the washer by scrubbing it with some detergent and hot water. If you're lucky enough to have someone else help with laundry, be sure to warn them that the clothes may have been exposed to poison ivy.
How to Remove Poison Ivy Stains From Clothes
Cleaning washable items in the washing machine is the easiest way to get rid of urushiol.
Put on Some Gloves
Protect your hands and wrists from potential exposure to urushiol by putting on vinyl or thick cotton gloves (not rubber/latex gloves). Vinyl gloves can be cleaned afterward with hot water and soap; cotton gloves can go right in the wash with the affected clothes. Drop the affected clothes into the washer.
Choose the Washer Settings and Water Temperature
Set the washer for an extended or heavy-duty cycle with the hottest water the clothes can handle (check the care label instructions). Add your regular laundry detergent to the water. Be sure to select a load size setting that is suitable for the amount of clothes you're washing—not to large and not too small—to ensure thorough agitation in the wash water.
Repeat the wash cycle, with another dose of detergent, immediately after the first cycle is complete. If you feel that the contamination of urushiol is significant, you may want to wash a third time.
Dry the Clothes
Play it safe by air-drying the clothes on a clothesline or drying rack. Two or three washings should get rid of the urushiol, but if any traces remain, drying the clothes in the dryer can leave it contaminated. Once you've worn the clothes without a problem, you can wash and dry them as usual with all of your other laundry.
Clean Your Washer
If someone in your family is highly sensitive to urushiol oils, you should run a cleaning cycle in your washer and wipe down the outside carefully with a chlorine bleach and water solution.
How to Remove Poison Ivy Stains From Shoes
With items like shoes and leather and sheepskin boots that cannot be tossed in a washer, you must clean them by hand to get rid of the toxic oils. For this job, it is particularly important to wear heavy gloves to protect your hands and wrists.
- Working time: 30 minutes
- Total Time: Several hours for drying
What You'll Need
- Liquid laundry detergent
- Vinyl or heavy cotton gloves
- Soft-bristled brush
- Leather conditioner (optional)
Prepare the Shoes
Put on protective gloves, then unlace each shoe and pull the tongue out as far as possible. Take out the insole if it is removable.
Wipe with Cleaning Solution
Mix a solution of two cups of hot water and two tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent. Use a soft-bristled brush to scrub the inside and outside of the shoes and any separate insoles. Be careful not to get the items soaking wet, but be sure to clean every surface.
Rinse and Dry
Rinse all surfaces of the shoes and insoles with a clean cloth dampened with water. Place the shoes in a breezy, cool spot out of direct sunlight or heat, and allow them to dry completely; it may take several days. If the leather seems stiff after the process, treat it with leather conditioner.
The best defense for poison ivy is to either stay clear of the plants or get rid of the plants permanently if they are in an area you use often. Poison ivy is a perennial that grows back from the roots every year and spreads through underground runners, which help it multiply. While it may take several attacks, it is possible to remove poison ivy completely from most home landscapes.