The unpleasant results to your health from a "brush" with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac may last for days, weeks or months. Fortunately, taking care of poison ivy exposed laundry is simple. The same cleaning techniques are recommended for fabrics exposed to poison oak and sumac.
How to Wash Poison Ivy Exposed Clothes
When clothing, hats and shoes come in contact with poison ivy, oak and sumac plants, the same oils that cause skin irritation remain on the surface of the fabric or leather. The oil must be removed or it can continue to cause problems and even contaminate other surfaces for up to two years.
When it's time to wash poison ivy exposed clothes and washable shoes, it is best to handle the clothes while wearing rubber gloves or pick up the soiled clothes with a clean cloth to avoid direct contact. Be sure to clean the laundry hamper that contained the clothes by scrubbing it with some detergent and hot water. If you're lucky enough to have someone else help with laundry be sure to tell them that you may have encountered poison ivy.
To remove the urushiol oils and decontaminate washable clothing and shoes, wash with your regular laundry detergent at the highest recommended water temperature for the fabric. Do not overload the washing machine and allow clothes to agitate freely. The urushiol will be suspended in the water and will not transfer to unexposed clothing areas in the load before being flushed away.
How to Remove Poison Ivy Oils from Shoes and Dry Clean Only Clothes
For items like leather shoes that cannot be tossed in a washer, you must hand "wash" the shoe's interior and exterior to get rid of the oils. Wearing rubber gloves - I can't emphasize the need for gloves enough -unlace the shoes and pull the tongue out as far as possible. Mix a solution of hot water and regular laundry detergent - about 2 cups of hot water and two tablespoons of liquid laundry detergent.
Next, use a soft bristle brush to scrub the inside and outside of the shoes. Don't get them soaking wet but clean every surface. Then using clear water and a clean white cloth, "rinse" the inside and outside of the shoes. Place them in a breezy, cool spot out of direct sunlight or heat and allow them to dry. It may take several days. If the leather seems stiff after the process, treat it with leather conditioner.
If the clothing is dry clean only, be sure to tell the folks at the dry cleaner that the clothing has been exposed to poison ivy oils. They will appreciate the notice!
The same safety precautions go for any home or automobile upholstery or carpet that has been exposed to the poison oils. Take care when cleaning and be sure to alert the professional cleaners.
Why Does Poison Ivy Cause Such a Problem?
Poison ivy, as well as poison oak and poison sumac, produces a resin called urushiol. This clear, sticky, oily resin can trigger immunologic responses that usually lead to a rash that will need to be treated with over the counter products that help tame the itch or by a physician. Urushiol is found in every part of the poison ivy plant throughout the year and can remain active on dead and dried plants for 2-5 years. Unwashed clothing can still deliver active urushiol a year or two later.
Clothing protects your skin from direct contact with the urushiol, but it can be a source of contact later. If your clothes have been exposed to poison ivy, don't rub against others or touch the outside of your clothing with bare skin. And if you used gloves to pull out poison ivy, don't touch exposed skin or eyes with the gloves until they have been washed.
The best defense for poison ivy is to either stay clear or get rid of the plants permanently if they are in an area you use often. The plant is a perennial that grows back from the roots every year and spreads through underground runners - it multiplies. While it may take several attacks, you can remove poison ivy completely from your home garden.