Poison-Ivy Home Remedies

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This survival-medicine website provides general information, not individual advice. Most scenarios assume the victim cannot get expert medical help. Please see the disclaimer.

Home Remedies for Poison Ivy (Including Plain Hot Water?)

Poison ivy

Poison ivy, with its “leaves of three.”

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Lately, several desperate-sounding readers have asked about home remedies for poison ivy. I feel sorry for them. Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac—whichever grows in your neck of the woods—can cause some of the worst itching known to mankind. And it can last as long as a couple of weeks.

And all you who brag you can wallow in the stuff without as much as a scratch: Your day may be coming. As with other allergies, you can not be allergic all your life and, wham, one day you feel the itch and see the blisters. After that, you’ve become one of the chosen—allergic for life.

There’s no vaccine and no surefire cure for rashes from poison ivy and the like. But here are some things you can do.

1. Know what the poison plant looks like and avoid it.
If you know you’re allergic, first thing is you better dang-well know what the plant looks like and stay away from it. Leaves of three, let them be.

I know, I know. Not all leaves of three are poison ivy, oak, or sumac. But, if you’re like me and not really an expert in plant identification, I’d advise not taking a chance. Even vines and stems without the leaves can cause the rash, so unless I’m sure, I’m staying away from vines also.

Jewelweed flower

A flowering spotted jewelweed. This plant is a natural home remedy for poison ivy.

2. Look out for jewelweed too.
If you do get into poison ivy, oak or sumac, find some jewelweed. Grab a bunch, crush it up, stems and all, and smear it on your skin. Apparently jewelweed likes growing in some of the same places the three-leaf stuff likes—boggy, wet bottomland. Know what it looks like. No, I mean really know. I’d hate to have you smearing a bunch of poison ivy all over you.

3. If you wash the oil off soon enough, you might not get the rash.
The oil that causes the rash is called urishiol. A brush against a leaf, a vine, whatever, and it’s on you. Sometimes I think it hops on some people who even dare venture nearby. I know it can get in smoke because I’ve see some bad cases of poor souls who inadvertently burned some with other brush.

The sooner you can wash it off the better—hopefully within fifteen minutes. Maximum is probably about four hours. Use soap and water, or rubbing alcohol. Some people swear by Tecnu products for poison ivy/oak/sumac, such as Oak-N-Ivy. Jewelweed soap can be super too.

Don’t forget to wash your clothes, and your dog. But, a word of advice about the latter: Be sure to bathe your furry pal with gloves so you don’t the poison ivy back on you. You’ll probably want to jump back in the shower after you’re done, just in case.

Where to Find the Poison-Ivy Remedies

The links below are for your information. I’m not vouching for the companies, and I don’t make any money if you buy from them.

Here’s where you can get the pharmaceutical products:

  • You can find some Tecnu products at the Tec Labs store.
  • Oak-N-Ivy is available in various places, including REI, or you can order it from your choice of companies.
  • Pharmacies sell hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion and oral antihistamines (Benadryl) over-the-counter.

You can buy or make these poison-ivy remedies:

  • Jewelweed soap: Hard to find. You can order it from the Alternative Nature Herbal Online Store.
  • Witch-hazel astringent: Widely available at pharmacies.
  • Quercetin drops: Hard to find. I’m not positive you can make it, but it does come from onions. You can order the drops from Source Naturals.
  • Oatmeal baths: Widely available, including at Walmart.

Home Remedies to Treat the Rash and Itching

The rash is normally red and raised, with blisters. It usually occurs in the spots where you’ve come in contact with the plant. I say usually because some rashes start that way and seem to spread to other parts of your body. That’s rare, and it’s not the open blisters or soap you use. Blisters don’t spread the rash. Rather, it’s a more severe, systemic allergic reaction you’re having. The treatments are the same.

For the rash and itching, you can try more jewelweed soap and maybe some witch–hazel astringent. Quercetin drops have anti-inflammatory effects and can be taken orally and rubbed on the rash. Cool baths, cool compresses, and oatmeal baths can help the itching.

Here’s one you may not know: If none of the other is working and the itching is driving you crazy, try getting in the shower with the water as hot as you can stand it. (Obviously don’t burn your skin.) Apparently this depletes your body’s supply of itch-causing histamines and can give you relief for a few hours.

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Conventional At-Home Treatments

Hydrocortisone cream may help. The strongest you can get over-the-counter is one percent. Calamine lotion is an option. Don’t get the Caladryl since it can cause its own allergic reaction. Oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) ease the itching but can make you drowsy (sometimes a good thing.)

Doctor Treatments

A shot or course of oral steroids, or both, may help—even shorten the course of the rash. (No matter what, you’re likely in for a few days to a couple of weeks of the misery.) You might also get a stronger steroid cream from the doctor.

If you run fever or there’s pus in some blisters, or you’re having any other signs of infection, get to the doctor. If that’s not possible, start on antibiotics if you have them.

What Home Remedy Works for You?

There are probably about as many home remedies as there are people with poison ivy. Some work for some; nothing works for everyone. Trial and error is the name of this game.

So, please help all our readers and do tell. What’s your favorite home remedy?

And while you’re at it, please share your worst horror stories regarding those pretty green leaves.

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Poison ivy photo by Jan Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Jewelweed photo by Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Bert Rufenach

    My remedy WORKS FAST! I am severely allergic to poison Ivy. Just as soon as you feel that itch or a small blister starts, put some bleach on a cotton swab. Rub it on the itchy area for several minutes. It will feel good to be scratching the spot, As soon as it starts to sting stop rubbing the soaked cotton swap. Dry off any remaining bleach. Repeat every 6 -12 hours. The second time you rub it on will sting much sooner so stop sooner. Usually by the 3rd application it will not be itchy any more. The stinging of the bleach feels better that the itch. What the bleach does is slowly eat away at the top layer of skin and this is where the oils have gone. The bleach seems to have destroyed the oils and a new layer of skin soon forms. You may loose your tan in the area but the poison ivy itch is mostly gone in 2 -3 days. DON’T apply bleach to the eyes or any sensitive area. Treat bleach with caution. I make no claims to cure in any way. This is only my personal remedy and I assume no liability in any way from reading this post.

  • Nonni

    I don’t usually get poison ivy anywhere except between my fingers and the inside of my forearm. I use the hot water technique and it works great for the itchiness.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Nonni.

  • Feathers and fur

    do not rub the skin and immediately pour alcohol over it. Afterwards was with dial soap in hot water. It always works for us

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH


  • PinchingAbe

    Thanks for the advice. I knew what poison ivy looked like, but it was sumac that got me this time. I am going to try the creams and baths and even ice (that helped last time) because all the prednisone did last time was make me really grouchy. You are so right… sometimes you just have to suffer through a few weeks of God-awful itching.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sorry about the itching. Thanks for sharing.

  • JC

    I have read hot water opens the skin’s pores and allows the toxins to spread and i have also read it will only spread if you use hot water while you still have the oil on your body. So what is the right answer? The hot water treatment seems to be working for me but i am spreading it more and not realizing it i need to know. Thanks.

  • Lisa Marie London

    Tried home remedies and Tecnu. The blisters were awful (I squatted in poison ivy in early spring before the leaves appeared). After everything, the best remedy I found: steroid shot, prescription 2.5% hydrocortisone cream, showering with those scrubbing mittens (felt soooooo good) and Dawn dish soap, washing my sleeping bag, clothes and gear in ultra hot water with Dawn dish soap. I missed one pair of pants that got washed normally and I got the poison ivy back, but not quite as bad as the first time. I did not even realize that I had gotten into the poison ivy until the morning after I got home from a 4 day rafting trip. I guessed I had gotten into it on the second day and it took that long to show up.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for sharing, Lisa. Good reminders to wash everything and that you can get poison ivy from the plant without the leaves.

  • Katrina

    I have a really bad outbreak of poison ivy right now, and I’ve finally given up and started steroids. Benadryl at night and hot water periodically during the day worked GREAT until the blisters all turned hard like alligator skin, then nothing but nothing stopped the itch. However, the steroids are working.

    What I don’t understand is the people who commented here that detergent worked after they noticed the rash. I thought the oils were through your skin LONG before the rash appeared. If detergent made the rash disappear, was it poison ivy or oak, maybe not. Also people other places who are advocating taking small doses of the stuff orally, like a tea made with it or something to inoculate against it. If that was me, I’d be in a hospital because I would have a rash all through my GI tract from lips on down. As to the Rhus Tox if it works for you great.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks, Katrina, I agree with all you’ve mentioned.

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  • Mary Anne

    I don’t know if this was covered in any of the past replies, but urine helps…your own, not another’s….it helps to dry up the rash and stop the itch. Just collect it fresh and dab it on. Nothing was working for me until a friend put me on to this and that’s all I use if and when I get the rash.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Mary Anne. No, I haven’t come across that one. Thanks.

  • Lauren

    I used to be not allergic, then I got into some roots and vines while clearing out a friend’s garden…Worst itching ever. I swear my chicken pox didn’t itch that bad.

    Cold water helped mine a bit. Rubbing alcohol too, for some of it. I was bad and broke the blisters with my unrelenting scratching, and the alcohol burned like crazy, but that was better than the itching. Seemed to dry it up pretty quick too.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Lauren.