GreenGrass Blog

Lawn Care Tips - How to Kill Poison Ivy

Posted by Kathy Wilder on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 @ 02:05 PM

poison ivy

Poison ivy is tough to kill!  It's so tough, that killing it isn't enough - you can get poison ivy rash from a dead plant.  Or even a dead root!  Unfortunately, I know this from experience.


A word of warning:  If you need to get rid of any invasive, unknown, viney thing that has taken over your fence or gate or grown up the side of your house, take precautions.  Don't just get on a ladder and start hacking at it.  Cover yourself  - long sleeves, long pants, shoes and socks and gloves.  And safety glasses.  I once got on a ladder and started hacking at a vine that had grown up the side of my house, and I woke up the next morning with black marks all over my arms and they itched like crazy!  My dermatologist didn't know what it was, or what the plant was, and didn't care. 


And I'm not even allergic to poison ivy!  But it wasn't poison ivy, or poison oak, or sumac or anything that I'm familiar with.  (If you don't know what it looks like, here's a good drawing of the poison 3 on WebMD.)   In fact, I saw the same plant again, growing all over a fence in someone's backyard, and she said she'd never had a problem with it and thought it was pretty!  So!  You never know.


Anyway, back to poison ivy.  Here's what to do if you have it!


Buy a poison ivy killer.  You can find a product in any home and garden store - some are even in spray cans, or have brushes attached.  Vine-X seems to get good reviews.  Be sure you read the label directions very carefully.  Poison ivy is a woody vine and very tough to kill.  If it's growing on a tree or in your flower bed, or on something you don't want to kill, you're going to have to be very, very careful! 


poison oak on tree

If the poison ivy is growing on something you don't want to kill you will have to cut the poison ivy off at the base, and remove the vines from your plant that you don't want to harm.  Cover up, as mentioned above in the 2nd paragraph.  Or, you can "paint" the poison ivy killer onto the poison ivy vine itself.  However, you're going to have to remove it eventually, whether it's alive or dead.


Spray the poison ivy or the poison ivy base and roots if you had to cut it off. 


After it dies, remove it - all of it, roots and all.  Again, cover yourself up completely before you handle anything!  You can get the rash from the dead plant or the dead roots.


Never burn poison ivy!  Burning the plant will simply turn it into smoke that you can breathe in, which can be much more dangerous than a rash!  Likewise, stay away from wildfire smoke or an area where someone is using a weedeater or lawn mower in the woods. Brushing against poison ivy plants leaves an oil called urushiol on your skin, and that's what causes the rash.  You can't get poison ivy just by walking by it, but anything that sends the urushiol oil airborne is best avoided.


So, what if it's too late, and you already came in contact with poison ivy?  First of all, don't rub the area with anything! Rinse with lots and lots of cold water. If you have rubbing alcohol available, pour some over the contaminated area first, then rinse with cold water.  A garden hose will work.  Hot water will spread the urushiol oil and open your pores to let it soak in.  (Don't take a hot shower!!)  Bear in mind that the oil may be on your clothes, so put them straight into the washer.  Think you barely touched it?  The amount of urushiol you could fit on the head of a pin is enough to infect 500 people. 


DON'T USE a washcloth or a Handi-Wipe or anything like that before washing, or you will spread the oil on your skin.


Also, bear in mind that your dogs can run through poison ivy, get the oil on their fur, and transfer it to you when you pet them, or to your clothes when they brush against you. Try to make checking your property for poison ivy a regular part of your lawn care. Poison ivy rash can appear anywhere from between 48 hours to 15 days of contact, but washing immediately can lessen the severity. 


Poison ivy rash does not "spread," nor is it contagious.  Some areas of your skin are thicker than other areas, and it might take more time for the rash to show up on your leg than on your chest, because thicker skin absorbs the urushiol more slowly.  You cannot get poison ivy rash from someone else who has it!


Should you go to the doctor if you get poison ivy rash?  Normally, over-the-counter remedies work fine even if you still itch.  However, if it doesn't get better within a week, if blisters get infected, if you get it in a sensitive area like your eyes or mouth, or you run a fever over 100° you should see your doctor.  Be aware that some individuals are extremely sensitive and could exhibit symptoms as quickly as in 4 hours, with blisters erupting on their skin and their eyes swelling shut.  These individuals should get to the doctor or an Urgent Care center immediately!  A shot of corticosteroids will take care of the swelling.


So what stops the itch??  A hot shower can help - that is, after the rash has appeared, at which point the oil has long since soaked into your skin. (Remember, after first contact, wash with cold water, not hot!)  You can blow a hair dryer on the rash also for temporary relief, but be careful not to burn yourself.  There are over-the-counter remedies like calamine lotion, or antihistamines like Benadryl or a wash called Tecnu Extreme.  There are natural remedies like jewelweed or common remedies like rubbing alcohol.  Everyone reacts differently to the rash and the remedies, so basically you just need to find something that works for you.


What if you don't want to attempt the poison ivy removal yourself?  The website contains a wealth of information on poison ivy, as well as a list by state of professionals who will take care of your poison ivy problem for you.  They also publish pictures (not for the faint of heart) and individuals' personal poison ivy stories.  


Can you identify poison ivy?  Take the poison ivy quiz!


More information:

Poison Ivy Rash Treatments

Sustainable Gardening 

Topics: poison ivy