6 Ways to Get Poison Ivy or Oak without Touching the Plant

By Lisa  |  Tuesday, July 3, 2012  |  , , ,  |  36 comments

Urushiol can cause Poison Ivy rash without Touching the PlantHave you ever had a mysterious poison ivy or oak rash pop up and you can't figure out how you got that? You didn't go camping, take a hike in the woods, or even venture outdoors.

Well it's because of how the plant causes the rash. Your body has an allergic reaction to the oil found in all parts of the plant called urushiol (pronounced oo-roo-she-all).  That oil can stay very potent for a very long period of time and can travel on any other surface that it may have come in contact with.

Here are 6 ways you can get a poison oak and ivy rash without even touching the plants:

1)    From your dog, cat or other furry friend. Your pets may love to explore the outdoors and they have this wonderful layer of fur that protects them from the irritating poison plant oil, urushiol. Fur is also a perfect surface for urushiol to stick to. So the next time your pets rub against your legs, or you bend down to pat them on the head, you can come in contact with the oil.

2)    Gardening tools and gloves. If you have used your gardening tools or gloves around poison ivy or oak, it is possible urushiol has been left on the surface of them.  Urushiol can sit on your gardening tools for years so the next time you are in contact with them, you can pick up the oil.

3)    Lawn mower or weed whacker. When plowing through or hacking down poison ivy or oak, urushiol can stick to your lawn mower or weed whacker and transfer to you the next time you mow the lawn.

4)    Washing clothing. This is a common complaint from families of outdoor workers. Urushiol can sit on clothing that you wear when trekking through poison ivy or oak and the person who washes the clothes unknowingly comes in contact with the oil.

5)    Mountain bike. You rode through a vegetable tunnel surrounded by poison oak. Urushiol can stick to your bike as well as your skin so the next time you go out for your ride you are in contact with urushiol.

6)    Airborne. It is extremely dangerous to burn poison ivy or oak as the urushiol can become airborne. One way this happens unintentionally is when dead poison ivy or oak is wrapped around firewood. Inhaling this oil can result in a severe reaction, so if you think you have inhaled urushiol it is important to see a physician.

Urushiol can be cleaned off of many of these items using Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser Click here for instructions.

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36 comments for “6 Ways to Get Poison Ivy or Oak without Touching the Plant”

  1. Posted 7/25/2012 at 11:11:29 AM
    Gravatar of Peg

    So I have been living with poision ivy for 2+ weeks. Doctor prescribed Prednisone for 5 days, triamcinolone cream and zyrtec. Went away but has reappeared in other areas. I have used your IvyStat 2 step system in the past but have run out of it and could not find it in stores. Will now get your Tecnu Extreme and Tecnu origianl and hope that that will stop it.

    In the mean time I realize that I must still have it on the clothes I wore when I got it. I need to know how I should launder these clothes so that the oil is gone. Please advise

  2. Posted 7/31/2012 at 11:03:00 AM
    Gravatar of Lisa

    Directions on how to use Tecnu Original on clothing, tools and more can be found under the Tips and Advice menu at the top of the page. Select Guides and How-to's and see the post "How to use Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser on pets, clothing, tools, equipment and more."

  3. Posted 5/10/2013 at 2:41:58 PM
    Gravatar of Aimee

    I'm so allergic to poison ivy that 2 summers ago one little spot on my arm mixed with lotion I put on every day caused my face and arms to swell. I had to use ice packs to reduce the swelling once I was on meds. I bought Tecnu Extreme at that time. This time when I found a small spot I used the Tecnu Extreme immediately. I only got a total of 4 spots on my wrist and hand. I was really grateful I had the Tecnu Extreme on hand. I would recommend this product to everyone.

  4. Posted 1/15/2014 at 10:02:14 PM
    Gravatar of Tammy

    Happens all the time. This article confirms what I already assumed... that I continue to get poison ivy (or oak) from the outdoor cat who roams a lot. The neighbors have 17 acres of woods, and the cat is long haired. I thought I was safer in winter, but nope! It's January and I have an itchy rash on the inside of my forearm. He's just so darn cute and cuddly... but maybe I ought to remember this next time I frisk him :-)

  5. Posted 3/5/2014 at 10:37:00 PM
    Gravatar of Taylor

    So i've lived in the country my whole life, I used to go down and adventure in the creeks with shorts and flip flops, i'm from Texas so there is quite a bit of poison ivy, sumac, oak etc. but I have never had a problem (my brother on the other hand wasn't so lucky). Well, I recently moved to a kind of suburban area and i've already gotten it once (I'm almost positive its developing again) but why is that? My mother s fine and she is more prone than I am too. I don't go out a lot anymore but for some reason it keeps attacking me… i'm just really confused as to how that comes to be.

  6. Posted 3/6/2014 at 12:58:42 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Taylor - reactions to poison oak, ivy, and sumac plants can begin at any time during a person's life. In fact, 3 out of 4 people are sensitive to the plants. Sensitivity is just a matter of being exposed enough times until the body becomes allergic to the poison oil (urushiol).

  7. Posted 8/13/2014 at 11:15:37 AM
    Gravatar of Leann

    I have a spot here and there on my legs got them about three days ago a friend said it was poison ivy as her nephew had them before but much worse but looked the same as mine do anyway the itch has stopped but I do have one that has a blister that breaks open then blisters again what do think?

  8. Posted 8/19/2014 at 8:38:59 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Leann: We would recommend you contact your physician or pharmacist regarding your rash; especially since you cannot verify what the cause of your rash is.

  9. Posted 9/23/2014 at 12:13:11 PM
    Gravatar of ilene

    can you get poison ivy from another person who has it

  10. Posted 10/7/2014 at 10:03:19 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Ilene: If the rash-causing oil, urushiol has not yet been absorbed into the skin and you come into (direct, skin-to-skin) contact with them, yes, you can potentially develop a rash as well. The oil is typically absorbed within 24 hours after exposure. Contrary to popular belief, the liquid that sometimes oozes from the blisters of poison ivy rash, does not contain the rash-causing oil.

  11. Posted 10/10/2014 at 10:03:44 AM
    Gravatar of Shelley

    Caileen, is there anything I can clean with to destroy left over poison sap around the house besides Tecnu ?

  12. Posted 11/5/2014 at 11:49:49 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Shelley: If you not not want to use Tecnu® Original to remove sap around the house, we'd recommend using a detergent that is tough on grease such as Dawn® dish soap. Of course, we recommend spot-testing for color fastness on any fabric-like materials.

  13. Posted 12/8/2014 at 3:10:33 PM
    Gravatar of pete

    I cut a tree down just over a year ago that has poison ivy on it. The ivy died with the tree. Will the ivy still make me itch? Can it make you itch in the winter?

  14. Posted 1/29/2015 at 9:31:37 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Pete: If you are sensitive to urushiol (rash-causing oil from poison oak/ivy), it is possible that you can still have a reaction to the plants even if they are dead. Urushiol (found in all parts of the plant) does not evaporate and can last for months, even years. To answer your other question, yes, it is possible to develop a reaction to poison oak or ivy any time of year.

  15. Posted 5/7/2015 at 10:52:53 AM
    Gravatar of Forrest

    I havent been around poison ivy but i live in the country area where a lot of poison ivy exists, I have had these bumps though on my skin that wont have a lot of blisters or bubbles just one on each bump and when I itch it too much the bump doesnt grow it just turns into a scar. Can you tell me what I might have?

  16. Posted 5/11/2015 at 8:56:45 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Forest: Even though you haven’t been in direct contact with the poison ivy, if you live in an area abundant with the plant, you could be coming into contact with the rash-causing oil (urushiol), indirectly. Urushiol can be on other surfaces (fence posts, tools, clothing, boots, lawn mower, even your dog) that you touch or brush up against, causing the resin to transfer to your skin and potentially cause a rash. Your rash could possibly be from poison ivy, however we would recommend you visit a pharmacist or doctor for a diagnosis and treatment recommendation.

  17. Posted 6/6/2015 at 6:37:48 AM
    Gravatar of julie

    how do I clean off a ladder that poison ivy was touching?

  18. Posted 6/8/2015 at 3:16:54 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Julie, Simply saturate a cloth in Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser and wipe down the ladder. You can follow up with a water-saturated cloth to remove any excess Tecnu if you'd like.

  19. Posted 6/26/2015 at 8:57:26 AM
    Gravatar of Austin

    Can you wash away the oil from clothing? Or is it best I throw them away? I currently have it on the inside of my right leg and it is extremely irritating.

  20. Posted 7/12/2015 at 2:05:20 AM
    Gravatar of ian

    I got p ivy on the inside of my finger from petting a dog last night. What is the best way to treat the the itch? I don't see any rash, but it is itching a lot.Thanks

  21. Posted 7/14/2015 at 9:05:15 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Austin, yes, urushiol can be removed from clothing! If you can, spot treat, rub, or soak clothing in Tecnu Original; then wash as you normally would. Or, simply run the contaminated clothing through two cycles in the washing machine in warm/hot water, with a detergent that is tough on grease, such as Tide®.

  22. Posted 7/14/2015 at 9:27:10 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Ian, we have a few products that can help relieve itching caused by poison oak or poison ivy: Calagel, Tecnu Extreme, Rash Relief Spray, & Corticool.

  23. Posted 7/22/2015 at 6:10:46 AM
    Gravatar of Naomi

    I am in my 6th day after coming into contact. It took 2 days for the blisters to start. But small additional bumps are still showing up. Am I spreading it around my body? If the oil is already inside can I spread it to the areas around the original bumps, or from an arm to a leg?

  24. Posted 7/27/2015 at 3:19:30 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Naomi, there are a couple of reasons why you are noticing new rash areas appearing. First, different areas of the body absorb urushiol (rash-causing oil) at different rates, so you may notice a spot on your arm one day, and a new spot in a different area a day or two later. Second, you may be coming into contact with urushiol from clothing, tools, bedding, etc. causing secondary contamination.

  25. Posted 8/22/2015 at 11:36:44 AM
    Gravatar of Laurie

    Hi Caileen, I recently bought a bottle of technu original. I would like to take it to my cottage to keep there permanently, as there is a lot of poison ivy in the area. The bottle would freeze in the winter, as the cottage is unheated and in a cold area. Would this be a problem? Please advise. Laurie

  26. Posted 8/28/2015 at 9:00:35 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Laurie: as with anything, multiple freezing/thawing cycles will begin to break down a product. If you choose to do this, you may want to consider replacing the bottle after a few winters. The safety data sheet (SDS) for Tecnu® Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser does state a recommended storage temperature of 59-86 degrees F.

  27. Posted 9/8/2015 at 7:59:49 AM
    Gravatar of Lee

    I picked wild plums to make jelly. After picking up some off the ground I realized they were amongst some poison ivy. Will the oils from the poison ivy be on the plums? Can it be rinsed off, or will it be dangerous to eat?

  28. Posted 9/9/2015 at 2:28:50 PM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Lee, it is possible that the rash-causing oil from poison ivy, urushiol, could be on the plums. To be safe, we recommend that you avoid eating them altogether.

  29. Posted 9/19/2015 at 2:29:26 PM
    Gravatar of Joe

    I just got out of wrk was weed whacking a lot of brush noticed a lot of poison ivy around tryd my best to prevent getting it on my skin had gloves but just t shirt and of cours pants n boots am more worried about inhaling the oil is it possible to inhale the poison by having a lot of it around getting weed whacked ??? Also used a lot of soap bleach and alcohol to try n prevent the poison from settling on my arms should I b ok?

  30. Posted 9/24/2015 at 8:56:21 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Joe, we can't be sure if urushiol can be inhaled while weed whacking. It may be worth wearing a mask to be safe. As for removing urushiol (rash-causing oil) from the skin, did you know that Tecnu® can do that? It is a safer alternative to bleach and designed specifically to remove urushiol from the skin.

  31. Posted 10/16/2015 at 1:05:02 PM
    Gravatar of Chris

    My dogs got into poison oak. They love to roll around on the carpet. How can i clean the carpet so i don't get it?

  32. Posted 10/19/2015 at 8:18:49 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Chris, if your dogs have rolled around on a large portion of the carpeting, it may be best to shampoo the carpet. This will help remove any urushiol that may have transferred from their fur to the floors. If you are unsure what shampoo to use, it may be best to contact a local carpet cleaning service provider for their recommendations.

  33. Posted 1/14/2016 at 6:35:18 AM
    Gravatar of DH

    Two questions. 1) Are young children more immune to poison ivy? 2) Do you have to be particularly sensitive to get a rash second or third hand? (i. e, not direct contact with the plant). I know very few people that have had a reaction despite the claims that nearly everyone is allergic.

  34. Posted 2/19/2016 at 8:29:15 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    DH, to answer your questions: 1.) To our knowledge, age is not a factor when it comes to sensitivity to poison oak or ivy. Some people start off being highly sensitive, while others develop a sensitivity over time with increased exposure. 2.) You're referring to what we call, secondary contamination. Whether a person is highly sensitive or not, urushiol (rash-causing oil) is a very strong, concentrated substance that does not evaporate. Coming into secondary contact with urushiol can often times have the same result as touching the plant itself. Finally, nearly 85% of the population has a sensitivity to poison oak and poison ivy.

  35. Posted 10/25/2016 at 9:52:06 AM
    Gravatar of Carol

    I hike on a trail with ocassional areas with dried fallen poison oak leaves that are quite dusty from the trail surface.My trail buddies assure me that I don't need to worry about poison oak on my boots or trekking poles.(they are both allergic to poison oak & have never contracted it from the dried leaves in the dust touching their trekking poles or boots)

  36. Posted 10/26/2016 at 8:04:29 AM
    Gravatar of Caileen

    Carol, your buddies are lucky! Urushiol (rash-causing oil in poison oak, ivy, & sumac) is active on the plants all year long, and is present in all parts of the plant including the roots, stems, and leaves. It never hurts to wipe down your gear with Tecnu Original to avoid possible secondary contamination.

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