Looking for the best treatment for poison ivy? Poison ivy is an irritating rash caused by contact with any part of the plant. Learn what poison ivy is, how to identify it and prevent an allergic reaction, plus the best treatment for it.

If you’ve ever had a bad case of poison ivy, you fully understand how severe the itch, burn, and pain can be.

I’ve had small tiny bouts with it in the past, but those were NOTHING compared to what I experienced a few years ago.

It was the most painful experience ever and it lasted for a month.

And the thing is?

I didn’t even get it while gardening. Ugh!

I went through several over the counter products and treatments plus went on steroids. And nothing really worked.

Until I discovered THE BEST treatment for poison ivy that cured it.

So how did I come in contact with poison ivy and finally get rid of it?

Here is what you need to know plus the best treatment for poison ivy and how to prevent the same thing from happening to you!

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What Is Poison Ivy?

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is a deciduous woody vine often found in home landscapes, woodlands, fields, pastures, and farms.

While it grows by attaching itself to objects for support such as trees, fences and shrubs, it can also take on other growing habits too, like an upright shrub that needs no support.

Identifying Poison Ivy

Be on the lookout for anything with three leaves.

Some incorrectly assume the leaves need to have some red on them to be poison ivy but that is not always the case.

Always err on the side of caution because having direct contact with this plant is not worth the risk.

Close up of poison ivy and the best treatment for poison ivy
Close up of poison ivy

Leaves of Three Leave Them Be

While the leaf forms can vary even on the same plant, they all have the same characteristic of three leaflets. However, the leaf margins can be wavy, smooth, toothed or lobed.

Some people mistakenly call the leaf form that resembles oak leaves ‘poison oak’ but in reality, true poison oak is not the same plant and is found in the western part of the United States.

Keep in mind that the ENTIRE poison ivy plant is poisonous because all parts, leaves, stems, and roots, contain the potent, irritating oil, urushiol.

Thus touching any part of it at any time throughout the year can cause the resulting rash.

The oil does not go dormant. So beware!

For more information about identifying and controlling Poison Ivy, see Poison Ivy and Brush Control Around the Home Grounds by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

close up of virginia creeper that is often mistake for poison ivy - the best treatment for poison ivy
Close up of Virginia Creeper which is often mistaken for Poison Ivy. Notice it has 5 leaves – not 3.

The Cause of Poison Ivy Rash

Poison ivy rashes are caused by a substance found in the sap of the poison ivy plant called urushiol.

Urushiol oil is responsible for causing the redness, itching, burning, and blistering associated with a poison ivy rash.

It is not known exactly why people who come into contact with poison ivy are allergic and develop a rash while others don’t.

If you are one of the lucky ones that is not allergic right now, you can develop the allergy at any time. I believed I was not allergic and over time, started becoming more susceptible to small rashes.

close up of poison ivy next to stinking hellebore in garden - the best treatment for poison ivy
Here is a small poison ivy vine next to my Hellebores. This was about the size of the patch that my pup stepped in before laying on my legs. Notice the plant has 3 leaves on each stem. Get rid of this immediately and make sure you get the roots out. The whole entire plant from leaves, to stems, to roots has the oils on them, so beware.

How Do You Know If You Have Poison Ivy?

The poison ivy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to the urushiol, so the best treatment for poison ivy is preventing the outbreak, to begin with.

Wash your skin right away with cold soapy water if you come into contact with the oil because the quicker you get it off your skin may reduce your chances of developing the poison ivy rash.

And as I’ve explained, that rash can last several weeks, so avoid it at all costs!

You can treat mild cases of poison ivy rash at home with soothing lotions, over-the-counter products, and cool baths but you may need prescription medication if the rash is severe or widespread.

The rash typically appears within 24 hours after exposure.

view of driveway garden in summer with sunflowers, nepeta, and rose mallows with potager garden in background with green fence

How I Got THE WORST CASE OF POISON IVY EVER

It was a few days before labor day weekend.

I vividly recall letting the dogs out front to run around. As soon as I let them in, Koda layed on top of my lower legs to cuddle up and nap.

I remember showering that day (hot shower of course) and shaving my legs.

The next day, I had the worst, full-blown case of poison ivy ever. It was terrible and covered the lower half of both my legs and parts of my back where I must’ve transferred the oils somehow.

It itched, it burned, and I literally wanted to tear my skin off.

FOR WEEKS!!! It was so bad.

Black lab in backyard garden

When I looked back to determine how I was exposed I knew I did not work in the gardens at all. So in hindsight, I’m certain my dog stepped in a small patch in one of the gardens and transferred the oils to my legs when she layed on top of me. (I was in shorts).

I saw her in the gardens right before she came inside and knew there was a small patch there that I had not gotten around to pulling yet.

Well, that was a huge mistake that I’ll never make again.

Note to self: don’t wait to remove poison ivy, particularly if you have pets that run through the gardens.

Lesson learned.

close up of poison ivy near some hostas - best treatment for poison ivy
Here is a lovely poison ivy vine creeping out from under my hostas.

How to Prevent Getting Poison Ivy

While you can still unknowingly come in contact with poison ivy while out hiking or working the gardens, you can significantly reduce your chances of getting the rash by taking a few precautions.

Here’s what you need to do.

Remove Poison Ivy When You Find It in the Home Landscape

As soon as you see poison ivy in the home landscape – don’t wait to remove it.

Grab a pair of disposable gloves and get it out. Given what happened to me, it’s not worth walking away thinking you’ll pull it later.

To ensure the follow-through, preparation is key!

I now keep kitchen gloves on hand together with my garden supplies, so I can quickly grab long, disposable gloves to yank those vines out.

Why kitchen gloves?

Because they are cheap enough that you won’t mind tossing them after you mess with poison ivy.

view of backyard benches sculpted from trees with stone border, japanese maples and green arbor with fence

Sure you can use regular garden gloves, but the oils can stay on those gloves for years. So you can give yourself poison ivy later.

Why take that chance?

When removing poison ivy, be sure to get the whole vine and root system out. If you don’t pull the whole plant out, it will grow back.

Throw it all away in a garbage bag and do not compost it or let it lay around in your yard.

You can try using a homemade weed killer but it’s not guaranteed to remove poison ivy. It is pretty difficult to eradicate.

Wearing long sleeves, jeans, boots and gloves while working in the garden doingFall Garden Clean-Up

Clothing

When hiking or working in the garden, I strongly recommended wearing long sleeves, long pants, socks, and garden boots you can scrub off.

Completely cover as much skin as possible to protect yourself from poison ivy exposure.

Admittedly, this is not always possible, particularly in the heat of summer. But the less covered you are, the more at risk you are for coming in contact with the plant.

And trust me when I tell you, that you don’t want to take any chances.

So cover up!

close up of driveway gardens with tree sculpture and green fence

Clean-Up

After hiking or working in the garden, always wash up with soap, a washcloth, and cold water.

This is extremely important, particularly if you know you came in contact with poison ivy. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT wash with warm or hot water.

Warm and hot water will open your pores and allow the ivy oils to penetrate the skin.

Always always ALWAYS use cold water!

In addition to washing yourself immediately, be sure to wash everything you wore and any tools you used.

Those oils can remain on things for a very long time and the last thing you want is to reinfect yourself later.

So be sure to wash it all with hot soapy water.

shade garden with hostas, rock and green fence in the backyard

Why You Should NOT Use Chemicals to Remove Poison Ivy

While many opt for harsh chemical solutions to eliminate this pesky plant, I want to advocate for a greener and more effective approach: pulling it out by the root.

Not only is it better for your well-being, but it also benefits the environment in more ways than you might think.

Health Hazards

I’ve always believed in fostering a healthy and safe environment while gardening, both for ourselves and for nature. Using harsh chemicals to eradicate poison ivy poses significant risks to our health.

These chemicals often contain toxic substances that can irritate our skin, eyes, and respiratory system.

Prolonged exposure or improper handling can lead to severe allergic reactions, respiratory issues, and even long-term health problems.

Is that something we want to expose ourselves or our loved ones to?

Definitely not!

two black labs in the spring garden with daffodils and flowering crabapple trees

Environmental Consequences:

Our love for gardening is intertwined with our responsibility to protect and preserve the environment.

Harsh chemicals used to eliminate poison ivy can have detrimental effects on our ecosystem. When these chemicals are sprayed onto the plant, they can seep into the soil, contaminating the groundwater and nearby water bodies.

This pollution can harm aquatic life, disrupt the balance of natural ecosystems, and contribute to overall environmental degradation.

Moreover, they can harm beneficial insects, pollinators, and other wildlife, including our own pets and beloved farm animals.

pink hardy hibiscus in the front yard garden

The Persistence of Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is notorious for its resilience. It can adapt and thrive in various conditions, making it a formidable opponent.

Simply spraying chemicals on the leaves might kill the visible parts temporarily, but the root system remains intact, allowing the plant to resurface over time.

By opting for a chemical-free approach, we tackle the problem at its source, ensuring a more effective and long-term solution.

small cottage garden near the front porch with yarrow, coneflowers, seniorita zinnias and more.

How to Pull Poison Ivy by the Root

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how to effectively remove poison ivy by pulling it out by the root.

Here’s how to do it.

  • Gear up: Put on long sleeves, gloves, long pants, and closed-toe shoes to minimize direct contact with the plant’s oils.
  • Timing is everything: Plan your assault on poison ivy during early spring or fall when the ground is moist and the plant is easier to remove. But from experience, remove it when you see it no matter the time of year.
  • Digging and pulling: Use a trowel or shovel to carefully dig around the root system, ensuring you go deep enough to extract the entire plant. Gently pull the plant out, making sure to remove all the roots. Make sure you clean and disinfect all tools after doing this as they will have the urushol oil on them.
  • Bag it up: Place the poison ivy plant and any soil it came in contact with into a sturdy garbage bag. Seal the bag tightly and dispose of it in the trash.
pink and white cosmos

Prevention and Maintenance

Prevention is always better than cure, especially when it comes to poison ivy. By following a few simple practices, you can minimize the chances of encountering this troublemaker in your garden:

  • Learn to identify poison ivy: Familiarize yourself with the distinctive features of poison ivy, such as its three leaflets and variable appearance throughout the seasons.
  • Regular inspection: Routinely inspect your garden for any signs of poison ivy and promptly remove it when spotted. Early intervention makes eradication easier. Don’t wait!

The Best Treatment for Poison Ivy

There are some that swear by a good scrubbing of soap, washcloth, and cold water when they come indoors.

That’s great if that works for you.

In general, I do that.

However, I also use the following products when I have been knee-deep weeding in my gardens or know I came in contact with poison ivy because I want to insure I got all of the oils off me.

As with any product, follow the manufacturer’s directions of each.

I cannot guarantee you will never get Poison Ivy with the use of these products. However, for me, these products have significantly minimized the impact after coming in contact with the plant.

If you try these products, I hope you find the same success.

They are pricey, but well worth the cost!

front yard garden view of potager garden and front yard landscaping in front of 1850 farmhouse with hardscaping and stone steps, green garden fence with arbor covered with lonicera and a japanese barberry

Tecnu Products

I use several Tecnu products religiously and they work extremely well.

During the gardening season, I keep supplies in the shower and around the house so I can quickly grab one if necessary on the fly.

It works on both poison ivy and poison oak.

The Cleanser

I keep the Tecnu cleanser in both my kitchen and shower so I can quickly wash off any potential contamination after working in the beds.

Since I use this product often, I usually purchase the larger size or the ones on Amazon with multiple bottles.

It works that well and is worth it.

The Scrub

I keep the Tecnu scrub in the shower.

The tube is not large so get the two-pack and keep the other one on hand. This product not only helps to get the oils off but also helps control the itch.

Add it to your arsenault.

Maximum Strength Anti-Itch Gel

This soothing gel helps relieve the itch and pain associated with the rash. It’s really helpful when it becomes so uncomfortable you need to find some relief.

The Itch Relief Spray

This anti-itch spray helps reduce the itchiness of the rash. I use this whenever the rashes are not awful but still uncomfortable.

It did not help me much when I had the massive outbreak.

close up of hosta in front porch garden with buckeye tree and container garden of pansies

Truly the Best Treatment for Poison Ivy Is Zanfel

In my opinion, Zanfel is one step above Technu products, but a little more expensive.

And I say this with the utmost respect for Technu because I love those products and use them regularly.

But, when I had the worst case of poison ivy ever, the Technu products did not provide me with as much relief as Zanfel.

From my experience, Technu has great products that work well when you know you’ve been exposed.

Since I had no idea I came in contact with the oils, it remained on my skin for a while until it was too late.

When I realized I had poison ivy and it was getting worse, I tried everything and went through several Technu products but nothing really resolved the severity of that particular rash.

cottage garden with snapdragons by front porch with view of valley

After a few days, my doctor prescribed a steroid which helped a little but I was still miserable. A week and a half in, nothing was working.

So I started researching home remedies as well as other products on the market. I even cut the leaves from my aloe plants to help cool the itching burning sensation that spread throughout my legs.

Through research, I found lots of positive reviews for Zanfel. With no healing in sight, I was so desperate for a cure that I bought it, and let me tell you, it was the only thing that really helped with the pain, suffering, and healing process.

From the very first use, that rash started to improve.

Since that happened to me, I keep this product on hand. Zanfel was not well stocked in local pharmacies. And where I did find it, the product was more expensive than online.

It works on poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. So if you know you have that in your locality, get some and keep it in your medicine cabinet.

close up of shade garden with red and pink azaleas, acer palmatum and hellebores lenten rose

Conclusion

While the best treatment for poison ivy is taking the precautions not to get it, to me the best product on the market is Zanfel.

Again, I’m a huge fan of Technu products, but if you get a really bad case, Zanfel is the way to go.

More About Poison Ivy and How to Treat It

Have you ever had a bout with poison ivy, oak, or sumac? Do you have any tips to eradicate it from your garden? Or tips for how to treat the rash? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

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Garden Supplies I Use

I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.

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Be sure to check out these posts!

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Thanks so much for joining me on the blog today!

Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

Stacy Ling

Want to learn more about me?

I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.

Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

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Home and Garden Blogger Stacy Ling cutting zinnia flowers in her cottage garden with wood picket fence in front of garden shed

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14 Comments

  1. Hi Stacy. So so sorry u had to go through the horrible bout of ur reaction to poison ivy
    My husband got it and suffered. He ended up, after healing, getting a series of shots to make him less susceptible to getting it again. Guess u would call that allergy shots. He did,however, remain gun shy of deep work on our 4 acre property.
    I so much appreciate ur advice on best products to have on hand and ways to prevent a terrible outbreak
    Ur gardens make me drool as they r magnificent.
    What a joy it is to read ur blog.

  2. You have me on the lookout for poison ivy now. I definitely do not want it. Thank you so much for sharing this great information.

  3. I feel your pain….literally. I went years being able to just weed it away and then one day I was allergic. The first time I broke out it was just a little annoying. The 2nd time I ended up in the ER! I have also discovered that I am allergic to Virginia Creeper….though not everyone is. While it my area poison ivy is not a big problem in tended beds it will try and sneak in on my trees and fence. It is the one time I will use Roundup.

    1. It is SOOO bad right?! As soon as I see it now, I need someone else to pull it right away! I never want to go through that again.

  4. Stacy
    What great information! We have a lot of poison Ivey on our property and my husband is very allergic. Thanks so much for these tips.

  5. I live right on the woods and am always on the lookout for poison ivy creeping into my yard, which it does. I like to burn weeds, it’s fast, effective and no chemicals. Once having a contractor on my property, he saw I had a weed burner and said he had burned his also but didn’t pay attention to leaf count and what each “weed” looked like. He burned poison ivy and inhaled the smoke. Yikes. From his lungs, it traveled all through his body. He had to be hospitalized. I watch and inspect very carefully when I burn and try to be ahead of the game because I, too, once got poison ivy from my Golden. Great tips and we should always know what it looks like. P.S. Snow on the Mountain when it’s first coming up looks just like poison ivy. I use my plant identifier on my phone to check just in case. Fortunately, I’ve gotten rid of S O T M from my property-it’s so invasive. Thanks for the creme info. Good to have on hand.

    1. Wow Bonnie that’s quite a story! I’ve heard it can do major damage like that if it gets inhaled into your lungs.