Getting Rid of Poison Ivy

by April Reinhardt
(last updated August 15, 2014)

A vine or shrub that is part of the cashew family, poison ivy grows abundantly in many parts of the United States and Canada. Like other ivies, poison ivy can climb around tree trunks, but it also grows as bush or shrub varieties. Poison ivy contains urushiol, which is an oil with properties similar to carbolic acid, and an extreme skin irritant. The oil from the plant causes the skin rash, not the resulting eruptions of the skin. If you walk through poison ivy, the oil from the plant adheres to the shoes and you can become infected with the poison oil by simply removing your shoes. I am lucky in that I am naturally immune to poison ivy and have never suffered with the rash. However, I can remember my brother agonizing with poison ivy outbreaks, made especially worse in the heat of summer.

Poison ivy is easily identified, having one compound leaf made of three almond-shaped leaflets. Its berries are whiteish-gray and some people recite a short rhyme to help them distinguish poison ivy from other plants: "Leaves of three, let it be; berries white, danger in sight." If you find poison ivy on or around your property, you can eradicate it by following these guidelines:

  • Choose a day when there is no wind or rain.
  • Cover yourself completely. Wear long sleeves, tucking them into rubber work gloves, and button the shirt at the neck. Cover your exposed neck with a thick towel, tucking it into your shirt. Or, wear a jacket with a hood. Wear sturdy denim pants, tucking them into thick socks. Wear boots, eye goggles, and a breathing mask. You can acquire poison ivy through inhalation. Make very certain that your skin is not exposed.
  • Using a pair of shears, cut the plant at the base. Do not break the plant's stem, as you will release its oil into the air if you do so. Place the cut plant into a plastic bag and immediately tie it shut.
  • Next, dig the roots of the plant using a shovel, placing them into a plastic bag and tying it shut.
  • Spray chemical herbicide onto any remaining roots. Using glyphosphate-based herbicides to kill poison ivy has proven quite effective, but it is nonselective in that it will kill any plant that it touches, including landscape plants. Use caution when using it around landscape plants.

Completely rinse all of your tools, and have someone hose you down with the garden hose before you attempt to remove your clothing. It's best to discard all of the clothing you wore instead of saving it and washing it. Never, ever burn poison ivy, as inhaling the fumes from the burning poison can cause more health problems than the resulting skin rash.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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