Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Poison Ivy Removal

I wrote this up for GardenWeb; I might as well post it here, too.

I am in the process of eradicating poison ivy from my yard. It will take a few years, but I’ve made significant progress.

I do my removal by wearing plastic bags up my arms, held on with rubber bands. Over that, I wear two layers of latex gloves. (Garden gloves under latex gloves might be an even better idea.) Aside from that I work in long pants, grubby tee-shirt, and old shoes, which would be inadequate if I rolled around in the poison ivy - but I work delicately so as not to have the plant touch any of my clothing. (A previous attempt taught me that the oils will soak through cloth, particularly when sweat is involved.)

I rip the plant from the ground down to the last root, as far as possible. Either my husband follows me around with a trash can, or I leave the whole plant in the woods in a place I know nobody will walk, exposed to the air to die and rot in place. Vines running up trees get snipped with clippers and left to die on the tree. The clippers never get handled with bare hands when used elsewhere in the garden.

I only do this for about half an hour before running for the shower. My husband acts as my spotter, to open doors and help me get my clothes in the wash without touching anything. The shoes live in the garage, and are only used with care for yard-work.

The later in the season, the less potent the poison ivy is; and also the cooler the weather, the less chance I have of producing sweat that could cause the urushiol to soak through my cloths, so I see this as being safest during the autumn. I’ve even pulled the roots by feel after the leaves have all dropped off for the season. (They are shallow, hairy, and brittle.)

I am particularly sensitive to urushiol – mangoes and cashews cause me to break out in a similar rash – so I’m decidedly not casual about this poison-ivy-killing business. This has been a learning process for me, and I have had a number of rashes to tell me how I’ve made mistakes. My biggest mistakes were these:

Underestimating how nasty poison ivy is. I once stomped a tiny shoot with my shoe, and later handled that shoe bare-handed and then picked my nose. The result was as plain as the nose on my face. :)

Overestimating the effectiveness of latex gloves and plastic bags. A very small tear, combined with a lot of sweat, caused my husband to have some very large rashes.

Letting the torn vines freely touch my clothing. Vines will suddenly lose their grip on the ground and lash at you, so pull carefully. Consider your clothes contaminated from the moment you start pulling, but still pull gently to minimize contact.

Scratching my sweaty skin with my contaminated garden gloves through my clothing. Teamed up with profuse sweat and repeated exposures over the course of an hour, I had one large rash from neck to knees from that mistake. Once your hands are contaminated, do not touch anything but poison ivy plants.

“I’m already exposed, so I might as well keep going.” As soon as I catch myself thinking this, I know it is time to hit the shower.

Not scrubbing enough in the shower. This stuff needs to be ground off the skin as if it were motor oil or oil paint. It doesn’t help that it is entirely invisible! Scrub until you think you are clean. Then repeat. And maybe repeat again.

Not scrubbing my entire body thoroughly. I got it on the back of my neck once because in the shower, once, I was careful to scrub where I was exposed, but only washed the back of my neck casually before my hands were adequately clean. That casual washing served only to spread the oil to the back of my neck.


It takes about a week for me to develop a rash when I am exposed – but I have discovered that a particularly bad rash will develop sooner. If you start developing a rash within 24 hours, call your doctor.

The rashes don’t spread by being scratched, because by the time there is a rash, the urushiol has long since soaked in. However, sometimes the itch will precede noticeable blisters, so it may appear that the scratching is causing the rash.

Popping the blisters hurts like hell but seems to make them go away more quickly.

Ice helps keep the itch down. A soak in a very hot shower will cause the itch to intensify – and then go down to a bare minimum for some hours. (A hot hair dryer can also be used to this purpose.)

Before deliberately tangling with poison ivy, stock up with anti-itch remedies, rolls of bandages, and tape.


One last note – if you have never tangled with poison ivy (or poison oak, or poison sumac) before, but are contemplating doing so, or you are contemplating working in an area that you know to be hosting the plant, I suggest two things. First, learn too identify the plant so well that you can spot it even when driving by in a car. (If you can spot it from a car, you are never likely to look down and realize belatedly that you are standing in the stuff.) Also learn to tell the difference between the plant and similar plants that grow in the same habitat. For instance, poison ivy often grown in the company of jack-in-the-pulpit and Virginia creeper, and poison sumac looks a bit like staghorn sumac.

Second, do a test to find out your tolerance level, to know what you are in for when you make a mistake. (And I did say “when”, not “if”.) To do this, using latex gloves, snap a leaf off of a poison ivy vine. Dab one tiny dot of the sap on the skin of your ankle, or other out-of-the-way spot. Leave the sap to dry. Circle the location with a marker. Keep track of how long it takes a rash to develop, and how big the rash gets.

The last time I tried this was with a pinhead of poison sumac sap. The sap turned black by the second day. It took about half a week for the rash to start to appear, and after about two weeks the rash was at its peak, dense with little bubbles and as big around as a silver dollar.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

LOL! I love this post. It almost smacks of a military strategy lecture. I am bookmarking it for future reference.

The best part of this is the similarities with my war on terror with poison parsnip. I can imagine you in your combat fatigues, because I have a similar ones. Ha ha ha.

~A

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! My technique was 3 newspaper plastic bags...one for each arm, and one to put the p.i. into, thence to trash.
I've moved to Lexington, Ma., and am confronted with some huge and old plants...what next!

Anonymous said...

We found thick rubber gloves that go up to my armpit at an inexpensive auto supply store. They are big but the elastic at the top (armpit) keeps them on, and at $6 we can use a few pairs over the summer. I also dig up the roots with a garden fork (like a shovel-fork) to really get the roots, and always bag it for the landfill.

avarona said...

I had to go through similar strategies a couple of years ago (and intend to today for general upkeep).

It's all about planning out how you're going to going from point to point B without cross contamination. There have to be steps and zones and garbage bags and gloves yay dollar store's heavy duty rubber dipped gloves). I wear my rubber boots which I can wash down with soap and water after.

I wear layers (the bottom one being a bathing suit with a small blanket in the yeard waiting for me to shed my clothes onto it... which I can then lift the corner to put everything in the washing machine (door already open and waiting).

My hubby things I'm pranoid but he hasn't had to da with a bad rsh yet (thanks to me :-) ). Nice to see it's not just me.

I remember spending so long working on pulling these that I could see them when I closed my eyes. Just remember not to sccratche yourself and plan out everything (ex: doors between you and your wahing mchine).

Even wash your towel you shower with after.

avarona said...

Also, for those who do get a rash... make yourself a paste of baking soda and water and spread it on your rash and let it dry; it's so relieving. If you do this indoors you may end up with a mess to clean-up as the paste dries upand flakes off but it's worth the smal amount of clean-up for the amazing amount of relief.

Anonymous said...

Zanfel...tiny tube, big price tag, HUGE relief!

Michelle said...

FYI: obnoxious comments will not be tolerated here.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere about using vinegar as an after gardening disinfectant.
I have this terrible habit of casually weeding at odd times(and not wearing gloves) and had some terrible blisters on my hands.I am not sure if they were caused by poison ivy but I am happy to say that this year I have had none. I
pour vinegar on my hands and arms when I come in.(5 or 10% distilled)
It works on bites and stings the skin so I figure that's good!
Since my cottage has a lot of poison ivy on the perimeter and patches here and there in the cultivated areas I was very pleased to read the comments and post.I plan to purchase
disposable hazardous material suits and booties with a face mask
before I begin my battle!

Anonymous said...

After years of mistakes, I finally had success getting rid of a vine so big it was reaching out to an electrical line from 40 feet above. We thought the vine was a grape vine, but I saw the PI leaves reaching over the fence, I realized it had to be taken out.

*birds LOVE the berries, so you have to eliminate the berries in your immediate area to keep the vine from spreading

*have a bucket of soapy water ready on site before you start your work

*wear rubber boots, use rubber gloves that are resistant to chemicals, wear your thick jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Tuck your jean legs into the boots.

*have plastic garbage bags to stuff any PI plants inside

*when plants are young and the soil is loose, Pull up and take out those roots. The smaller the size, the less chance of contact. Dispose in your plastic bag

*I used an ax and a saw to sever the 3 inch vine at the base of the tree. Use care to avoid cutting or knicking your tree. I actually stopped short of cutting the vine in two so I would not injure the tree. PI vine was cut enough to kill it. Just leave the vine and let it die. Avoid the area for about a week as the leaves will start wilting in 2 days. It will be dead in 10-14 days. It's still poisonous though. Eventually, the dead vines and leaves will drop, the wind will blow them and they break away. After a few weeks/months, the oil will degrade or dry out. Leave alone as long as possible can and just use care if you have to pick up the dead debris.

*I washed my tools with the soap water and immediately dried them with paper towels and set them in the blazing sun to minimize any rust. Washed my boots and rubber gloves with my soapy water as well before I went inside to wash my clothes.

*the garden strength vinegar, I've had more success with it on other broad leaf weeds in full sun, but I have sprayed it on the leaves when the sun is blazing, but you just have to do this multiple times for the next week, to see some success. It was more effective to pull up the plant.

This did not address the root of the vine problem, but it made the work area more accessible. This year, I will use a foam brush from a craft store and apply brush be gone for poison ivy directly to the exposed root, using care not to get it on the tree or the nearby soil. Brush will be bagged and disposed of when task is finished.

I only got one small blister on my lip because my face accidently brushed up on a leaf when I was near the trunk of the tree cutting a vine at the base.

Emmon said...

This is really thoughtful, and I just passed the link along to someone facing poison ivy removal. Hope you were able to get rid of it!

Anonymous said...

I learned alot from this blog, so I thought I would leave what I have learned. I have found a couple of good weapons against PI. The best is Roundup Ivy and Brush. It will kill anything so be careful how you spray it. A small squirt on the leaves and 2 days later PI is dead. There doesn’t appear to be any effect on the ground, just on any living plants. The second is a long handled garden rake. It can keep you out of range of PI and you can get the hang of it and put the pulled PI anywhere you want it.

I like the idea of using a hazmat suit. I would love to see pics of 3” and 40’ tall vine. The hair dryer will also help you find PI on yourself as it will burn where PI is. After Ivy scrub allows you to scratch without the risk of spreading it. A cheap “oily” hair shampoo will work, just allow it to soak in. Zanfel maybe the same as Mean Green Hand Scrub (not sure, only seen it on the web). Real lemon juice works well, you can spray it on in layers and leave it on for hours. Sweat will rapidly spread PI so take extra care. Hair is also a spreader and it can hide in your hair and scalp then slip down and reinfect you over and over. A strong acid can work very well, but if you don’t have any real experience with industrial acids (strong vinegar is still a very weak acid), IT WON’T END WELL FOR YOU.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing. I've recently taught my niece to plant a veggie garden. And yes, posion ivy on her arms, legs, face. I am feeling guilty so I've purchase some Ivy poision, and about to begin the task of removing myself. I am glad I ran into your page for your helpful tips. Wish me luck. Angel in PA 7/8/12

Anonymous said...

I have gotten numerous poison ivy rashes over the last five years and have finally found something that provides substantial relief from itching. I diluted honey with water enough so that it is in liquid, spreadable form and used a washcloth to coat all affected areas with the concoction. This greatly reduced all itching and seemed to make the rash recede much quicker than in previous infestations. Hope this helps somebody else!

Anonymous said...

After exposure use brown soap,ie laundry soap: Fels Naptha to clean up within 4 hours. It's miraculous! I worked with Poison Sumac (@10 times stronger than poison ivy) many times over five summers and jumped in a pond with a bar and rarely developed even a spot.

ktk said...

I recently removed and bagged 60 pounds of poison ivy from my rear garden. The previous summer a minor incidental contact with one of the vines resulted in a double course of prednisone and a trip to urgent care. To wreak my revenge I bought a $12 Tyvek hasmat suit for painters at Lowes' home improvement center along with a pair of neoprene-dipped gauntlets that go up to my elbows for $6. The suit seamlessly covered my shoes, so there is no problem removing and washing heavily contaminated boots (you can't see it so how can you be sure they are clean when you re-do the buckles next time?) The suit also goes over your head. I was foolish not to wear a dust mask for my face as well, but I was lucky. Aside from protecting your lungs and throat, it will protect your face from snapping poison ivy tendrils (one missed my nose by only an inch, like in the Aliens movie). Take off the gloves without touching the cuff of the glove. During the operation, always watch the cuffs of the gloves so that the poison ivy never gets above them, or a leaf or dust could fall in the sweaty glove and cause disaster, but the gloves are so long it's easy to do. Next time I will tape the tops of the gloves with masking tape. When done, simply peel off the suit inside out, so the poison ivy coating is safely inside and throw it away. The $12 for the suit is minor compared to remedies afterward! After bagging 60 pounds of the infernal stuff, I am still entirely symptom free after 4 days.