Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy at an Archaeology Site

Forestry Workers Avoid Poison Ivy.  How?

First… I’d honestly say I’m 3x more allergic to Poison Ivy and Poison Oak than the average person.  Urushiol is the culprit, the thick, sticky and invisible oil that causes the rashes.  It’s like slightly liquidy tar, the consistency of axle grease.

Avoiding poison ivy is a good first step – walk around it, wear long sleeve “breathable” shirts, etc.  But often we cannot avoid it all (especially in activities such as Archaeology.)  I’ve found myself digging holes with poison ivy on every side of me.  But knowing I have a solution afterward reduces my worry.

After about 10 minutes in the woods, there is definitely Urishiol on my gear:  the coil, my shovel, my control pad, my pinpointer, gloves, shirt, pant legs, boots, etc.   Once the Urushiol is on your skin, the clock starts ticking.  I have around 5-7 hours to get it off.  Let’s see how it’s done :


  • Palmolive liquid or generic equivalent – the simplest, inexpensive dishwashing soap (DWS) is fine.
  • A washcloth (or five.)
  • A re-usable, washable laundry bag DEDICATED to contaminated clothing.
  • Water to rinse.

product-large-palmolive-originalSteps to Avoid Poison Ivy Rash:

  1. Put away gear while contaminated.
  2. Walk straight to the shower – avoiding contact with anyone and anything.
  3. Put your contaminated clothes and gloves in the bag.
  4. (Optional) Warm up the shower water, then turn it off.  Yes, off.
  5. Step in the shower stall dry.  You do not want water running as it will dilute DWS badly.
  6. Put the DWS on your body and lather up your skin.
    (Note: stings in eyes, use care washing your face.  Floor is going to get very slippery!)
  7. Time to scrub with the washcloths.  Friction is REQUIRED to mobilize Urushiol into the soap.
  8. Water on & rinse off the DWS.
  9. Take a normal-soap shower including hair washing with slightly more than usual shampoo.
  10. I will sometimes use the DWS a second time (steps 6-9) if I’ve been right in it.  Especially on hands, arms, and if you did your business in the woods, wash the relevant parts as well.  Poison ivy on the penis (or similar parts) is to be avoided at all costs !!!
  11. Put the washcloths and towel in the bag with your clothes, but don’t handle the clothing.
  12. Pour the bag into the washing machine with laundry soap, throw the bag in, and launder the clothes with heat.

So this sounds like a lot of trouble, but compare it to having a horribly itchy, oozy rash for 2-3 weeks and potentially expensive trip to ER and it starts to be a tiny task worth 15 minutes.

2016-05-13 21_57_22-ACME Catalog-Axle GreasePractice with Axle Grease – No, I’m serious!

If you really want to see how this works, get a small bit of axle grease (don’t use motor oil, transmission oil – they don’t compare.) from your favorite mechanic or at the auto parts store for around $4.   That’s the same adherence and consistency as Urushiol!!  Practice makes perfect. Randomly smear it on your arms, hands and legs on the spots of your body that are exposed to leaves or touch by affected hands (Did you take a pee in the woods?)  Then take a shower and observe what it takes to get it off.  It won’t rinse off, nor will it come off with gentle hand-washing.  Better start with #1 above!!

This keeps me rash free all season for detecting.  I sometimes still feel a bit of itch if it’s taken me a while to get home, but never too bad, an it goes away soon.   If I’m lazy about any parts, I get it full-force.

I am literally surrounded by poison ivy in this site.

I am literally surrounded by poison ivy in this site.  Did not have rash anywhere.

Dangerous Myths about Poison Ivy or Poison Oak

I’ve heard some detectorists say that if you eat a few poison ivy leaves that it will help your immunity.  THIS IS FALSE.   The myth about eating leaves has been well proven to be very dangerous in controlled studies.  Rather than helping build immunity, it sent some of the study participants to the E.R. with swelling tongues, sinuses, throat and digestive tract… some have died. D

I take Ragwitek in Fall (under tongue) to avoid ragweed allergies, and it contains a small amount of ragweed pollen in the tablet. Perhaps someday there will be something like this for Urushiol!

Last thing.  I never wash off my gear because it’s too much trouble, but I handle it carefully.  I know that when I touch that detector coil, etc., the Urushiol is there.  I always use clean gloves, and I always follow the steps above after a hunt, so the gear is never a factor.  You can wash it off if you want, but remember that Urushiol requires friction – scrubbing – to come off.