Thinking back on summers past, going to summer camp may be one of your fondest memories.  Out in the wilderness with your friends hiking, canoeing, and swimming makes for a memorable experience.  Tucked into those amazing memories of summer camp might be the one time you got poison ivy.  You’ll remember that it took days, maybe even weeks, to rectify the small brush with the irritating plant.

Poison ivy produces a resin called urushiol.  It’s found in every part of the poison ivy plant, year round, and remains on dead and dried plants for 2-5 years.  Depending on your sensitivity, this clear, sticky, oily resin can trigger a rash.  Unwashed clothing can still deliver active urushiol a year or two later.

Should you or one of your children encounter poison ivy this summer, whether it be at camp or playing in the back yard, here’s how to be certain you don’t transfer the chemicals from the plant onto the skin via your clothing:

  1. Don’t rub against others or touch the outside of your clothing with bare skin.  If you used gloves to pull out poison ivy from the garden, don’t touch exposed skin or eyes with the gloves until they are washed.  It’s very easy for poison ivy to spread from one item to another so wear gloves when handling the clothing and keep the clothing separate from other items.
  2. Wash the affected items separately with ordinary laundry detergent at the highest recommended water temperature, for the longest cycle, and, if possible, on the largest load setting.  Washing the items separately will prevent the poison from spreading to other garments.  Using the largest load setting may sound wasteful, but even with detergent, oils aren’t very soluble.  Having lots of solution -the wash water- is the most efficient way to remove as much urushiol as possible.
  3. Do not overload the machine and allow clothes to agitate freely.  It is best to handle the clothes while wearing rubber gloves or pick them up with a clean cloth to avoid direct contact.  The urushiol will be suspended in the water and will not transfer to unexposed clothing in the load.
  4. If you can’t wash the clothing immediately, store them in a plastic garbage bag until you are able to launder the items.
  5. If the clothing is dry clean only, be sure to tell your dry cleaner!  They will appreciate the notice!

– S.O.