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At the right time and in the right conditions, gardening can be a calming, zen-like experience. Organizing flower beds, pruning plants and tending to your creations can be a truly rewarding hobby. There are, however, potential pitfalls that can turn this good time into a bad one. Perhaps the worst of these potential garden problems is poison ivy. Thankfully, we know how to get rid of poison ivy, including how to ID it and remove it — and how to kill poison ivy.
If you’re unfamiliar with poison ivy, it’s a gardener’s worst nightmare. It’s an aggressively growing plant that can be present year-round and causes an unpleasant allergic reaction when it comes into contact with your skin, eyes or respiratory system.
To help you navigate this potential day-ruining issue, we’ve put together this handy how-to guide on how to get rid of poison ivy. The first thing we’ll explain is exactly what poison ivy is and how you can identify it if it’s in your backyard.
What Is Poison Ivy?
Toxicodendron radicans, more commonly known as poison ivy, is a type of flowering plant found throughout the U.S. (except in Alaska and Hawaii) that is particularly famous for its ability to cause an unpleasant reaction when it comes into contact with skin. This allergic reaction is caused by a substance found in the plant’s sap, called urushiol. This is the same component found inside poison sumac and poison oak plants. Interestingly, this allergy to urushiol is present in approximately 85% of the population, making it the most common allergy in the U.S.
Urushiol is the oil found inside the sap of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Inconveniently, you don’t have to come into direct contact with a plant to experience the associated irritation. This is because urushiol easily brushes off onto other surfaces or can become airborne if burned. Here are the most common ways people experience irritation from poison ivy:
- Direct contact with the plant
- Indirect contact through clothing, tools, animals or anything that has come into contact with urushiol
- Inhalation of urushiol-containing particles as a result of burning the plant
When this unpleasant oil comes into contact with your skin, you’ll likely experience some form of contact dermatitis. Symptoms usually include:
- Red rash/general redness
- Difficulty breathing (if inhaled)
How to Identify Poison Ivy
If you’re heading out to do some gardening and want to avoid coming into contact with poison ivy, it’s a smart idea to learn how to identify it. Prevention is better than the cure in this case. The saying, “Leaves of three, let it be!” is a good place to start, but there are numerous other plants that have three leaves to a leaf cluster. You may find the season, local environment and exact species of poison ivy can also change how it looks.
With these potential geographical differences in mind, it’s worth checking out what poison ivy species grows in your local area. To help you get started, here are some general tips for identifying poison ivy:
- Three leaves in a leaf cluster
- The central leaflet is usually longer than the surrounding ones
- Found in wooded areas
- Can achieve large, woody vines that can be up to several inches in diameter
- Glossy or dull surfaces with smooth or coarsely toothed edges
How to Identify Poison Oak and Poison Sumac
Poison oak and poison sumac have a different appearances from poison ivy. Here are some key features to look out for in each plant.
- A shrub-like plant that usually grows in full view of the sun
- Three to five leaflets in a cluster
- Lobed leaflets
- Fine hair on stems
- Seven to 13 leaflets on each stem
- Pointed tips with smooth surfaces
- More common in the southern states, particularly swampy areas
- Red stems present in fall
How to Kill Poison Ivy
Once you’ve identified poison ivy in your garden or backyard, it’s time to remove it. There are several ways to do this. Whichever way you choose, we always suggest wearing protective clothing to help ensure you don’t come into contact with these plants.
Removing poison ivy with chemicals can be a fast and effective answer to the problem. If you choose this option, be sure to follow any specific safety directions.
Roundup 5007410 Weed Killer
This Roundup 5007410 Weed Killer has poison ivy in its sights. The impressively popular product comes backed by more than 5,000 five-star ratings from Amazon users. It incorporates a handy trigger-into-the-bottle design to make applying it particularly simple. Alternatively, you can choose a bottle with an elongated sprayer or a combo that comes with a concentrated solution and a separate full-size sprayer, which is ideal for larger areas. Furthermore, once applied the solution is rainproof in as little as 30 minutes and can show visible results in 24 hours.
Green Gobbler Vinegar Weed Killer
THE GREENER OPTION
Compared to harsh chemical-filled cleaners, this Green Gobbler Vinegar Weed Killer is a more environmentally friendly option. The formula is made up of around 20% vinegar. It comes supplied in a bottle with a ready-to-go, built-in trigger that makes applying the solution quick and simple. It’s safe for use on a range of surfaces, including driveways, sidewalks and bricks, and is also effective at removing several other annual and perennial weeds and grasses.
How to Physically Remove Poison Ivy
Aside from chemicals, it’s possible to physically remove poison ivy by pulling it up from the roots. Do not forget to wear protective clothing. The level of difficulty of this process will largely depend on the size of the plant. Tougher plants with larger roots may require digging, whereas smaller plants can be grasped and pulled by hand.
Alternatively, you can try hot water, a homemade pesticide or a cover to smother the affected area. However, the results of these approaches may be less than those stated.
SLARMOR Long Gardening Gloves
Thanks to their extra-long sleeves, these SLARMOR Long Gardening Gloves provide greater protection than your average pair. Your hands, wrists, forearms and elbows will all be covered when wearing the 100% genuine grain cowhide gauntlets. The design also features a reinforced palm patch for greater protection and an elasticated wrist for a more secure fit. Plus, they are available in white, green or yellow.
Milwaukee Safety Glasses
BEST EYE PROTECTION
Urushiol in your eyes can result in itchiness, rashes, small bumps, swelling, dryness and an all-around bad time. That’s why investing in eye protection, like these Milwaukee Safety Glasses, is a good idea, especially when handling poison ivy. In addition to protecting your eyes from airborne particles, the tough and durable glasses prevent debris and other objects from reaching your eyes. Additionally, the pack contains three pairs of glasses with clear, anti-scratch lenses and Temple Arms for all-day comfort.
How to Dispose of Poison Ivy
Once you’ve cut out or uprooted the poison ivy from your garden or yard, the next step is to correctly dispose of it. An incorrect step here can be particularly hazardous, so be sure to pay attention during the removal process. Here are some key rules to follow:
- Once removed and collected, bag and seal poison ivy in heavy-duty trash bags. Bagging poison ivy helps ensure you and unwitting bystanders can’t come into contact with it.
- Never compost or burn poison ivy. As mentioned above, anything that comes into contact with the plant will carry the irritant urushiol. Burning poison ivy can also produce urushiol-laden particles in the air, which can lead to respiratory issues if inhaled.
- After disposal, remove and clean everything, including clothing, tools and anything that may have come into contact with the poison ivy. Be sure to clean or dispose of everything that may harbor urushiol on its surfaces.
Reli Easy Grab Trash Bags
BEST TRASH BAGS
To ensure poison ivy stays securely sealed away from your skin, we suggest investing in heavy-duty bags like these Reli Easy Grab Trash Bags. Inside their tough and tear-resistant material, the bags offer between 55-60 gallons of space to store plenty of unwanted waste. In addition, this pack of 150 USA-made bags can fit medium to large trash cans and be used tin kitchens, backyards and offices.
Tide Ultra-Oxi Liquid Laundry Detergent
When it comes to cleaning clothes that may have come into contact with poison ivy, you need a detergent you can trust. Tide Ultra-Oxi Liquid Laundry Detergent is a standout option that comes backed by plenty of five-star ratings from The Home Depot customers. In addition to ridding your clothes of poison ivy particles, this effective detergent eliminates odors and delivers day-long freshness. Tide also comes recommended by washing machine manufacturers and is suitable for use in all kinds of machines and at all water temperatures.
How to Treat Poison Ivy
If you do come into contact with poison ivy and feel irritation or see a red rash, blisters and bumps on your skin, there are some things you can do to lessen any discomfort. Begin by applying a disinfectant or rubbing alcohol to the area, then treat it with hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion. This quick and easy process can make a big difference.
Additionally, if your eyes are exposed to poison ivy at any time, be sure to wash them immediately. This can be done using a washcloth, an oil-cutting soap and clean, warm water.
Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Ointment
This Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Ointment is a great option if you’re looking for relief from itching. Its water-resistant formula is ideal for dealing with poison ivy, insect bites, psoriasis, inflammation and general irritation and rashes. Each application of this maximum-strength, 1% hydrocortisone cream provides up to four hours of relief. Plus, it comes backed by more than 7,500 five-star ratings from Amazon users.
Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser
This popular Tecnu Original Outdoor Skin Cleanser allows you to target poison ivy–related itching right at the source. By removing the rash and itch-causing oil from your skin, the cleanser prevents, or prevents further rashes and reactions from appearing. Handily, this versatile cleaning product can also be used to remove tree sap and skunk spray. This includes skin, clothing, tools, general gear and even pets.
Vaxxen Labs Isopropyl 99% Rubbing Alcohol
BEST RUBBING ALCOHOL
Treating your poison ivy–affected skin with rubbing alcohol can help alleviate some of the itchiness and discomfort. This Vaxxen Labs Isopropyl 99% Rubbing Alcohol is an ideal choice as it comes backed by five-star ratings from more than 85% of Amazon users. Furthermore, the product is also USP-NF grade, doesn’t contain additives and has not been diluted.