Poison Ivy
March 17, 2013 5:24 PM   Subscribe

So I picked up some poison ivy camping the last week and didn't notice it for a couple of days. Pretty sure it was on one of my sweatshirts and gloves. It has only sprouted up on my wrist, which popped up on Tuesday. Do you think my sleeping bag is contaminated? If so what would be the best step for cleaning it? Dry cleaning? What about other clothing, best way to clean it? There are a lot of things on the net but I'd like to hear about real people's experience dealing with it.
posted by Astalon to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
I would wash everything you've come into contact with on and since the trip in the hottest water allowed by the care tags on the items (dry cleaning won't be necessary; lots of hot, soapy water will be fine). Then again, I get a systemic reaction to poison ivy so I tend to be extra super careful.

I've even thrown sneakers into the washer, just to be sure.
posted by cooker girl at 5:35 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wash it normally. Get some Zanfel for your wrist. (I live on two acres of poison oak.)
posted by sageleaf at 5:42 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It depends on how sensitive you are to it... If you're super sensitive then wash everything (don't bother dry cleaning), if you're pretty average sensitive then I wouldn't worry about it. It's possible that the oils could have transferred to the sleeping bag but as a person with medium sensitivity I have never gotten poison ivy from indirect transfer like that. Ymmv if you're very sensitive. (although at this point, next time you use that sleeping bag if you're anything like me you're going to squirming around in psychosomatic discomfort all night if it hasn't been washed).
posted by geegollygosh at 6:06 PM on March 17, 2013

Response by poster: Yeah not entirely sure I can wear the sweatshirt again.

I'll take your advice and get the bags cleaned just to give me some piece of mind.
posted by Astalon at 6:28 PM on March 17, 2013

Poison ivy is really not that big of a deal, and if it took you a few days to even notice it, how sensitive to it can you be? I would wash the gloves, sweatshirt and sleeping bag and not think about it again.
posted by en el aire at 9:45 PM on March 17, 2013

Best answer:
Poison ivy is really not that big of a deal, and if it took you a few days to even notice it, how sensitive to it can you be? I would wash the gloves, sweatshirt and sleeping bag and not think about it again.
Astalon, I probably don't need to tell you this, but for anyone else reading who isn't familiar: this advice is so ignorant as to be dangerous. Urushiol oil (the active poison in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac) can cause permanent scarring and life-threatening inflammation of the breathing passageways. It usually takes a few days for the symptoms to appear, so the fact that your response followed the normal reaction times does not mean you are not very sensitive to it.

Further, urushiol oil is extraordinarily heat-resistant (which is why burning dried wood covered in poison ivy is so dangerous - most fires aren't hot enough to break it down, and it becomes airborn in the smoke!). It oxidizes once exposed to air, and turns into a far "stickier" version that tends to bond tightly to proteins (such as those in your skin).

Because it is an oil, cooker girl's advice should be changed to: wash everything in hot soapy water. Anything white can be cleaned with a small amount of bleach in the water (follow the directions on the bottle as though you were merely whitening the laundry) which will tend to destroy the toxin.

There's no over-the-counter medicine that stops or prevents poison ivy irritation (despite baldfaced marketing lies by products such as Technu, which have been disproven by independent studies). The irritation can be reduced temporarily by anti-histamines, either topically or orally taken, and although I suspected the recommended Zanfel to be in this class, in fact it's little more than a cleverly marketing cleansing solution.

The simplest solution for poison ivy irritation is to either take antihistamines (such as Benedryl), or to spread an antihistamine cream on the affected area (such as Calamine lotion, or even by crushing a Benedryl tablet, mixing it into a tablespoon or so of water, and spreading the slurry over the area).

Again, let me remind you that, if the reaction is very severe it should be taken seriously. An ER would be able to administer prescription steroids to manage the inflammation, and even intubate your breathing passages if necessary (I've known someone who needed this). Fortunately, it sounds like you're past the worst of it, and haven't suffered nearly that much.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:32 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dry cleaning a sleeping bag may be a bad idea for other reasons. With down bags especially, the makers recommend against it. I have also read/heard of possible toxicity from the bag's retaining fumes. I don't know how credible that is, but would recommend airing it out very well afterward.

The oil that causes poison ivy's miseries is carried away to a surprising extent even in cold water. But wash in hot, soapy water for best results. If you do dry clean any of the clothing, be kind and tell the cleaners about the poison ivy in advance.

For the itching: a (long ago) article in a dermatology journal gave advice that I can vouch for from firsthand experience: wash the affected part(s) in the hottest water that is not actually painful. No soap. Then blot dry (no rubbing). It brought me hours of relief.

A prescription strength hydrocortisone cream also relieved symptoms and made the rash disappear amazingly fast. Doctor visits are a nuisance, but for poison ivy, it was well worth it.
posted by wjm at 2:46 AM on March 18, 2013

As others have said, just wash everything in hot, soapy water and it will be fine. If you develop unusually bad symptoms or you're exceptionally sensitive to it, seek care, but this is rarely necessary.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:18 AM on March 18, 2013

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