Learn how to wash away sticky urushiol in no time.
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loading laundry into washing machine
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Have you ever ventured out in the great outdoors only to come into contact with poison ivy? If so, you're definitely not alone; the nefarious plant causes nasty skin reactions for most. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to treat your skin with rubbing alcohol, poison plant wash, or a degreasing soap to remove the vine's sticky, rash-inducing substance—also known as urushiol—contaminated clothes need just as much care. Fail to thoroughly remove this oil, and you could technically contract a rash over and again simply by coming into contact with the shirt or pair of pants. Ahead, expert-approved advice from a laundry scientist to ensure you wash away every trace of poison ivy for good.

Handle with Care

Before treating your clothes, you'll first need to understand how the oil will impact the fabric. "Oil stains can be especially tricky to remove and typically call for warm water," says Jennifer Ahoni, a senior scientist at Tide, noting that oil particularly stains synthetic fabrics like polyester. When it comes to an urushiol stain, you'll need to be extra cautious, since it is so contagious. Ahoni says to wear rubber or thick gloves when you are handling any impacted clothes to avoid skin exposure. "Also, make sure to keep contaminated clothing in plastic bags and away from other garments prior to washing to prevent the spread of the oils," she explains.

Wash the Clothes

Since poison ivy stains can be hard to spot (they aren't as obvious as, say, an olive oil mark), Ahoni says to use a deep-cleaning detergent, like Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10x ($11.97, amazon.com), to eliminate both visible and invisible residue. If your skin is on the sensitive side, try a hypoallergenic, perfume-free option (such as Tide Hygienic Clean Unscented Liquid Laundry Detergent ($14.97, target.com)). After picking your detergent of choice, mix together a homemade solution of about 25 milliliters of laundry soap per gallon of warm water in a plastic bucket. Then, soak the contaminated garment in the mixture for 30 minutes. Another expert tip? "For an added benefit, add a white towel to the bucket to help keep the stained garment submerged in the solution," explains Ahoni.

From here, transfer the item to your washing machine and adjust it to the warmest water setting that the fabric will allow (you'll find this information on the care label). Next, add one dose of detergent to your load. "Since an urushiol oil stain may be difficult to see, I'd recommend washing the garment again, immediately after the first cycle is complete," the laundry expert shares. "Repeat as needed for extremely heavy poison ivy contamination."

Dry the Clothes

It is key to repeat any and all washing sessions before you dry the clothes, as this could actually set the stain. Once you are finished with the cleansing process, dry your clothes based on their care labels. "The key here is to ensure that all the urushiol oil has been removed before drying clothing, so follow the recommendation for multiple washes depending on the level of contamination," says Ahoni. Lastly, give your washing machine some care. Ahoni recommends running a wash cycle (sans garments), so you can avoid any cross contamination with future loads of laundry.


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