The unpleasant results of a "brush" with poison ivy may last for days, weeks or months. Fortunately, taking care of poison ivy exposed laundry is simple.
Poison ivy, as well as poison oak and poison sumac, produces a resin called urushiol. This clear, sticky, oily resin can trigger immunologic responses that usually lead to a rash. Urushiol is found in every part of the poison ivy plant throughout the year and can remain active on dead and dried plants for 2-5 years. Unwashed clothing can still deliver active urushiol a year or two later.
Clothing protects your skin from direct contact with the urushiol, but it can be a source of contact later. If your clothes have been exposed to poison ivy, don't rub against others or touch the outside of your clothing with bare skin. And if you used gloves to pull out poison ivy, don't touch exposed skin or eyes with the gloves until they are washed.
To remove urushiol and decontaminate clothing, wash with ordinary laundry detergent at the highest recommended water temperature. Do not overload the machine and allow clothes to agitate freely. The urushiol will be suspended in the water and will not transfer to unexposed clothing areas in the load.
If you're lucky enough to have someone else help with laundry be sure to tell them that you may have encountered poison ivy. It is best to handle the clothes while wearing rubber gloves or pick them up with a clean cloth to avoid direct contact.
If the clothing is dry clean only, be sure to tell the folks at the dry cleaner. They will appreciate the notice!
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