Poison oak season has begun around here, with fields full of the nasty stuff growing everywhere. I tend to dress conservatively in areas I know have poison oak, to avoid getting exposed in the first place. Were I to be exposed, how should I clean the poison oak from my skin?

I'm aware of various hi-tech products designed to clean poison oak, but am unsure whether they're actually any more effective than just using regular soap and water.


4 Answers 4


As noted, the key is removing it quickly. If you like to carry around dishsoap, that will work great. However if you do not regularly carry that around, abrasives are a good alternative. I've effectively used the sand at the bottom of a small waterfall to remove the oils and of the entire hiking group, all of whom realized too late what we'd walked through, none had a reaction.

  • Now this is a suggestion I hadn't heard before. The first thought that comes to mind is that aggressively abrading the skin could actually open up tiny scratches and facilitate the oil getting into the skin. I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has experience with this method.
    – nhinkle
    Apr 15, 2015 at 2:12
  • Well, I wouldn't say we were "aggressively abrading". It was more like using sand to rub with. Basically - grab sand, rub skin with it, rinse, repeat. Apr 24, 2015 at 15:45
  • Decades ago, while camping, we ran out of soap. Since the main use for soap is removing oil and grease, we'd use dirt to remove oily residues on pots and then rinse and rub with enough water.
    – Roflo
    Apr 30, 2015 at 21:57
  • Physically removing the oil as soon as possible after contact by adsorption using whatever you can find—fine sand, dry soil, etc—has saved my hyper-allergic skin more than once. You don’t have to rub hard, the point is just to bring something dry into contact with the oil so the majority of the oil attaches itself to that material instead of your skin. The finer the particles the more surface area there is to stick to oil and the better it will work.
    – mmcc
    Jun 29, 2018 at 18:30

Poison oak's "poison" is an oil-based substance; therefore any oil-removing soap will do the trick. Dish soap is a low-cost and easily available substance for cleaning poison oak from skin. This study found that:

  • Dish soap was significantly better than no treatment.
  • Dish soap was not significantly different from two other products (Tecnu, which is much more expensive, and Goop).

Vigorously washing the affected area with dish soap and water will typically remove poison oak oils. It's best to wash the area immediately -- within a matter of minutes after exposure.

  • Also, avoid using hot water to clean with, as this will 'open' your pores more and make removal more difficult. ALWAYS USE COLD WATER. Dec 31, 2015 at 5:18

Ivory soap (for North American campers)...it's the only one that actually cleans and does not leave any residue (which can hold oils) begins.

I don't know what other brands of a similar product there is, but I bet you can find your own if you look for ivory soap on the Internet.

  • Well, I am pretty sure there are other brands of soap which don´t leave any residue. But still, thats an important point: Make sure the soap you use doesn´t leave any residue. A good indicator for that could be that is doesn´t have anything like perfumes, moisturizer etc. Apr 14, 2015 at 10:06
  • @PaulPaulsen there may be, however ivory has been known as the campers soap, as well as being the most well known brand of "pure" soap out there.
    – Escoce
    Apr 14, 2015 at 12:51
  • 1
    It seems unlikely to me that Ivory is "the only one that actually cleans and does not leave any residue." I also haven't seen any evidence that leaving a residue is a problem when dealing with poison oak.
    – user2169
    Apr 14, 2015 at 19:07

I don't know about poison oak, but have lots of experience with posion ivy. I think the irritant in both is similar (urushiol oil, or something like that). This answer applies to poison ivy, which I think transfer to posion oak too.

No, ordinary soap does no good against this oil. I have taken a shower with ordinary soap shortly after being exposed to poison ivy, and got the nasty rash. Last year I started using a product called TechNu (or something similar to that, can't remember exact name) and I can tell you it does work. It is something you use like soap after exposure, but unlike soap, it actually does wash off the irritating oil.

There have been a least two cases now where I'm quite sure I got exposed to poison ivy while doing trail work. I went home afterwards, took a shower and washed with the TechNu stuff, and had no symptoms. I'm quite allergic to poison ivy, and am convinced that washing with this stuff made a difference.

I'm at work now and the bottle is at home, but I sortof remember that poison oak is listed on the label as one of the irritants it is effective against.

  • I'm skeptical about tecnu, partly because the tecnu I saw at REI said on the label that it was homeopathic, and homeopathic medicine is pseudoscience. I would like to know if there is any scientific evidence that it works. I know people who say it worked for them, but with anecdotal evidence like that, there's no way of knowing what the outcome would have been if they hadn't used it or had just used ordinary soap.
    – user2169
    Apr 14, 2015 at 15:37
  • @Ben: I'm not where the bottle is now so can't go see what it says on it. However, I have certainly tried to wash of poison ivy before with ordinary soap. I know it didn't work since I got some serious rashes. I am quite sure I've been exposed at least twice, washed with Tecnu within a few hours, and had no rashes. I haven't done a controlled test, but I'm satisfied that it works. We have a lot of poison ivy around here, and others that do regular trail work I have talked to say the same thing. Apr 14, 2015 at 16:04
  • 4
    Sorry, but the plural of anecdotes is not data. This study found no statistically significant difference between tecnu and dishwashing soap: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-4362.2000.00003.x/…
    – user2169
    Apr 14, 2015 at 19:08
  • @BenCrowell however, there is a difference apparently between regular shower soap and dishwashing soap, which may explain why Olin got a better result out of technu than from whatever he usually showers with.
    – nhinkle
    Apr 14, 2015 at 19:16
  • @nhinkle: there is a difference apparently between regular shower soap and dishwashing soap What is your source of information for this claim?
    – user2169
    Apr 14, 2015 at 19:24

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