Dear Home Ec 101,
After doing yard work this weekend, my dear husband has poison ivy. What is the best way to launder his clothes and keep the resin from spreading through the laundry?
Trying to Contain the Irritant
You’re in luck! Removing poison ivy from clothing isn’t that difficult, you just need to remember that the irritant in poison ivy is a resin called urushiol.
Try to keep all items that have come into contact with poison ivy separate from other items. Poison ivy is quite easy to spread from one item to another. If you can’t wash the clothing immediately, store it in a plastic garbage bag until you have time to deal with it.
To decontaminate clothing that has come into contact with poison ivy, all you need to do is wash the clothing in the hottest water possible, with your favorite detergent, for the longest cycle, and, if possible, on the largest load setting.
It’s all about laundry chemistry, my friends.
Urushiol is oily and not easily water soluble – yes, yes we’re back to the old oil and water don’t mix concept.
There needs to be enough detergent in your wash water to surround the molecules / globules of urushiol and bring it into solution (that’s your washwater). Remember effective laundering happens with the right combination of thermal energy, physical energy, and chemical energy1. The thermal energy is provided by the heat of the water, the physical energy is the agitation created by your washing machine, and the chemical energy is provided by the detergent. Using the largest load setting may sound wasteful, but you must remember that even with detergent, oils aren’t very soluble and having lots of solution -the wash water- is the most efficient way to remove as much urushiol as possible.
It’s more resource conscious to wash one large load than to run the same clothing through the entire wash cycle several times.
The longest cycle helps give the detergent time to work and ensuring there is plenty of rinse water will help prevent the oily urushiol molecules from redepositing on your clothing in the rinse cycle.
See, it’s not that difficult to remove poison ivy from contaminated clothing.
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1You know how when you look at a word too long it begins to looks weird? That.