Poison ivy - Pacific poison oak, Poison sumac, Skin rash

Getting Rid of Poison Ivy and Pacific Poison Oak

controlling poison ivy

There really is no perfect or easy way. Outsmarting poison ivy is tricky.

To start with, you can do it yourself or hire someone. We list all the services we can find here.

And those services use one or another of the two methods available:

1. You can spray with weed killer, which will leave grass alive, but kill all broadleaf plants. This works, but many people are not comfortable using these sprays because of possible harm to humans, pets, and useful plants. In any case, you must follow the directions if you use spray.

2. You can tear out the plant by hand. The problem here is obvious: ripping the plant, especially the vines and roots, unleashes vast amounts of the urushiol oil that causes the rash. See the sap dripping from the chain-sawed vine in the photo? Imagine getting hit with the oily sawdust from that chainsaw!

So manual removal must be done with great care, possibly Hazmat suits, etc. This is most commonly done by professionals. Always wear protective clothing if you attempt to remove a poison plant yourself and to avoid contact. There are several risk factors involved with removing a poison ivy, oak, or sumac plant yourself.


Getting rid of the torn out vines can be another problem. One solution might be to drop them in a part of your property that is rarely used. Another would be to talk to your town about putting them into the yard waste or trash. But you must NEVER BURN POISON IVY OR POISON OAK! The smoke is very dangerous and can cause difficulty breathing and more severe health problems. One reason to hire a service is because they will take away the dead vines when they leave.

Here is more safety information about plant removal.

California Pacific Poison Oak and Its Rash

California poison oak

This is about the Pacific poison oak that grows throughout California.

(There is an Atlantic poison oak in the southeast, but it is just about the same as poison ivy.)

California ONLY has Pacific poison oak, other than a tiny bit of western poison ivy plants in the north.

Pacific poison oak grows as:

1. A ground vine, common along roads.

2. A climbing vine, going up trees and walls. Note that Pacific poison oak wraps around trees, whereas poison ivy has hairy roots that attach. So poison ivy is a better climber than Pacific poison oak.

3. A shrub. You see tons of shrub-style poison oak in California, including this photo, right next to welcome signs in a state park!

Some think the rash from poison oak is nastier than from poison ivy, but it is basically the same stuff: urushiol oil that penetrates the skin, then sends your body's immune system into an overdrive, which produces the redness, bubbles, and the worst itch you have ever had.

For a mild rash, ignore it or go to the drug store for a remedy such as hydrocortisone cream; for a bad case get to the dermatologist. For a REALLY BAD CASE near the eyes, get to the ER!

The rash is not an infection, but if you scratch it you can GET an infection.

Here is more information about Pacific poison oak. 

Here is information about Atlantic poison oak.

The Rare Poison Sumac

poison sumac

Poison sumac only grows in VERY wet areas, often right in the shallow water!

But there is great interest and suspicion about poison sumac. In 60 years, I have only seen it about 5 times, while poison ivy is unavoidable every day. Coming into contact with the plant is pretty rare.

However, if you do live on the edge of wetlands you might have poison sumac, and you might have lots of it!

One sure way to tell if it is poison sumac is with our SeeLeaf Detection wipes.

It has stringy berries that hang down not the red or yellow cone shapes fruits that stand up.

Sumac rashes are pretty much the same as poison ivy rashes and should be treated the same. You can try OTC remedies to relieve the itch, but seek medical care if the rash is near your eyes or severe.

Both staghorn and smooth sumac are VERY common, along many roads, just like poison ivy. But they are harmless and people even make tea from the red berries of staghorn sumac.

Here is information about poison sumac.