Do you get poison oak? Read this…….

Hate poison oak as much as we do? Then here is a post you will want to share with anyone who goes out in the woods.

Now is the time when poison oak is growing like a weed. From Washington to Southern California, poison oak makes lives miserable, and in some cases can even kill. Poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac all have the same primary ingredient.

poison oak

From someone who has been in the hospital a few times from really bad bouts with it, here are some tips on how I deal with this little beast of a plant and its Urushiol oil, the ingredient which most people are allergic to.

The first time I got it when I moved to CA was on a nice little placer claim I had near Coulterville. I was pulling nice big chunky gold out of an old bench placer by digging down through the roots of plants when I realized it was poison oak. Too late. I had giant bubbles of outbreaks between my fingers and believe me, it was painful. I have a close friend who did the same thing and when he would clench his fist, the pustules (see pic) would break and drip oil onto his cement floor. Those stains lasted for over a year….no kidding.

PO boils

Never, ever burn poison oak. Ever. During the Rim Fire up here in the south Motherlode, giants patches of this burned and released airborne Urushiol oil and many people up here ended going to the hospital with respiratory problems as a result.


Urushiol oil is the heavy clear oil which many of us are allergic to, it is dense, sticky and hard to wash off. Breathing in the burning oils can cause severe breakouts and even death.

Normally, people just get it on their clothes and skin, then later have small fluid filled breakouts where they came in contact with the plant. I’ve actually seen oil slicks on Bull Creek after we brushed a section of trail and some of the plant landed in the water.

The best way to avoid allergic reactions to poison oak is to identify it and stay the heck away from it. Below is a picture of what it looks like right now (Spring). They have very shiny leaves of three. There is a saying…….shiny leaves of three, leave it be. If you think it “might” be poison oak….avoid it.

I even know someone (who’s probably reading this right now) who used poison oak as toilet paper. Ya, you can imagine how that turned out for her.

Now, if you’re like us, we hike everywhere and many times it is unavoidable. There are some very basic, but highly effective things you can do to eliminate outbreaks.

We carry a small trial-sized bottle filled with Dawn dishwashing detergent. Dawn has some special ingredients which break down the oils and wash them off your skin. While hiking, if you come to some water, wash thoroughly with Dawn. Cold water works best because it keeps the pores in your skin closed preventing the oils from entering your bloodstream.


After mining or hiking, we go to the nearest creek and strip down to our skivvy’s, wash and put all our clothes into a garbage bag. Put on clean clothes and make sure you don’t touch the clothes until they are washed.

I don’t get to do laundry much anymore (my wife removed that chore from my duties as I ruin anything that doesn’t match my red AMRA shirts) but there was one time I was literally in a thicket of poison oak and it was making oil stains on my shirt. I washed the clothes and all I did was equally distribute the Urushiol oil onto every other article of clothing in the washer…….every other article of clothing.

I learned from that experience, so now I add a very small amount of Dawn to the washer and wash the clothes twice. That seems to do the trick.

Pets are another problem for me. Albert, the bulldozer chocolate lab just puts his head down and plows through anything and everything, then likes to rub on our legs. Wash them with Dawn as well. Warning….this can dry their skin out a bit.

There are lots and lots of PO treatments available, Calamine, Cortisone creams, Rhuligel, but to be honest, we’ve tried them all and nothing works. I have gotten it so bad that I’ve had to have steroid shots to stop the outbreak. Kenalog is the best, but it’s the consistency of syrup and hurts like hell getting the shot. They make pills you can take, been there done that. We know about the Native American’s eating a small leaf every month but we do NOT recommend this as you are ingesting something very poisonous to your system.

If you want immediate relief, put the affected area under super hot water. This produces a near euphoric effect, but also opens the pores and can make it spread, but you get instant relief and it lasts for hours. Ask John Ratley about the hot water treatment, I thought he was going to pass out the first time he tried it.

I’m sure there will be many people adding their own comments and remedies below, but the best cure is to just avoid the damn plant.

We hope that helps…………

One thought on “Do you get poison oak? Read this…….”

  1. Hi Shannon, I agree with you. What works for me after I got it, is Apple cider vinegar from Bragg. I do not know if regular vinegar does the same!!. It burns like hell but it does the job quicker. J-C

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