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How to Kill Poison Ivy: A Complete List of Methods and Tips

After working as a chemist at a biotechnology company, I enjoy writing about science, travel, and gardening.

Struggling to get rid of the poison ivy in your yard? From manual methods to herbicides, here are my top tips for killing this pesky plant.

Struggling to get rid of the poison ivy in your yard? From manual methods to herbicides, here are my top tips for killing this pesky plant.

Living in a rural, wooded area, I have battled against poison ivy in our yard and surrounding forest for several years. I have successfully removed this noxious vine from garden beds, the lawn, and from the trees in our woods using a variety of techniques. Permanently eliminating poison ivy requires persistence and an understanding of the proper techniques to kill the entire plant.

Ways to Get Rid of Poison Ivy in Your Yard

Two primary methods exist for eliminating poison ivy from your yard: physical removal by hand and herbicidal sprays (either natural or chemical). Each method has varying costs, efficacy, and risks of exposure to the plant’s irritating oil.

Pull poison ivy vines from trees they inhabit. For established vines, cut the vine approximately six inches above the soil level to cause the top of the vine to die, then pull the stump with roots from the ground.

Pull poison ivy vines from trees they inhabit. For established vines, cut the vine approximately six inches above the soil level to cause the top of the vine to die, then pull the stump with roots from the ground.

Remove It Manually

Pulling poison ivy by hand is the method used by most professional removal experts. This method is certainly possible for the average homeowner, but many safety precautions are required before attempting to eliminate the vine.

This is the most effective (and highest risk) method, as there is a high risk of developing a rash with such close contact to the vine.

Manually Remove Poison Ivy from a Tree:

  1. Use garden shears to cut the vine approximately six inches from the ground.
  2. Use a shovel to assist in digging up the roots.
  3. Place the dug-up vine into a plastic garbage bag for disposal.

The top of the vine will die on the tree as it is now separated from the root system. Do not touch the leaves on the dying plant, as the oil may cause a rash for up to five years on decaying leaves. To help dry up the leaves on tree trunks that might be reachable to small children, consider using the natural poison ivy spray to cause the leaves to wither faster, or cut the vines farther up and manually pull the vines off the trunk where they are within reach of a human.

Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, boots, and leather gloves with gauntlets before coming in close contact with poison ivy.

Use leather gloves to pull poison ivy plants from places they are growing in the lawn. Another option is to use a chemical broadleaf herbicide like glyphosate, which won't kill grass.

Use leather gloves to pull poison ivy plants from places they are growing in the lawn. Another option is to use a chemical broadleaf herbicide like glyphosate, which won't kill grass.

Manually Remove Poison Ivy from the Lawn or Ground:

Dress in the same safety gear used for the woods, and pull the leaves and root system out completely. Covering all skin with clothing and using leather gardening gloves creates a physical barrier from the urushiol oil on the plant’s leaves.

If needed, use a spade or shovel to dig out a bigger root system. Dispose of the vines in a plastic garbage bag.

Use a Goat to Remove Poison Ivy:

Goats are not harmed by poison ivy and absolutely love to chomp down on this plant. There are even goat rental services available to have a herd of up to ten goats sent to your yard for this specific purpose. Rates generally fall in the $200–$500 range, so this is not a cheap option (unless you already own goats or have a friend with goats).

Goats will feed on all vegetation in the area, so this is not a good option if the poison ivy is growing in a location with plants you want to keep. Goats will also not destroy the root system of the plant, so there will be surviving stumps that will regenerate the following growing season.

Still, this is an all-natural and fun way to help clear out brush and poison ivy from an area with undergrowth!

Discover many ways to eliminate poison ivy from your yard.

Discover many ways to eliminate poison ivy from your yard.

Use a Natural Spray

Make a natural spray to dehydrate the leaves of the plant and cause the top of the vine to die. This method does not remove the roots, so the poison ivy will return during the growing season. Timing this method in the mid-to-late summer season will increase efficiency, as the plant is actively sending energy reserves to the root system and is more vulnerable to the loss of its leaves.

One gallon of weed killer spray will cover 1,000 square feet of garden space. Repeated applications will likely be required due to the tough, oily leaves on the poison ivy plant. Apply on a dry and warm day for the best result.

Materials

  • 1 gallon (3.8 liters) white vinegar
  • 2 cups Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate)
  • ¼ cup soap, such as liquid dish soap

Instructions

  1. Add the vinegar to a large garden sprayer.
  2. Add the Epsom salt to the sprayer.
  3. Add the soap, and gently swirl to mix the ingredients. Do not shake the solution, as this will cause the soap to foam.
  4. Replace the lid on the garden sprayer and use in the desired areas.

Table salt may also be used, but overuse can cause a buildup of sodium in the soil. Too much sodium in the soil is toxic to other plants and may hurt helpful, native species in a woodland environment. To increase the environmental friendliness of the natural poison ivy spray, replace the dishwashing liquid with castile soap.

Use DIY weed killer to dehydrate poison ivy leaves and kill the top of the plant.

Use DIY weed killer to dehydrate poison ivy leaves and kill the top of the plant.

Use Boiling Water to Kill Poison Ivy

Boil water in a kettle and pour the boiling water over the lower leaves and base of the plant. This will cause the ivy to temporarily recede. This method works in a similar method to the natural weed killer spray, as it kills the leaves but the plant will come back from the root.

Using boiling water requires close proximity to the plant, so this method carries a higher risk than using a weed sprayer at a distance.

Triclopyr is an herbicide that will penetrate woody stems. Paint vine branches and stumps to cause the death of the growing plant. Repeated applications of Triclopyr will cause the roots of the poison ivy to die.

Triclopyr is an herbicide that will penetrate woody stems. Paint vine branches and stumps to cause the death of the growing plant. Repeated applications of Triclopyr will cause the roots of the poison ivy to die.

Use a Chemical Herbicide

While many people prefer to use natural weed-control methods, there are times when a chemical herbicide is the optimal method. Commercially prepared herbicides have the advantage of being at a strength to kill the poison ivy quickly and effectively.

In addition, most commercial weed killers will not harm grass and may be the “weapon of choice” for use in lawn applications. Poison ivy has a very robust root system, and repeated applications of herbicide will be needed through the growing season as new growth emerges. The only systemic herbicides that reach the plant roots are Triclopyr and glyphosate.

Chemical preparations for eliminating poison ivy include herbicides formulated with:

  • 2,4-D with dicamba and mecoprop-P (“weed and feed”)
  • Triclopyr (Brush-B-Gone Ⓡ)
  • Glyphosate (RoundUp Ⓡ)

2,4-D and glyphosate must be applied during the growth phase of the plant, directly to the leaves. Triclopyr may be applied to leaves or woody branches of the vine. The most effective time is early to mid-summer, when the plant’s root system has been depleted of energy reserves by foliage production.

2,4-D With Dicamba and Mecoprop-P (MCPP)

2,4-D is one of the least effective commercial herbicides for controlling poison ivy. The effectiveness increases when dicamba, triclopyr, or MCPP are added to the formulation. This is the formulation used for most “weed and feed” lawn systems.

Repeated applications will likely be needed throughout the growing season and the root is unlikely to be destroyed. In addition, 2,4-D formulated with esters should not be used in warm weather as the vapor may travel considerable distances and harm other broadleaf plants. In warm areas, use a formulation containing amine salts rather than esters.

Ortho’s poison ivy killer is formulated with Triclopyr. Do not use in areas with small trees, as the herbicide penetrates wood and will kill nearby ornamental shrubs and trees.

Ortho’s poison ivy killer is formulated with Triclopyr. Do not use in areas with small trees, as the herbicide penetrates wood and will kill nearby ornamental shrubs and trees.

Triclopyr

This herbicide is highly effective against woody vines, and is often used to prevent the re-emergence of growth from cut stumps. Triclopyr is readily absorbed through the bark of trees, and overspray may kill nearby trees. For this reason, application should not occur on a windy day and this product should not be used near other woody plants, particularly small trees.

Painting triclopyr on woody stems will prevent overspray from harming nearby plants. As a systemic herbicide, repeated applications will kill the root of the ivy and prevent regrowth.

Glyphosate

Most effective when the poison ivy is in flower, glyphosate is most effective when sprayed on the plant’s leaves on a dry, sunny day. Along with triclopyr, glyphosate will kill the root of the ivy. This herbicide will kill any broad-leaved plant and care must be taken to protect other garden plants and ornamentals during the spraying process.

A higher concentration of glyphosate is required to treat poison ivy, and most commercial preparations will indicate “Poison Ivy killer” or “tough brush killer” on the label. Pre-packaged sprayer systems can be purchased at a local DIY store.

Cutting the vines six inches above the soil level will cause the ivy above the cut to die. This is an excellent method for killing ivy vines on tall trees. The stump and roots of the remaining vine must be removed to prevent regrowth.

Cutting the vines six inches above the soil level will cause the ivy above the cut to die. This is an excellent method for killing ivy vines on tall trees. The stump and roots of the remaining vine must be removed to prevent regrowth.

Poison Ivy Removal Methods Compared

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MethodEfficacyCostRisksEquipment Required

Manual Pulling

Highly effective. Destroys root and prevents regrowth.

Low cost

High risk. Direct contact with the plant, risk of allergic reaction to urushiol oil.

Protective clothing and gloves, in addition to soap that will remove oil residue from skin and clothing.

Homemade Weed Killer Spray

Temporarily effective. Kills leaves, but not the root.

Low cost

Low risk, can be applied from a distance using a sprayer.

Sprayer with wand and protective clothing.

Boiling Water

Temporarily effective. Kills leaves, but not the root.

Low cost

High risk. Close proximity to the plant and risk of contact with allergic reaction/rash.

Protective clothing and gloves, in addition to soap that will remove oil residue from skin and clothing.

2,4-D with dicamba and MCPP

Least effective chemical alternative. Kills leaves, ivy easily regrows from the root.

Approximately $15 per 1 gallon

Low risk, can be applied from a distance using a sprayer.

Sprayer with wand and protective clothing.

Triclopyr

Highly effective. Systemic herbicide that will eventually kill the root, though repeated applications will be required.

Approximately $15-$25 per gallon.

Moderate risk. May be applied from a distance with a sprayer, but painting requires close contact.

Sprayer with wand and protective clothing. Paintbrush for applying herbicide directly to the vine.

Glyphosate

Highly effective. Systemic herbicide that will eventually kill the root, though repeated applications will be required.

Approximately $25 per gallon

Low risk, can be applied from a distance using a sprayer.

Sprayer with wand and protective clothing.

Pull poison ivy out by the roots to permanently remove any chance of regrowth.

Pull poison ivy out by the roots to permanently remove any chance of regrowth.

How to Kill Poison Ivy Permanently

Permanently eliminating poison ivy requires the destruction of the root system. There are only two ways to achieve this: pull the entire root system out of the ground manually or use repeated applications of the systemic herbicide glyphosate, which will eventually destroy the root system.

Defoliating the vine using homemade weed killer and then pulling the bare vine stump manually is the safest method of performing this task, but be aware that the oil can live on dead leaves for up to five years.

Grasp the plant with a plastic garbage bag and turn the bag inside-out to prevent any contact of the vine with exposed skin or gloves.

Grasp the plant with a plastic garbage bag and turn the bag inside-out to prevent any contact of the vine with exposed skin or gloves.

Dispose of Poison Ivy Appropriately

Poison ivy vines should not be composted or left to decompose in the woods, as the oil remains active for up to five years and poses a danger for anyone who may inadvertently come in contact with the discarded branches and leaves.

The only safe way to dispose of poison ivy vines is to place the refuse into a heavy, plastic garbage bag and dispose of it in the garbage. Ensure the exterior of the bag doesn’t come into contact with the leaves, as anyone that comes into contact with oil residue may develop a rash.

One trick is to turn the bag inside out, grab the discarded poison ivy branches, and then invert the bag around the ivy branches to prevent contact with the exterior of the bag.

What About Paying for Expert Removal Services?

Hiring an expert removal service is pricey, and may run $50 to $75 per person, per hour of labor. Many commercial enterprises employ the manual weed-pulling method, which permanently removes the root of the ivy plant from the soil. In areas filled with brambles or other brush, hiring an expert may be the best option for eliminating the vines.

While the price is high, experts know how to remove the plant safely and permanently while avoiding injury. If the budget allows, this is the safest and easiest method for the homeowner.

So What Is the Best Method for Killing Poison Ivy?

In my opinion, pulling poison ivy and removing it from the ground, roots and all, is the best method for permanently eliminating the noxious weed from your yard. All other methods do not attack the root structure of the plant or require repeated applications, allowing the plant to set rhizomes and spread via underground runners.

Get the proper safety equipment, plenty of garbage bags, and physically remove as much of the weed from trees and garden areas as you can. For woodland areas not easily accessed, glyphosate formulated for poison ivy is a good alternative.

After the top of the vine has been killed by cutting or by the use of an herbicide, pull the dead vines away from trees and dispose of them in plastic bags. The urushiol oil will remain active for up to five years on the remaining roots and branches.

After the top of the vine has been killed by cutting or by the use of an herbicide, pull the dead vines away from trees and dispose of them in plastic bags. The urushiol oil will remain active for up to five years on the remaining roots and branches.

Safety Equipment for Removing Poison Ivy

Recommended safety equipment includes clothing, preventive barrier creams, and soaps and lotions to remove oil from exposed clothing and skin after the job is completed.

Clothing Required to Remove Poison Ivy

  • Long sleeves and long pants as clothing options.
  • Gardening gloves with gauntlets to protect the wrists.
  • Work boots or muck boots.
  • A neckerchief to protect the neck.

A disposable suit made of Tyvek is another option for safety clothing. These suits can be purchased for less than $10 and may be found at local DIY stores or online. Once the job is completed, the suit is simply placed into a plastic garbage bag and disposed of, eliminating the risk of getting a rash from contaminated clothing.

When dressing for poison ivy removal, it is important to put shoes on last. This is particularly important if the same shoes were used for a prior removal and are contaminated with oil. This prevents the oil from the exterior of the shoes from coming into contact with the inside of the trouser legs and causing a rash.

Disposable Tyvek suits are a great option for protecting skin and clothing from contact with poison ivy.

Disposable Tyvek suits are a great option for protecting skin and clothing from contact with poison ivy.

Barrier Creams to Prevent Poison Ivy Rashes

A preventive barrier cream made from Bentoquatam may be applied to the face and other exposed skin areas to prevent or reduce rashes from contact with the plant. The product comes in several brand names (including IvyBlock) and is available as a 5% suspension in ethyl alcohol or as a lotion. This product should never be used in kids younger than six years of age.

Since this is a preventive method, Bentoquatam should never be used on an existing poison ivy rash—the cream will worsen the rash and could cause harm.

We live in an area with a high concentration of poison ivy, and have soap and itch relief solutions in our first aid kit. We use Ivarest on any exposed skin immediately after returning from the woods to prevent rash formation.

We live in an area with a high concentration of poison ivy, and have soap and itch relief solutions in our first aid kit. We use Ivarest on any exposed skin immediately after returning from the woods to prevent rash formation.

Soaps and Lotions for Exposed Skin and Clothing

For skin that has come in contact with poison ivy, several soap products exist to help eliminate the oil before it causes a rash. Wash the exposed area as soon as possible to remove the urushiol. Products include:

  • Tecnu
  • Zanfel
  • Ivarest

Fels Naptha soap, used in many homemade laundry soap recipes, effectively removes urushiol from clothing and skin. Contaminated clothing should be washed separately, at the highest temperature setting possible, and with the largest load setting to rinse the clothing with as much water as possible. Running the load with a cup of bleach will ensure the urushiol is removed from the clothing items.

If you do not have a specialized soap for poison ivy in the house, liquid Dawn dishwashing detergent will effectively remove urushiol oil from contaminated skin and clothing. Apply the soap to affected areas and rinse thoroughly.

FAQs

Poison ivy is the bane of existence to many homeowners with a woodland plot. This native plant may be frustrating to live with, but its interesting defense mechanism raises a few questions about where it exists, similar plants, and whether there are any benefits to having it in the woods at all.

how-to-kill-poison-ivy-a-complete-list-of-methods-and-tips

Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Sumac: What’s the Difference?

All three of these plants cause rashes with the same defensive mechanism: urushiol oil. All three grow in woodlands or wet locations. The geographical range of each plant does vary slightly, as poison ivy is generally found east of the Rocky Mountain range, poison oak is found west of the Rocky Mountain range, and poison sumac is found in the southeastern states. Poison ivy is found on every continent except Antarctica, but is most prevalent in the United States of America and Canada.

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CharacteristicPoison IvyPoison OakPoison Sumac

Leaf Shape

Broad, spoon shaped leaves. Young leaves look like mittens.

Looks like small oak leaves.

Oval leaves with smooth edges and a pointed tip.

Leaf Texture

Hairless, shiny leaves.

Hair on both sides of the leaves.

Hairless, shiny leaves.

Leaf Clusters

Sets of three leaves.

Up to seven leaflets per stem.

5-13 leaflets per stem.

Primary Geographical Location

East of the Rockies, but found in every state in the continental USA.

West of the Rockies

Southeastern USA

Plant Habit

Vine, may grow as a small tree or shrub.

Vine or shrub

Small tree or shrub

Poison ivy requires warmth and moisture to grow, and is not found in deserts or above 4,000 feet altitude.

Poison ivy requires warmth and moisture to grow, and is not found in deserts or above 4,000 feet altitude.

Where Is Poison Ivy Not Found?

While poison ivy can be found on almost every continent, there are a few places where it cannot survive, including:

  • Above 4,000 feet (1200 meters) elevation.
  • Desert landscapes, except along river banks or near oases.
  • The states of Alaska and Hawaii are free of poison ivy.

Does Poison Ivy Have Any Benefits?

This native vine provides berries for native wildlife in the late summer and fall seasons. Birds such as robins, cedar waxwings, yellow-rumped warblers, and woodpeckers all benefit from the fruit it provides.

How Does Poison Ivy Spread?

The vine spreads when birds or animals drop seeds into damp soil in late summer or early fall. In addition, each stem is capable of producing roots when the branch touches soil, allowing the vine to spread rapidly in prime conditions. Underground stems called rhizomes also speed the spread of this plant.

How Does Poison Ivy Rash Spread?

The rash created by contact with the urushiol spreads as the oil is spread. Scratching the rash spreads the oil, increasing the size of the original lesion. In addition, many people will touch their face and other body parts and spread the irritating oil to those locations.

It is vital to wash all areas in contact with poison ivy as soon as possible to stop the spread of the rash. It takes approximately 12 hours for the rash to begin forming after coming into contact with poison ivy leaves.

The rash formed by contact with urushiol oil on poison ivy leaves may spread if the oil is not removed. Scratching may spread the oil across the surface of the skin. It is vital to cleanse the affected area with a soap as soon as possible.

The rash formed by contact with urushiol oil on poison ivy leaves may spread if the oil is not removed. Scratching may spread the oil across the surface of the skin. It is vital to cleanse the affected area with a soap as soon as possible.

Are Some People Immune to Poison Ivy?

Approximately 75% of people will develop a severe, itchy rash in response to coming into contact with urushiol on the ivy’s leaves. The remaining 25% of the population won’t develop a rash. This does not necessarily mean they are “immune,” as an individual may not react to the oil for years, then suddenly start reacting at age 50 or 60.

The protein Interleukin 33 (IL-33) plays a strong role in producing the inflammation at the point of contact of urushiol with the skin. In addition to inducing inflammation, IL-33 acts directly on the nerves to incite intense itching.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Leah Lefler

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2021:

I do not envy you that job!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 26, 2021:

We have a chronic battle with poison ivy in our woods, Peg, particularly now that we have lost many trees due to the Emerald Ash Borer. The increasing sunlight has allowed a lot of undergrowth to occur. We have a hard time managing the outrageous growth of ivy and it is yearly battle. We have planted more trees to help reduce undergrowth in general, and with persistence we should beat our ivy issue within a few seasons. It is definitely not a fun plant to remove!

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on June 26, 2021:

I read your article with interest as there are poison ivy plants creeping into our yard. I dread having to pull them out as it's so difficult to keep from touching the vines. Your tips will help with that. I was also glad to find that you recommend that Epsom salt solution. Thank you.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on June 24, 2021:

I am very fortunate and have only had a reaction once in my life, Peggy, but my son has had many rashes over his lifetime! I hope you never have to remove it from your yard. I hope these tips help if you ever do face that possibility!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 24, 2021:

I have suffered from exposure to poison ivy many times in my life. Ugh! I hope never to have to remove it from our yard, but this tutorial is a good one to know. I'll pin this article for future reference and to share with others.

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