a shower head spraying hot water

Q. I had poison ivy all over my leg and nothing I tried for it seemed to help much. It may sound crazy, but I noticed that when I got in a hot shower, the hot water felt good on the rash, kind of like I was scratching it.

I found that after putting hot water on it, the poison ivy didn’t itch for a while. So I turned up the heat as hot as I could stand it and held it there as long as I could stand. When I got out, it didn’t itch anymore.

A. Hot water (hot enough to be uncomfortable but not so hot as to burn) can ease itching for hours. It works for poison ivy and insect bites, but not hives. Another reader shared this experience:

“Your hot water remedy for mosquito bites was amazing! I tried all sorts of anti-itch creams, and none worked as well as a wet towel, 30 seconds in the microwave, and a minute on the bites. I wish I knew about this a long time ago.”

Another reader found a different surprising remedy for poison ivy itching:

“I heard about milk of magnesia last week on the radio program, just as I was having a bad breakout of poison ivy on my legs. As I am very allergic to poison ivy and calamine lotion doesn’t work very well, I was curious to give it a try. Result, it relieved the itching and quickly dried up the oozing sections.”

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  1. William
    Chicago Heights, Illinois

    Although it is always great to monitor support groups such as this in an attempt to alleviate the absolute misery of poison plant rashes, my biggest problem is controlling the constant weeping and oozing of the inevitable blisters that break out. There seems to be many useful remedies for managing the terrible itching, (and hot water on a poison ivy rash feels better than sex!), but the biggest deal by far is drying the nasty stuff out as fast as humanly possible! I currently have a horrible case of it on my arms, and I can’t really afford a trip to the doctor to get the steroid shots/medication. If someone had an honest, tried-and-true home remedy for drying this mess up, I would dearly love to hear it! Good luck to all!

  2. Tom
    Lexington, MI

    As a physician I will explain why hot water is so effective in relieving extreme itching associated with numerous conditions, including but not limited to, various insect bites, poison ivy, athlete’s foot, jock itch, etc. Simply put, the itching caused by the above is due to the steady release of histamines from certain cells to the affected area. As you spray quite warm water on the area, additional histamines are being released by these cells and as the water temperature is increased to the point it is almost intolerable, the histamines are being rapidly depleted causing an extreme itching sensation, many describe as euphoric, for a relatively short period of time, from a few seconds to a half minute. The increased water temperature also causes a burning sensation that works to satisfy the itch, which may very well account for the euphoric sensation. One may have a strong desire to scratch at this time, but refrain as the hot, wet skin is very susceptible to tearing from scratching. Once the histamines are depleted, the extreme itching and/or euphoria will subside and provide relief from itching until such time as the cells rejuvenate the depleted histamine. This often provides anywhere from 2 to 8 hours of relief.

    I have read with amusement various theories concerning poison ivy, that running hot water over the affected areas will release the “poison” in the blood and cause it to spread. Absolutely untrue. Poison ivy is spread topically by oil on the skin and once thoroughly rinsed off the risk of spreading is contained. However, it may take up to a couple of days for the skin to react to the oil by manifesting a visible rash. That is why poison ivy can be easily contracted from oils on clothing, bedding and pets that have waded through the leafy plant.

  3. Sheherazade
    The NM Desert

    Hot water works for itchy fungal infections of the hands as well. I even used it (less hot) on my genital area, after using a Betidene wash with the hand held shower,and it helped relieve the itching.

  4. Marianne

    I have used heat to relieve the itching from mosquito bites and now that I have a rash from poison ivy itching like crazy on my wrist, I decided to try it first…then google it to see if others were doing this. Sure enough, it works. The best thing I’ve found to apply heat to the area is the small craft heat gun I keep in the basement. I get instant heat that is easy to regulate by passing it over the area and varying the angle and proximity to the skin. I expect my blow dryer would do just about as well but the craft gun is not as noisy and has a built in base. What makes no sense to me is why this isn’t common knowledge. I’ve been a nurse for many years and never heard of this til a year ago.

  5. KM
    Luray VA

    Thank you all for your comments. 2 years ago I got poison ivy and chiggers at the same time. Heating up my rice bag was the only thing that helped. I currently have poison ivy again and nothing stops the itch except the hot water. My arm got infected from trying too many home remedies. But I was worried I was prolonging the rash by using the hot water. It’s the only thing that brings me relief. I was even on a steroid for a week. It’s amazing how long this lasts for too! I use the hot water in the morning around 530 to 6 a. m. and it lasts the whole day at work until about the last hour. Then it’s an hour drive home and I’m so thankful to get home and hit the shower again! I hate poison ivy! Happy healing hot water my friends!

  6. tom
    East Hartford,ct

    I would get poison ivy,oak, sumac every year even in the winter doing tree work …and I’m highly allergic to all of them until I learned a method from an old farmer which is LESTOL wash your body clothes everything in lestol and since then I’ve had one little dot of poison ivy on me from missing a spot. Lestol also dries up the oils fast once you have contracted it. Lestol breaks down the poison oils from the plant.. it works only if you know or have the inclination you might have been around the poisons…good luck its all hell for about a week after that leaves of three let be.Tom

  7. Ian

    The hot water feels unbelievably good on the poison ivy rash I almost want the itch to come back so I can do it again

  8. April

    My grandmother had told me about this “home remedy” she’d read in a book of home remedies. Frankly, I thought it sounded nuts! However, recently I’ve somehow managed to get poison ivy on BOTH palms of my hands! The hot water (hot as you can stand it) gives a good 4-6 hours of itch relief! Your fingertips and palms have a ton of nerve endings, and the itching is relentless!
    I have to mention though, when first applying the hot water, the initial reaction was extremely intense. I finally found the section in the book my grandmother was referencing and it said this “intense” sensation was the release of histamine from beneath the skin. It went on to say it takes four plus hours for histamine to build back up in the area. Wow! What an odd treatment! Then again, given the odd area of my rash… that’s about how my luck goes! Lol! Does anyone know how long the rash is gonna hang around?

  9. Shane

    This is not true. Hot water should not be used to wash off the poison ivy oils, but once you have cleaned with cold water and soap or a poison ivy cleaner, using hot water is safe, incredibly effective, and even speeds up recovery because you are not scratching open the blisters and causing infections. I have been a professional landscape gardener for 12 years and am very allergic. Have tried all remedies and have spent the 35 dollars on zanfel, which is semi effective, and only hot water works. It work amazingly and feels so good on application. I have a detachable shower head just for the purpose! I knew hot water was great for this when younger but was told it would spread the rash and make it worse. This is not true.

  10. Review Outlaw

    To stop itching,
    1 Put the itchy part under Extremely Hot Water.
    2 For 1 to 2 Sec.
    3 It will stun the nerve endings and will stop the itching,
    4 the Pain will go away from the hot part in 30sec’s and it will feel better for 4-5 hours.
    5. a video guide on what to do https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peDE_6T4p3Q

    • Shannon

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who found Zanfel semi-effective! I’m pretty allergic, and right now I have it everywhere. My face and hands are the worst, and if it weren’t for heat therapy, I’d go bananas. If you’re not convenient to a shower, a blow dryer on high heat for as long as you can stand it (same deal).

  11. To

    Hot water on poison ivy is a miracle worker Stops itching up to six hours. I ran the water is hot as possible directly on the poison ivy as long as I can stand.

  12. jh

    The hot shower provides amazing relief. Also, the pleasure/sensation on impact is beyond words.

  13. JL

    Several years ago I had poison ivy on my face so bad that fluid was dripping off my face. I had heard vitamin E might help so I punctured a Vitamin E gel cap and patted that liquid over my face. I got relief right away and by the next morning all sign of the poison ivy was gone.

  14. JL

    I learned of the hot water remedy years ago. It worked for me, stopped itching for a few hours, then repeated hot water treatment. I believe poison ivy cleared up more quickly with this treatment.

  15. PP

    I have found that a hair drier does the same thing w/o the need to get wet.

  16. JC

    I’d always heard that this works, but actually causes the reaction to worsen, as the hot water speeds up the biochemical response in the skin to prolong and worsen the underlying reaction, resulting in immediate relief, but worse outcome overall. Just the same as scratching provides immediate relief, but worsens the rash.

    • chris
      United States

      This fun and all but if you do this for too long you will replace ivy blisters with burn blisters. You can scald the area pretty easy because the heat feels so insanely good.

  17. Marilyn B.

    The last time I had poison ivy, a pharmacist recommended an ointment called “Zanfel”, saying that it was the only one sold “over the counter” that would really stop the itching. It worked! It is expensive ($35 for a 1-oz. tube) but, for me, the immediate and permanent relief from itching was well worth it.

  18. RC1956

    Colloidal oatmeal baths will relieve itching very well. I used it on my kids when they had chicken pox, sunburn, diaper rash, etc. If the itching is unrelenting, doctors will prescribe steroids usually on a sliding scale basis.

  19. RLH

    Thank you Terry and Joe! Several years ago now while moving I decided to pull up some iris bulbs from the garden to take with me. Little did I know that I had gotten into poison ivy. I was wearing overalls so as I used the bathroom I pulled the overalls up and down my body covering myself with poison ivy! In acute desperation (even after going to the doctor and getting a prescription for the itching) in the middle of the night (itching so acute it was keeping me from sleeping!) I started racking my brain (to keep me from going crazy) I remembered a book by the you guys that I had.
    I looked up the hot water poison ivy remedy. I had to use hot towels from the microwave to cover both of my legs and arms (the hot shower wasn’t hot enough) but I got blessed relief and was able to finally get some sleep! The hot towels relieved the itching for exactly 4 hours just as the Graedons said it would. Now I am very sensitive to poison ivy but have no worries if I accidentally get a little on me. Thanks Terry and Joe I am now a true believer and your books are my first line of defense for issues or problems. Thanks for all of the great work you guys do!

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