The People's Perspective on Medicine

Rediscovering How Hot Water for Itches Works for Hours

What do you do for mosquito bites or poison ivy? Ever heard of hot water for itches? It's an old home remedy and it goes back to at least the 1960s. We have an explanation for how it works.
A woman has after a mosquito bite a itchy skin and scratching

We love it when people discover a home remedy on their own. It’s doubly sweet when renowned experts support the treatment. It’s triply sweet when we have an explanation for why hot water for itches is so effective. Here is a story from a reader that captured our attention.

Q. When I was a kid in Minnesota, mosquitoes and poison ivy were always troublesome in the summer. For any itch from bug or plant, I have found running hot but not burning water on the affected area does the trick. A few minutes will desensitize the skin for hours of relief.

A. If the water is hot enough, between 120 and 130 degrees F, just a few seconds of exposure should take away the itch for hours. We found this gem of a home remedy decades ago in a dermatology textbook, Dermatology: Diagnosis and Treatment (1961). The dermatologists who wrote about this suggested that heat “short circuits” the itch reflex.

TRP Channels Could Explain Hot Water for Itches:

Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels are important for sensing itch (Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology, 2015). Because the TRP channels involved (TRPV1 and TRPV4) are also important in sensing heat, hot water does indeed work through a type of short circuit (Temperature, May 26, 2015).
Anyone using this remedy must be careful not to burn the skin. A couple of seconds is all you need.

More Stories About Hot Water for Itches:

Denise the gardener agrees that hot water for itches works best:

“As a gardener, I am frequently bitten by various. One of these is an unidentified critter (not a mosquito). A bite produces an intensely itchy welt that persists for a week or more.

“Nothing I’ve tried, including oral Benadryl, topical lidocaine, and a strong prescription corticosteroid cream, works as well as the hot water treatment. Holding the itch under hot running water – as hot as I can stand it – completely alleviates the itch for at least 8-10 hours. As a bonus, it feels really good – even better than scratching.”

Ron in Ohio has been using this remedy for many decades:

“My Mom related this trick 62 years ago. I used it when I was 10. I just used it today on two nasty bites….ahhhhhh!”

Hopeee in Nevada was surprised to see others reporting success with hot water for itches:

“Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only one who knew about this. I thought to myself, let me Google to see if I’m just weird. Now I am laughing out loud to discover that other people have tried it as well.

“I got the rash on the top part of my right hand. It itches like hell. I couldn’t get much relief until I discovered the hot water thing. It gives this awesome feeling while relieving the itch. It just feels so good.”

Daniel D. in Round Rock, Texas thought he was the only one who knew about this:

“I was wondering if anybody else out there knew about this trick. My friends all think I am crazy when I tell them about the effectiveness of hot water.

“I discovered this 20 years ago when I decided to use it on a rash to see if that could relieve the urge to scratch. I and was shocked to discover how effective it is. Since then, I have been using it on mosquito bites primarily, and the itch goes away in minutes!

“The irritation goes away immediately. My wife, who is quite skeptical of this treatment, put some lavender oil on one of my mosquito bites one time. The irritation did not go away. I insisted on using the hot water treatment, and no sooner had I applied the hot water than the itch was gone! The next day, she got bitten by a mosquito and put lavender oil on it, and it was still irritated after at least 10 minutes.”

What do you do for mosquito bites? Let us know if hot water for itches has worked and how you learned about it.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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    Oh my gosh, hot water on a severe rash brings orgasmic relief for a few seconds and then the itch stays away for hours. It’s an addicting feeling. I have a rash right now, and am actually looking forward to when it starts to itch again so I can use the hot water trick again. Its kinda embarrassing how good it feels. ALmost like you should be somewhere very private when you do it :)

    I learned about the hot water method from my mom, a practical nurse, back in the 1970s. She said the hospital where she worked was experimenting with this method for patients with severe itching. So years later, when I came down with shingles on my arm, I held it under running water — starting with tepid water and increasing the temperature slowly until it was quite hot. The hot water seemed to confuse the nerve endings, and I got good relief from the tingling for hours (while, meanwhile, the Zovirax oral antiviral medication was doing its good work).

    Within 4 days I could almost watch the shingles blisters going away. In my opinion Zovirax is a miracle cure for shingles, and hot water is a miracle itch reliever! Just be careful you don’t burn yourself, though. Start slowly!!! (For this reason, I would NOT recommend applying heat of any kind to another person — especially elderly — b/c they might not be able to feel when it’s getting too hot!)

    P.S. I have also used the the hot water method successfully for flea, mosquito, and poison ivy itch.

    I was sitting in a snowbank trying to get some relief from welts in a sensitive area. My landlord said to try hot water. Wow! Instant relief along with a weird sensation that lasts a couple seconds. I’m outdoors a lot and am allergic to every thorn along with getting insect bites, nettles, poison ivy, and other itchy problems. I know I push the limit. I heat a little water in a glass in the microwave and dab it on with a folded paper towel. On a few occasions, I’ve rushed to the aloe plant when I got it a little too hot. Poison ivy does not itch again for at least 8 hours and seems to dry up more quickly. I’ve also laid a bitten arm on a hot truck sitting in the sunshine — works wonders. Nothing else stops the itch for me.

    I am 73, New York born and raised, Philadelphia suburb for last 25 years, recently had a case of the shingles, used all RX drugs , no help apple cider vinager and hot hot water worked like in 10 minutes. Recently started to get itchy on my hands, feet and legs, used apple cider vinegar rubs again little effect, benadryl, athlete foot remedies, very little effect. Noticed our dog goes into backyard corner, and when he comes in I hug him, pet him and he sits/lays against my feet. Tried above “remedies”, no effect in a last ditch attempt to try for some relief, went into kitchen, put one foot at a time into sink with hot hot water and rubbing all around foot, toes and legs, then onto a towel on the floor dried wet areas, by the time I left the kitchen on way to bed, itch was gone, best sleep in weeks. Its now 12 hours later still no itch ! had to check effect of hot water on itch on the internet, and presto got this site!! Uh Rah!

    I am very sensitive to chigger bites. They will swell and itch for a week or more so I can’t sleep at night. I have discovered that applying a small amount of ice cold mustard from the fridge and cover it with a bandaid and within in few minutes the itch is gone and so is the redness and swelling by the next day. This has changed my life!

    I have used cold on itching from bug bites but especially poison ivy. I just take an ice pack used in cooler or a bag of frozen peas for hands feet. I would think it uses the same mechanism, short circuits the signals to the brain.

    Hot water eliminates an itch for several hours. It has been my go to for most of my life. It does not, however cure the problem. It is important to find the cause. It does, however provide immense relief, and at the moment of severe itching, that is all I am looking for.

    Vicks vapo rub works on painful itchy bee stings!

    I preach the gospel of hot water treatment all the time. Reception is always skeptical, but once people try it they get excited as well. Picked up over 100 chigger bites a couple of days ago, mostly on one thigh, but also on ankles and upper arm. Sitting at my desk right now, post-shower, literally buzzing from the endorphins and joy of zero itch anywhere on my body. I would be trying to crawl out of my skin right now if not for this free remedy!

    When nothing else seems to work or itching, I use ice. I take an ice cube and rub it over the itchy skin until the ice is gone and so is the itch.
    I’d much rather use the ice than burn myself with hot water.

    I had a case of poison ivy that was covering my hands, arms, and even some on my face. The intense itching was driving me crazy, even while taking a course of prednisone. I read about the hot water treatment to relieve itching and found that it did help a lot.

    Based on my reading on the internet and my own experience, I believe that the way it helps is that it stimulates the cells to quickly release a large amount of histamine (or whatever chemical is causing the itching), causing brief intense itching, but then the histamine is depleted for awhile, bringing relief from itching.

    I found that after several hours of sleeping, the itching would gradually return. Since I didn’t want to keep taking hot showers, I decided to blow hot air onto my skin using a blow dryer for hair. I would direct the hot air onto my skin until it started to get too painful, and it worked just like the hot water did to relieve the itching. Of course, just like with the hot water, you have to be careful not to burn yourself.

    Also, I wanted to make a comment on using ice to relieve the pain of a burn. After applying the ice, when it is removed the pain at first becomes intense again. However, if you just tough it out for a few minutes, the pain will diminish by itself – it seems that the skin actually is feeling pain from the warming up process at that point.

    In 1964, my children had the Chicken Pox. The doctor told me to put Vicks Vaporub on the itching.

    However, if you use too warm or hot water to shower orshampoo, you may increase itchy scalp and skin. I use tepid water and am much less itchy. A bug bite is different, though, so I’ll try it next time I need it.

    Rubbing alcohol has always worked for me.

    I know I am so grateful for this article and all those who shared additional uses, just finding the rest of the comments. So simple, no drug. So enlightening. Thank you Terry and Joe. Thank you to all contributors.

    This is WONDERFUL to know! Sure wish I had known about this growing up in mosquito/high humidity Wisconsin. Often my entire body was covered in bites with terrible itching!
    Jumped right in to the article when saw “mosquito bites,” then learned it applies to ‘other’ insect bites. Hope for spiders. Also for rashes! Amazing and so simple–Very grateful!

    Never tried hot water but when my legs itch (from varicose veins, I think) I use an ICE pack. Have done this many times in the middle of the night.

    Hot water worked for me with poison ivy because it took away the itch. However, you have to be careful, because when I put hot water on the skin I got used to the temperature and then kept increasing it until I realized I was burning my skin. Strangely, afterwards I started growing hair where I applied the hot water?? Don’t understand this.

    Never heard of hot water for bites, but I will try it the next time I get bitten. I usually use toothpaste for mosquito bites and it works really well also. Try it next time. The only negative with that solution, is that it leaves a residue on your skin. However, it really works!!!!

    All very interesting about the hot water unfortunately I cannot tolerate hot water I can only have it luke warm. same with drinking a hot drink, I was taking Beta blockers in warmer weather and came out in a rash which nearly drove me mad.

    It was worse at night and in desperation I used to put some ice cubes in a plastic bag and put it between a hand towel and hold it on to the itchy area which seem to cool down my blood and the itch would stop. I was to find out later that I was allergic to Beta Blockers since I went off them I haven’t had the rash back.

    I found out that hot water works to stop the itch from insect bites by accident several years ago. I wish someone told me about it sooner.

    Thank you Peoples Pharmacy and all those contributing to the hot water remedy. I will try it next time.

    The hot water treatment for itching is definitely a plus I have poor circulation on my right leg and it itches like crazy.The doctor gave me hydrocortisone but it was useless by chance I decided to try some hot water and bingo it worked.The relief it provides is amazing

    Thanks to Joe and Terry, I heard from their many years ago radio program, I started to use Vitamin B1 (Thiamin). It is cheap and we, as golfers, take 150 mg. tablet daily and as the other golfers are spraying, etc. we tell them to keep that stuff away from us.

    I read later the Thiamin gives off an offensive odor, which we can’t smell, to the mosquitos and they leave us alone. They sometimes fly around for awhile but never land. We use it year round. When I lived in NC we used it from April to November.

    I have itchy rashes on occasion and have used the hot water trick however I find it quicker, easier to control, and just as effective to use dry heat from a hair dryer.

    Even better than hot water is a hair dryer!

    I discovered this remedy online one evening when I was up with intense itching. You put the hair dryer on high heat and hold it towards the spot (not too close so you don’t burn yourself).

    You basically hold it for just a few seconds until the heat becomes too intense, then move it away. Immediate and long lasting relief.

    You’re welcome!

    6 years ago I came in contact with poison ivy, had blisters on both arms from wrist (above gloves) to elbows. The only way I found to relieve the itch was a hard spray of hot water which also served as scratching. I had to do this about every 4 hours, for quite a few days, but it works wonders, this method does stop the itching temporarily!

    Occasionally, my hands start this terrible itching deep in the flesh which nothing except water as hot as I can stand for just a few seconds, I do this several times then dry my hands and this alleviates the itching for hours. Yes it does work for me at least!

    When I first got married, we live in a house along the river and when I went out to hang clothes on the line, I would get a hundred mosquito bites (almost daily). I learned then IF I didn’t scratch them, the itch would go away in 5-15 minutes and wouldn’t cause any issues.

    When I haven’t remember not to scratch, I use a baking soda paste and let it dry and brush it away. Then if it still itches, I spray Willard Water over and over until the itching goes away.

    But now, I’m going to try the hot water. Thanks for the info.

    I also use a baking soda paste (let it dry and brush it off) usually twice for chigger bites too and if I haven’t scratched it, that usually works for me.

    Wonder if hot water works on spider bites? I’ll try it.

    I use a metal spoon or knife that has been dipped in a cup of hot water and apply that directly to mosquito bites, etc., a few times…I heard that the heat breaks down the toxin, which neutralizes it? I used to get severe reactions to bites, but now the itch stops immediately! I sometimes have to reapply later that evening or even once the next day, but it sure feels better than scratching them.

    Thought I was the only person who knew about this! I used it on terrible poison ivy and it literally simulates the feeling you get when scratching! Fantastic and doesn’t tear up your skin.

    For years, I have had sudden onset of severe itching on either hand or wrist area which will extend up arm if not stopped with very hot water.

    Spontaneous, no rash, no overlying skin changes, no irritants or bites etc. can be identified, no explanation at all. Thank heaven for hot enough water, when I can find it.

    Have used hot water for a long time for itching. So I thought if hot water is so good how about holding my hair dryer turned up as hot as i could stand it over the itch. In a short time same relief.

    Fotget hot water – lemme tell ya about the day my grandson had an ichy bite. His Mom (my daughter) got a spoon, lit a match and held it undre the cuppy side. Then she touched its round bottom to the tip of the bite. He smiled. I was amazed. It’s been working for me since that day, and many bites later.

    For over 50 years, I’ve made a paste of Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer and water and rubbing it on a mosquito bite. Let it dry and in 10 minutes the bite, the redness and the itch disappear.

    Always took it with us on picnics, the beach, etc. My husband keeps a bottle in his golf cart. The papain of the tenderizer cancels whatever the mosquito injects into you.

    Not all bites are that easy to treat with hot water. I find a tube of commercial hemorrhoid cream works really well. A small dab on the bite, and no more itch. Works like a charm.

    I stumbled upon the hot water treatment many years ago when I had a mysterious itch on my leg. I scratched it and scratched other parts of my body until I had the stuff all over me. I went from dr. to dr. and had all kinds of lotions and potions prescribed. None did a thing for the rash, and the drs never could find out what it was. One head of dermatology told me to use Sarna lotion, OTC $10, and it worked well, but not long term.

    I blasted one of my agonizing itchies with the hottest water I could stand, one night. Glory of glories it was a moment of bliss. It felt incredibly GOOD, and I didn’t want to stop. I knew I would burn my skin and forced myself to stop spraying it. Wow, there was no itching. I quickly blasted my whole body with the highest pressure, and every itchy spot was blessedly quiet. When you hit the spots it feels cold, actually, and you get a feeling of euphoria. So, eventually, I learned not to spread it around my body, and slowly it all went away, except a spot on one ankle. I regularly hit it with hot water when it acts up and use Sarna on it. Hot water is a Godsend!

    Yes, hot water does work. I have been using this for several years. It definitely stops the itch for hours. Another trick I have learned is to hold an ice cube on a mosquito bite for five minutes. This stops the itch and prevents the bite from lasting 2 weeks. This works for me but not for my sister-in-law.

    I have been fighting the big toe fungus for years. I have used everything. I have now started gentian violet. I have a few questions: how often to use, and how do you know when your nail is growing in normal? My toe is a beautiful purple now, but who cares as long as it solves the problem.

    Heat and other irritants such as menthol and camphor work for awhile but your body will adjust, and it will no longer be effective. The one exception is capsaicin, which unlike other irritants actually decreases Substance P, an essential part of the itch cycle. However, I have not been able to tolerate the extreme itching that capcaisin causes before it works on Substance P. Has anyone been able to get past this point? If so, please describe your experience.

    I have been using hot water for about 10 years on my Athlete’s Foot itch. As hot as I can stand it. I let only a small slow stream of hot water run down only where the itch is. The itch goes away for days.

    I found the hot water treatment very interesting and plan to use it the next time I get an itch. I have been using hydrogen peroxide on mosquito bites. I use a small cotton ball and dab it on the bite. I have to repeat this several times, but by the third time it gives complete relief.

    While I am writing I want to ask. How often do I need to paint my toenails with Gentian Violet to get rid of my toe nail fungus? How long should it take to clear up?

    It also works for herpes.

    It works!! I’d recommend having a chair nearby to collapse into, as the experience is truly orgasmic.

    Odd coincidence: Last night I put the hand-held shower head on a bite that has been tormenting me for a week and increased the water temperature as high as I could stand it without burning myself. Did this for about 3 minutes. After the shower I put some cortisone on the bite and went to bed. Slept well for the first time in a week. Then saw this article in my email from my wife this morning.

    Oh, yes. My father, born in 1920, had me either run very hot water or wet a washcloth with very hot water, and place it on poison ivy rashes when I was a child. It worked like a dream.

    I discovered this “free” and effective home remedy some years ago. I wish I remember the source, but it certainly wasn’t a doctor or pharmacist. They want to push medical solutions, usually involving drugs and ointments, especially the useless calamine lotion. However, as one who used to suffer horrible poison ivy rashes due to living in an area full of the stuff, I knew their potions didn’t work.

    Hot water stops the itch and doesn’t harm the irritated skin. Relief lasts for hours! I once experimented when I’d gotten the rash while gardening in the early spring. Did you all know that even bare wintered-over stems of poison ivy plants can still carry the toxin and cause a rash? I found that out the hard way. So, I treated one arm with traditional ointments and the other with only hot water. After just a few hours I realized there was no point in suffering the itch of the ointment treated limb and switched over to hot water which gave me immediate relief !!

    Would this work for eczema? I have a major case of it, and it just keeps popping up in other places, mostly on my legs. I have expensive lotions and creams, etc. but nothing gives real relief. I take hot showers but that doesn’t do much. Would a hot bath be better?

    I have very severe psoriasis and have found after showering my itch (pain response) is greatly diminished.

    I thought I had discovered this by accident by running hot water over poison ivy while in the shower. It really does work.

    Nearly 40 years ago my daughter was born by emergency Caesarean section. I was kept in hospital for several days, and the intense itching of the large wound was driving me mad. A few minutes in a very hot shower (completely forbidden) sorted the problem, and I have used this remedy ever since for any kind of persistent itching.

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