Woman scratching itchy arm, poison ivy remedy, the Zyrtec itch

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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  1. Maryanne

    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.

  2. Al

    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.

  3. Lou Theodore

    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!

  4. joy

    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!

  5. Richard
    Fl and NJ

    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.

  6. Mary

    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.

  7. Gwe

    Vicks vapo rub works on painful itchy bee stings!

  8. Brian

    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!

  9. Fran
    St. Louis

    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.

  10. Sue
    Newport News, VA

    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.

  11. Lynda
    Spring Lake NC

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

  12. Katie

    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.

  13. Eileen J

    Rubbing alcohol has always worked for me.

  14. mary

    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.

  15. mary

    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!

  16. Irene

    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.

  17. Bob
    South Carolina

    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.

  18. Ann

    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!!!!

  19. June

    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.

  20. susan

    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.

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