Swimming with the Poison Ivy or Oak Rash

Swimming with poison ivy or poison oak is usually not a means of spreading the rash. Catching poison oak or ivy from swimming in a pool is very unlikely.


Can you catch poison oak or poison ivy from swimming in a pool with a person who has a rash from one of the plants?

Dr. Greene's Answer

A rash from poison ivy or oak is not at all contagious. People get the rash from oil that gets on their skin from the plants. BUT, until the oil is removed, they are contagious whether or not they have a rash. The oil can be removed by washing in warm soapy water.

Swimming with Poison Ivy Rash or Poison Oak Rash

Catching poison oak or ivy from swimming in a pool is very unlikely. Pool water might wash the oil off and someone else could get it by touching the oil in the water, but the exposure would be tiny and would likely be removed by further swimming or by showering after the swim.

So why does the rash spread?

There are three reasons that the rash spreads.

First of all, until people exposed to poison ivy or oak take a first bath or shower, any place they touch after being exposed will spread the oil and along with it, the rash. They can spread the rash by touching the oil on their own hands, their clothes or even their dog.

The second reason the rash spreads has to do with variable amounts of oil and variable protectiveness of skin. Wherever you get the most oil, on the most vulnerable area of skin, will break out first. Where the skin is thicker or there is less oil, the rash may not appear until several days later — so it only appears to be spreading.

Eczema patches are especially vulnerable to poison oak and ivy because of the skin’s increased sensitivity.

The third reason that poison ivy rashes spread is that the red itchy rash is caused by a histamine release in the skin. Scratching releases more histamine and can make the rash spread setting up an itch-scratch-itch cycle.

The good news is that when the rash turns to blisters and the blisters pop, that honey-colored liquid and honey-colored crust is not contagious at all.

Last medical review on: May 01, 2016
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

This works amazingly well…
An acupuncturist told me how to do this remedy when I had a really bad poison ivy reaction on my arm. Go to an herbalist (preferably Chinese) and get his/her mixture for topical application for poison ivy. At home, after you’ve washed with a mild soap and lukewarm water (hot water makes it more inflamed, cold water is better) make a salt scrub using a tiny bit of water and salt (I use the pink salt but any kind is good) and use that to scrub the area. (This feels amazing when you do it.) Rinse with cool water.

Then… make a paste of the topical herbs you got (using water) and spread it around over the bumps. You can also add a clay like Bentonite to help make a ‘mask’ if you like which makes it easier to spread but it’s not necessary. Let that sit until it is nearly dry.

When it is almost dry, make another paste of salt and a tiny bit of water and use that to scrub off the herbal paste you applied. DON’T rinse immediately. Let the salt and herbal solution sit for a minute to soak up anything that’s oozed out. Then rinse with cool or cold water and leave to air dry. DO NOT COVER IT. Some places where the bumps popped may have a tiny bit of paste stuck it them. That’s OK. Don’t worry about it.

Do this morning and evening. If the bumps become red and itchy, put ice on them for only a couple minutes until it feels better. Don’t leave it on so long that the ice makes the skin so cold it hurts. Using ice is a life-saver when your skin turns itchy.

If it gets to be too itchy, take an antihistamine. I usually use a natural antihistamine like Echinacea (I take 2). My horrible outbreak became non-itchy over night and cleared up lickity split. It was amazing.

I have a question. once the blisters pop is there an amount of time to wait before swimming in the ocean or a swimming pool? I am heading to Cancun for my sister’s wedding in a week and the blisters formed last Sunday the 28th and have yet to pop.

What’s the best way to get rid of a poison ivy rash

Hi Casey,

Thanks for writing in.

Dr. Greene addresses treatment for Poison Ivy in this article.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

My children have never had poison ivey. They have even came in contact with the plant and never broke out. My nephew got it and my children broke out from sitting in the same chair he did. My husband nor I have ever got poison ivey even if we come in contact with the plant. I just think it seams strange how they got it from transfer threw furniture but not when they have came in contact with the plant

Yes, this seems odd, but it’s not uncommon for allergies to develop over time and after multiple exposures.

In the case of poison ivy, the allergic reaction is to the oil on the plant. Not all plants are as loaded with the oil and the toxicity changes based on time of year and weather conditions.

Likely your nephew was wearing the same clothes he was when he came into contact with the plant and the plant he came into contact with was particularly toxic. The oils on his clothes transferred to the furniture. Your kids got the oil from the furniture on their skin at the time their potential allergy was ready to kick in.

A perfect poison ivy storm.

Now you tell me! When I was a at summer camp, I loved to swim. But if you got poison ivy,
even if the rash was a week old, it was forbidden to go into the lake, beause the poison ivy would “spread.” Such nonsense! Yet it was official medical dogma, and who was I as a child to question.
How many other “facts” today will be discredited in coming years.

My son came in contact with the plant Friday evening. He showered that night and has since then washed with an over the counter poison ivy scrubs would it be alright to take him to one of those indoor waterpark hotels?

Will it spread by sharing a blanket with my daughter. I’ve been putting calamine lotion and alcohol on the rash?

Once the oil has been washed off someone’s skin, sharing a fresh blanket with them won’t spread poison oak or poison ivy. And cuddles may help distract from the itching! Best, DrGreene

See notes from Bill up top.

I truly believe, peroxide helps heal and gets rid of the infected skin. While taking a shower, not a bath. I use, the peroxide first. Then wait, a minute. Use a lot of soap to clean the areas. After a good rinse off with cool water. Use a clean towel and put it into a separate bin,with the clothes you where wearing. While, drying your self. Keep the towel that has touched the oily skin away from other parts of the body. Try to dry off, the good skin first. After, you are dry. Apply a (new bottle)of calamine lotion. Not the whole bottle! Always flow directions on bottle. Continue for a few days til rash has, stopped oozing . Then use newsprint with a lose bandage. If you are able take some aspirin. P.S. I’M not a doctor! Just your average Joe. If this does not help you, see a doctor first!

My letter was misprinted: it should say neosporin , not newsprint. Computer are not people!

Can I swim in pool with clorine with poison sumac or oak will it make it worse or better

I get poison ivy and ppl say you can’t get it from other ppl . I seem to get from other ppl and when the blisters pop it spreads even more! Why is that?


Sadly, the oil from poison ivy can be on the clothing other people wear and you can get it from touching their clothing. Or it might be on a piece of furniture or in a car they’ve ridden in.

So sorry you’re going through this!


How do I know if the oil has come out

Can you go swimming in a lake with poison ivy with steroid medication?

Can you swim in ocean water with poison ivy

If poison ivy gets on your eyelid, could that result in eye damage eventualy?

Most likely not, try not to scratch it and it will be fine.