Base Camp Blog

Gear We Love: Tecnu Poison Ivy Relief

Here's how allergic to poison ivy I am: When I was a kid, I once caught poison ivy in the middle of winter, even though there was a foot of snow on the ground. It was so bad I had to go to the doctor to treat the oozing blisters that threatened to seal my eyes. He said, "It looks like poison ivy…but it can't be. It's the middle of winter."

I still get PI frequently, even in winter. Recently, I caught it twice in one month, from the very same bush. (I'm a slow learner.) I was frequenting a good sunny crag near home, and the best warm-up started with a short finger crack in which the best jam was partially blocked by a small, twiggy bush with white berries. Twice that winter I buried my hand in that bush as I cranked the opening moves. Twice that winter I suffered PI's itchy wrath. At least now I know what poison ivy looks like when the leaves are gone.

Last weekend I was climbing at a remote crag in Wyoming. Nearly half of the 2.5-mile approach was infested with poison ivy. The leaves are pretty in the fall—all glowing red and yellow—and the oil that blisters your skin is said to be less prevalent in late season. But then again, I'm the guy who gets it in winter. The PI on this approach is so notorious that locals wear gaiters or rain pants, and they carry soap to scrub themselves clean when they get to the cliff. I figured I was doomed.

Fortunately, Andy Burr, Climbing's senior contributing photographer, was also on this trip. "Tecnu," he intoned with Graduate-like simplicity. "You get it at Walgreen's. I keep a jug of it in the shower and scrub with it anytime I suspect poison ivy."

After wading through those waving fields of PI on the way out from the cliff, I drove straight to the first Walgreen's I could find, continued home to Colorado, and jumped in the shower. Now it's four days later and despite a few suspicious bumps and itches earlier in the week, I seem to be PI-free.

Now, I can't be certain that Tecnu made the difference. But Burr swears by the stuff, and he says he's just as PI prone as I am. (And, as a professional climbing photographer, he's constantly wallowing into poison ivy.) I'm a believer.

Tecnu is supposed to work best if you rub it onto dry skin that's been in contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac within eight hours of exposure, and then rinse it off. But it also can clean your skin of urushiol oil—the nasty stuff in rash-causing plants—after some damage has been done, minimizing the scale and duration of the rash. You can use it to clean packs, clothes, and even pets that come in contact with poison ivy, but I'd be too cautious to wash ropes, harnesses, or other life-safety gear with it.

I've had good results with Zanfel ( as well, and it might be the best stuff to use once a rash has flared up. But Zanfel costs about 40 bucks for a 1-ounce tube. I bought a 12-ounce tub of Tecnu ( for around $12.

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again: "Thanks, Burr!"


Previous Comments

This is exactly what I needed to ready after accidentally wallowing in 1911 gulch next to the third flatiron in the middle of summer. The PI was literally 3' tall and everywhere! It was unavoidable. Our rope is liky covered in the oil too. I wish I could be confiden that washing it normally would work but I have a feeling it needs a few washings at least. Hopefully I can report back in a few days that I've had no issues!

Tony T - 08/20/2014 9:06:20

Technu Extreme (and Zanfel) - are supposed to work after a rash has appeared. Zanfel is much less expensive at Amazon. If you have come into contact with poison oak, poison ivy or poison sumac. I think it's a good idea to ASAP rinse with cold water, scrub with Technu, rinse off with cold water and repeat a few times.

Dkllj - 11/24/2013 12:45:41

Working in horticulture, as well as being a weekend climber, I get into PI all the time. Here in the Southeast, its mainly poison ivy we have to deal with. I absolutely swear by TECNU and it always lives in my vehicle and my bathroom. I can spot the plant a long way coming so I always use it after I know I've been exposed. I venture to say that TECNU will prevent about 90-95% of a rash, knowing how much exposure I've had in specific incidents.. LOVE IT.

Mandy - 10/11/2013 3:15:51

Will have to try Zanfel, Tecnu never really worked that well for me. Although I recently avoided Poison Oak on the face after hitting a bush while biking by surfing right after.

Cody - 10/08/2013 11:29:48

Tecnu is "the bomb" and less expensive than Zanfel. They have two versions, one a liquid shown above and the other that has a sandy exfoliant in it called Tecnu Extreme. Either are all I need to get rid of a rash. I put it on and rub/scratch the area until the itch is gone. Usually one application does it, but sometimes a second is required. If it starts to itch, I just rub it on until the itch is gone. There is absolutely no need to ever put up with PI itching again.

Bill - 10/07/2013 10:01:16

Thanks for the great tip. Having spent 3.5 days wallowing around in acres of poison ivy on my Flatiron Classics linkup, this stuff will now reside at the ready in my shower as well.

Bill Wright - 10/06/2013 7:56:18

Tecnu is good stuff, but nothing compares to Zanfel. I had a bad run-in with some sumac this summer and Zanfel was a life-saver. It's absurdly expensive but there is nothing at all even close to it when it comes to effectiveness.

Peter - 10/05/2013 9:16:15

I've had poison ivy so bad that I went into shock. Now I keep a bottle of tecnu in my bathroom at all times. As far as I can tell, it works - I have never gotten the rash when I rub tecnu on my skin after touching the plant.

Bill - 10/05/2013 12:35:39

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Cindy - 10/04/2013 8:53:46