As anyone who gets poison ivy will know, it usually takes a day or two after contact with the plant for an allergic reaction to appear.

Long story short, I got poison ivy without knowing, and happened to play my classical guitar in that grace period before the rash appeared. Having done that, I'm now fairly certain the oil in the ivy plant (the causative agent of the reaction) is all over the guitar, and I need to clean it off.

What should I use to do this? I'm not really trying to give the guitar a conditioning - I thought I would just apply some simple cleaner (soap and water maybe?) and change the strings.

Buy I don't know what cleaner is safe to use, or what cleaner to use on the neck and what to use on the body of the guitar. Any advice?

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    Mild dish soap used for hand washing is usually safe for almost any surface that can be made wet. You might research separately what it takes to remove poison ivy oils from surfaces. Also, "disinfect" normally means "kill germs and/or viruses" which is not what you are trying to do. Changing the title of your question would make it more clear. Commented Mar 13, 2016 at 18:43
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    Heh. It's not an allergen either. It's an irritant. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 4:05
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    Tecnu is a popular brand of poison ivy cleaner.
    – hpaulj
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 6:19
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    WebMD seems to agree with his allergy assumption. It specifically mentions an allergic reaction to the sap, and goes a step further mentioning that up to 85% of the population isn't even allergic to it. webmd.com/allergies/guide/poison-ivy-oak-sumac
    – user6164
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 19:54

2 Answers 2


I have never encountered this situation, but here is my advice:

I will bet that most of the poison ivy oil is on the strings. Throw the old set of strings away.

While the strings are removed from the guitar, you can clean off the rosewood or ebony fingerboard of the guitar and the top of the guitar with a sponge soaked in a solution of soap and water or dishwashing liquid and water. Make sure not to use too much solution at once. You do not want any water to soak into the wood.

Maybe this would be a good time to condition the fingerboard. While wearing rubber gloves, clean off the fingerboard by rubbing it down with lighter fluid (naphtha). Make sure you are nowhere near any open flames or a source of heat. Then you can condition the fingerboard with lemon oil or guitar fingerboard oil according to the instructions. Do this in a well-ventilated area as the fumes from the fingerboard oil are slightly toxic. Wipe it down with oil, wipe off the excess, leave it to set for at least 24 hours, buff it off thoroughly with a lint-free cloth, and then replace the strings.

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    Thank so much for the advice! I've never used lighter fluid to clean a fretboard. I've used it to clean residue off of other surfaces though so I can see why it can be useful on a guitar. And lemon oil is just the best - I've used it on furniture and wood trim instead of refinishing at times - so that makes sense too. I'll assume that the rubber gloves are to protect my hands from the lighter fluid, not from the poison ivy oil, or urushiol.
    – joeb
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 1:40
  • I would probably get a fret polishing kit like planet waves makes and go over the frets once after doing all that also. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 4:06

I have in fact had this same thing happen. Did yard work. Normal night shower(long after yardwork). Worked on Monday had my gibson hummingbird in the office and picked it up and played it at lunch time. Day 3 got nastiest reaction Ive ever encountered (seeing that I had no idea I had come in contact so never took appropriate steps in the immediate aftermath). Took a 4 days in hell and finally found tecnu . They have a few versions, the original can be used after to pull out any oils still hanging out. Now if i go outside and think I went near any Ive got a large bottle from amazon and take immediate action. Soooo after I was healed (3 weeks later) i picked up my guitar again. I felt itchy immediately that afternoon on my right fore arm and the hives were in lines. Yup my forearm was a prior host and I never went back and cleaned the guitar and I love resting my forearm on the corner of the guitars body. I had the tecnu at that point , treated it (followed the inst.) when i got home and itching was stabilized at mild for 2 days no super blisters like before. Clean the guitar with tecnu. Throw rags away. Do not let anything drip or run off. If tecnu needs to be removed from the guitar. Hydrate the finish after removing thr tecnu. If your guitar is under 400$. Sell it. If its a hummingbird ..mmmmboy take a day off for the cleaning.

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