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What Really Works to Get Rid of Skunk Odor

Illustration: The Spruce / Mary McLain

Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk or had your dog get into a fight with a skunk? Stories abound about how to get rid of skunk smell from tomato juice to beer to liquid detergent. What really works?

Myths vs. Facts

If you ask most people how to get rid of skunk smell, the answer you’ll probably receive most often is to take a bath in tomato juice; unfortunately, it doesn’t really work. According to Chemistry of Skunk Spray by William F. Wood (Department of Chemistry, Humboldt State University, Arcata, Calif.), tomato juice “seems to work because at high doses of skunk spray the human nose quits smelling the odor, and the tomato juice odor is instead detected. (olfactory fatigue). When this happens, the odor of tomato juice can easily be detected.”

What has been proven to work, according to a variety of sources, is a home concoction developed by Paul Krebaum and published Chemical & Engineering News back in 1993:

  • 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid detergent

Mix in a large, open container and use immediately. According to the Statewide IPM Program, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, it can be safely used on people, pets, clothing, and furniture.

Warning

The mix cannot be covered or stored because it can explode a closed container. To get rid of the leftover solution, dilute it heavily with water, and pour down the drain.

Retail Products

Experts from Cornell University, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other universities and government agencies also recommend over-the-counter products that contain neutroleum alpha to get rid of skunk smells on pets. These products are available at many pet stores.

De-skunking Tips

  • Try to remove the smell from people, pets, and items as quickly and thoroughly as possible. The longer the odor is on anything, the more difficult it will be to remove.
  • If you can, work outside so you don’t bring the smell into the house or get the oil on the carpet, furniture or other household items.
  • Shower thoroughly with hot water after using any de-skunking solution.
  • If clothing or other items have been heavily sprayed by the skunk, you may want to simply discard them, as the fabric can hold skunk odor for a very long time.

Indoors

If people or pets come into the house before being de-skunked, you may find that the smell lingers in the air. To get rid of it, boil vinegar in a pan. The home will now smell like vinegar, but once that smell is gone, the skunk odor should also be gone.

Cleaning Buildings and Decks

To get skunk smells out of buildings, wooden decks and porches, etc., mix 1 cup of liquid bleach in a gallon of water. Be careful because it can bleach surfaces. Try it on a small spot first, if there is concern about discoloration.

The Final Word

It is unlikely that any solution will completely eliminate the smell the first time. It may take several times or a length of time for the smell to completely dissipate.

Your dog got sprayed by a skunk! Get the facts here about what you can do to get rid of the stink.

Best Ways to Get Rid of Skunk Smell from You, Your Pet, Your Car, or Your House

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Skunk spray has been compared to tear gas, and with good reason. Skunk spray and tear gas are both lachrymators — chemical substances designed to irritate the eyes and nose, causing redness, mucus production, and tears. In some instances, the scent of skunk spray may even cause nausea.

Thankfully, skunks don’t go around looking to spray people and pets. Skunks are nocturnal, and tend to avoid humans and other animals.

However, if they sense danger, they’ll discharge an oily, yellow spray from their anal glands to protect themselves. This spray can reach a distance of over three feet. It also vaporizes quickly, permeating practically everything it touches.

Getting rid of skunk odor takes quick action and the right products. The sooner and more efficiently you act, the better your chances of eliminating the skunk gunk completely and quickly.

There are several internet myths for getting rid of skunk smell that may lead you astray. In this article, we’ll tell you the truth about what works and what doesn’t.

The noxious scent of skunk spray can be long-lasting and overpowering. Skunk spray contains sulfur-based organic compounds called thiols. These compounds let off an immediate blast of acrid scent, reminiscent of rotten eggs.

Skunk spray also contains thioacetates. Thioacetates remain dormant at first, but can morph into smell-producing thiols when they come into contact with water or humidity. This can happen days or longer after the skunking occurred. It’s the thioacetates in skunk spray that give it its staying power.

Compounding this stinky situation is the sensitivity of the human nose, which can pick up skunk smell in tiny quantities — as low as 1 part per 10 billion.

If you get “skunked,” an immediate bath or shower should be your first step for removing the smell. In scientific terms, this means you’ll be attempting to oxidize the thiols into sulfonic acids, which have little-to-no skunk smell left in them.

Wash your entire body with deodorant soap or a grease-cutting dish detergent. Wash your hair with a shampoo made for oily hair.

You can also soak in a baking-soda bath for 15 to 20 minutes:

  1. Pour 2 to 4 cups of baking soda into hot water.
  2. Rinse to remove the residue from your skin.

If your pet gets sprayed, create a homemade mixture of:

  • 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 teaspoon baby shampoo or grease-cutting dish detergent
  • 1/4 cup baking soda

Lather this mixture onto your pet’s fur and let it sit for five minutes. Make sure not to get it into their eyes. Then rinse and wash your pet with their regular shampoo. Repeat if necessary.

Keep in mind that hydrogen peroxide may lighten your pet’s fur, so don’t leave the lather on for more than five minutes at a time

Note: Do not store the leftover mixture in a sealed container or bottle, since there is a risk it could explode. Also, if you don’t have hydrogen peroxide on hand, you can try white vinegar.

Store-bought solutions

You can also use a store-bought product, such as Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover on your pet. Make sure to rinse thoroughly and air dry their fur.

You can find this product at most pet supply stores or order online.

Debunking the tomato juice myth

Contrary to urban legend and online myth, tomato products, such as tomato juice and sauce, do not eliminate skunk smell. These products may help mask odor, but they do not oxidize or destroy the thiols or thioacetates that cause them. This is also true for beer and oatmeal.

You can remove skunk smell from most clothing and fabrics by washing them with a regular laundry detergent mixed with 1/2 cup baking soda in hot water. Then air dry the clothes.

Air drying may be more effective than machine drying. A dryer may bake in the smell, if it’s not removed completely during washing.

Repeat this process until the skunk smell is completely gone.

Delicate fabrics may not survive vigorous washing in the machine. Try soaking delicate fabrics in the laundry detergent and baking soda solution for up to 30 minutes in the sink, instead. Rinse and air dry. Repeat if needed.

Steam cleaning

Soft surfaces that cannot be washed by hand or in a machine, such as carpets and couches, can be steam cleaned.

Commercial products

You can also try products designed for this purpose, such as Skunk Off Liquid Soaker.

Commercial products may also be your best bet for removing skunk smell from mattresses.

You can purchase Skunk Off Liquid Soaker online.

Skunk smell can permeate an entire home, including hard and soft surfaces. If your pet has been skunked outside, bathe them outdoors if possible so they cannot bring the smell in with them.

If this cannot be avoided, or if a skunk sprays inside, near, or under your home, try the following:

  1. Ventilate your home by opening all windows and running fans on high.
  2. If your home is temperature controlled with an HVAC system, let the fan run continuously until the smell is gone.
  3. Let sunlight in, as this will help oxidize the odor.
  4. Place bowls of vinegar in each room of the house and leave them in place for 24 to 48 hours, or until the scent is gone. Make sure the bowls are out of reach of pets and children.
  5. Once the smell is gone, change the filters on your air conditioners, heaters, and furnace to avoid reintroducing it into your home.
  6. Hard surfaces, such as floors and furniture, can be treated with a solution of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water. Patch test this solution first, to make sure it does not take the color out of wood and ceramics. You can also try a 10 to 90 mixture of white vinegar and water.
  7. Commercially prepared cleaning sprays and solutions can also help remove skunk smell from flooring, carpets, upholstery, and walls.

  • If your car has been skunked, open the windows and let the sun shine on the upholstery.
  • Use a 10 to 90 solution of bleach and water, or a solution of hydrogen peroxide, water, and baby shampoo to wash down the car’s interior, including the carpet and the seats. Do a patch test first to make sure it doesn’t lighten the fabric.
  • If necessary, place bowls of vinegar in the front and back seats for several days. You can also use charcoal for this purpose.
  • Hose down the car’s tires and exterior.
  • If the smell persists, use a commercial product in your car’s interior.

Skunk smell can cause a physical reaction including a runny nose, watering eyes, and nausea. It can last for days or longer if not removed.

There are several at-home techniques and commercial products that can help remove skunk smell from people, pets, homes, and cars. Using the right products and acting quickly are key.

Getting rid of skunk odor takes speed, and the right products. The sooner and more efficiently you act, the better your chances of eliminating the smell completely and quickly. We'll review at-home techniques and commercial products that can help remove skunk smell from people, pets, homes, and cars. ]]>