So you had a run-in with old Pepe le Pew, and now you can’t get his eau de parfum out of your nostrils, your clothes, your dog, the couch your dog ran all over, your car that you used to take the dog to the groomers, your porch, your life. Oh, the horror! Skunk odor is notoriously difficult to get rid of, and for good reason — skunk spray is a lethal combination of sulfurous chemical oils meant to protect the skunk from predators like bears, dogs, and people. On the plus side, until the smell is gone, you’ll have lots of alone time to contemplate things.
What creates Skunk Smell?
The odor of skunk spray is the offensive (to put it nicely) result of the sulfurous chemicals, methyl and butyl thiols, contained within the skunk’s anal glands. These chemicals are the skunk’s ultimate defense against predators and danger, and can be sprayed as far as 15 feet with accuracy, covering the target with the smelly oils so hard to get rid of.
Skunks only spray as a last resort, since they have a finite supply of these oils (it can take up to 10 days for a skunk to replenish it’s spray), so the best way to avoid skunk smell is simply to be aware of how close you (and your pets) are to skunk territory and make an effort to keep your behavior as gentle and quiet as possible (don’t act like a predator).
Best Ways to Get Rid of Skunk Smell
Wash all sprayed clothes, fabrics, people, and animals as soon as possible. The faster you get those smelly things in the wash, the better the chance that the skunk odor will actually wash off. Using your regular laundry detergent is fine, although treating the fabrics with an additional cleaner beforehand may help too. Shower as soon as you can, and bathe any sprayed animals as quickly as possible, too. Use extra soap and shampoo, and any person- and animal-friendly skunk-specific cleansers (see below).
White Vinegar or hydrogen peroxide counteracts the natural oil in skunk spray. You will probably need something stronger than soapy water to get rid of skunk oils — a solution of vinegar or peroxide will dissolve and remove the odor-causing oils instead of just spreading them around. Try this mixture:
- 1 liter (or quart) white vinegar OR 3% hydrogen peroxide (peroxide may cause bleaching)
- 1/4 c. Baking soda.
- 1 tsp. dish detergent
Use commercial sprays designed to deodorize and neutralize smells to eliminate skunk odor. Household cleaning sprays and products such as Febreeze or Simple Green (a good organic alternative) can be effective against skunk smell on fabrics and furniture. “Skunk Off” is a highly effective spray designed specifically for treating skunk-sprayed pets. You can get Skunk Off from Amazon.
Use bleach to clean skunk spray and odor from outdoor structures. Use a mixture of 10% bleach and 90% water (or detergent and water) to clean sprayed areas (such as a porch) that aren’t in danger in staining from the bleach. Because chlorine bleach is highly toxic, don’t use it to clean people, animals, furniture, or colored clothing.
To tomato juice or not to tomato juice? Everyone’s heard of the old foolproof skunk standby: tomato juice. And of course, eveyone has a different opinion about how well it does, or doesn’t, work to get rid of skunk odor. The basic premise, of course, is that the acids in the tomato juice will dissolve and counteract the oils in the skunk spray. We can’t guarantee that it will work, but if you want to try it, add a can (or two or three) or tomato paste to the dog’s bath, or your own. Using tomato juice on any fabrics is probably a bad idea, unless you don’t mind the inevitable stains.
Professional Skunk Smell Removal
If home remedies aren’t working to get rid of your skunk odor problem, then find a professional treatment for your specific smelly problem.
Take your pet to the vet for a prescription-strength bath. Take your fabrics to a dry cleaner or upholstery professional (make sure they’re insured/bonded). Rent a steam cleaner for carpets, a power washer for outside structures like your porch or house siding. Take yourself . . . well, add some vodka to that tomato juice and take yourself out for a well-earned drink.
Avoiding Skunk Odor
Skunks spray in defense of a perceived threat, so as soon as you see a skunk (or if you know skunks are nearby) lower your voice and try to remain still and quiet or move in the opposite direction, giving the skunk a chance to get away without spraying.
Skunks, like many other pests, are attracted to available food (such as pet food or scraps in the garbage) and possible nesting places (such as sheds, wood piles, or crawl spaces around the house and yard), so keep your garbage tightly closed and your home and yard clean and sealed against unwanted furry visitors.