This story was originally published in September 2020.
Because of their stinky reputation, the mere sight of skunk stripes is enough to strike fear into hearts. If you are unfortunate enough to get sprayed with skunk stink, there is an easy odor remedy that uses materials you probably already have in your home.
Maine has one type of skunk, the striped skunk, which lives throughout most of Maine, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Though skunks prefer fields and brush, they can be also found in Maine’s suburban and urban locations, particularly near water. Skunks are nocturnal and usually spend their days sleeping in below-ground dens which they may make beneath lumber piles, sheds or porches around your house.
Skunks can be beneficial to landowners because they chow down on garden pests. They can also be good neighbors, but if they feel threatened — like if you accidentally get too close to their den when conducting your annual fall lawn maintenance or your dog gets a little nosy — they will give you a few warnings, like stomping their feet, charging their feet and raising their tails, and then spray an oily, amber-colored fluid from their anus.
On a still day, a skunk can shoot their spray up to 12 feet with good accuracy. The odor of that spray can persist for weeks and be detected more than a mile away.
“Skunk spray contains a variety of chemical compounds, including thiols and acetates that produce the strong sulfur smell we associate with skunks,” said Griffin Dill, integrated pest management specialist. “Thiols are generally responsible for the strong initial smell, while the acetates produce a strong odor when activated by water. This is why the smell can linger on clothing, fabrics and pets and become more noticeable when they are damp.”
There are some products that will help effectively get rid of skunk stink. For example, products that contain the chemical neutroleum alpha, including Skunk-Off, Odormute, Fresh Wave, Epoleon N-100 and the namesake Neutroleum Alpha, are specially formulated to tackle animal odors like skunk smell.
If you are in a stinky pinch or are avoiding store bought chemicals, there is an easy home remedy for getting skunked that works — and, no, it is not tomato juice.
Dill recommended a home recipe of “one quart hydrogen peroxide, [a quarter] cup of baking soda, and a teaspoon of liquid dish soap,” which contains oxidizing agents that will neutralize the smell instead of simply masking it.
“Tomato juice does not have this oxidizing effect,” Dill explained. “When our pet has been sprayed by a skunk we can quickly develop olfactory fatigue and become temporarily unable to detect the skunk smell. This can give the impression that the tomato juice has effectively neutralized the spray, when in reality, it has only temporarily masked the smell at best.”
For safety, the hydrogen peroxide and baking soda solution should be mixed in an open container, as the mixture will bubble due to the chemical reaction. In a closed container, that can lead to it exploding. Once combined, the solution should be used immediately, while it is still bubbling. Wear gloves while applying the solution, lather it onto your skin, the fur of your pet or in the fabric of your clothes. Let sit for about ten minutes for rinsing with water, and repeat as necessary.
“Care should be taken to avoid getting the mixture into the eyes or mouth,” Dill said. “There can be issues with discoloration on certain fabrics and in some instances even [on] pet fur, however, it is generally a relatively safe option. It may be too harsh for people with sensitive skin and it can have a bleaching effect on skin [and] hair in certain individuals.”
Only time, however, will fully eliminate the skunk smell, especially from fabrics. It may take a few days of treatment for that distinct skunky odor to go away, but take that time to reflect on the valuable lesson of giving wildlife a little bit of space.