Stephen Vantassel, Project Coordinator—Wildlife Damage Scott Hygnstrom, Extension Specialist—Wildlife Damage
Skunks are famous for their odorous defensive spray. When alarmed or threatened, skunks have been known to spray people, pets, and automobiles. They also spray in basements, garages, window wells and under porches. The musk that they spray is a yellow-tinted, oily liquid stored in two sacks located on opposite sides of the anus. Each sack holds about a teaspoon of musk and is enough to allow multiple sprays. Skunk musk does not emanate from the animal as it does in the PePe LePew cartoon; it is discharged through 2 “nipples” that allow the skunk to adjust the spray to a mist or stream and direct the spray at a specific target and shoot up to 20 feet with “both barrels.”
Skunk musk can temporarily blind and stun individuals unlucky enough to be sprayed in the face. Victims experience watering eyes, nasal irritation and nausea. Asthmatics may also experience difficulties breathing when exposed to the odor. The rabies virus cannot be transmitted through skunk musk. Skunk musk is composed primarily of seven ingredients, six of which contain thiols that give the skunk musk its awful smell. Humans can smell skunk musk in concentrations as low as 10 parts per billion. Ironically, skunks don’t like the odor any more than humans.
Three essential aspects that must be present before someone can smell an odor. First, there must be an odor source, second the odor must be released and third, the odor must be perceived. Remove any single part of the odor triad and problems with odor will not occur. Odor control methods that endeavor to encapsulate odor, second part, are usually impractical for most situations. Most odor control techniques are associated with the removal of the first or third parts of the triad.
1. Whenever possible, treat the source of the odor. Deodorants work best when applied on the target of the skunk’s spray. 2. Avoid unnecessary movement of contaminated materials to reduce the spread of odors to new areas, unless the contaminated materials are being moved from the site to a less inhabited area. 3. Ventilate the area, as much as possible, with fresh air. 4. Skunk odor may “reactivate” during periods of high humidity. 5. If the odor doesn’t decrease in strength after a week or two, the skunk may have re-sprayed or died on the property. 6. Use air fresheners as needed to mask residual odor. 7. Typically, women notice odors than men. While the research is not conclusive, it appears that women are biologically wired to have more sensitive noses than men.
Odor caused by skunk musk can be reduced by washing away, chemically neutralizing or masking the thiols that cause the odor. Ultimately, all three approaches have their role in controlling skunk odor.
Always read safety and first-aid guidelines on product labels before mixing and applying any product. If a poisoning event has occurred contact your local physician, emergency services personnel or the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
Eyes If eyes are contaminated flush with copious amounts of luke-warm water for 15 minutes. Use a large cup and hold it 2-4 inches above the eye. While pouring, make sure run-off water doesn’t contaminate the unaffected eye. Seek medical advice.
Ingestion Follow the directions on the product label and/or call the Poison Control Center. Do not encourage vomiting or give fluids without label or medical recommendation.
Inhalation Move the victim into fresh air immediately. Seek medical advice. Key signs of inhalation poisoning include headache, nausea, dizziness and fatigue.
Skin Remove contaminated clothing and flush the skin with water for at least 10 minutes. Seek medical advice.
Never overlook just plain old fashioned washing of one’s body and clothes. The fact is even using plain water will help mitigate the smell. Time, air, soap and water, and ammonia in water are recommended to remove odor from fabrics. Other treatments include washing items with a strong soap, a heavy-duty liquid detergent, or borax. Be sure to follow any directions that are specific to washing a particular fabric. A chemist by the name of Paul Krebaum discovered a solution that chemically neutralizes odorous thiols.
The formula is 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide ¼ cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) 1 teaspoon of liquid dish soap (Not Dawn). Ingredients must be mixed in an open container and used immediately. Never mix the ingredients in advance as the oxygen in the hydrogen peroxide may be released causing the container to explode. The solution can be used on people or pets; avoid splashing the product in the eyes or mouth. Allow the solution to remain in hair for five minutes before rinsing with water. Repeat as needed. Do not use this solution on clothing as it may discolor the fabric.
For inanimate objects only, mix one cup of liquid laundry bleach (sodium hypochlorite) into one gallon of water. Be careful as bleach has corrosive and whitening properties. It is unclear if “color safe” bleach will be an effective deodorizer for skunk essence.
For clothing that can not be washed or dry-cleaned, such as shoes, some have suggested burying them in fine, dry soil for several days. The fine particles of soil are purported to absorb the odor, leaving the original article odor free. Kitty litter, sweeping compound, and other fine-particle materials are also alleged to work. Odorous materials can be suspended outdoors allowing fresh air to carry away the volatile thiols. Provided the material isn’t re-exposed to skunk musk, the odor will decrease over time.
There are a variety of odor control products available on area stores. They include names such as, Skunk-Off®, Odor-Mute® , Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover®, Earth Friendly Products® Skunk Odor Remover, etc. Homeowners may find these products helpful in deodorizing their property.
Neutroleum Alpha® is a scent product that has been used to control skunk odor in a variety of settings. It deodorizes by masking the odor with a smell, described as “minty.” Use it directly on surfaces. It can also be used as an air deodorizer by suspending napkins that have been dipped in the product. Generally one application is sufficient. Consumers have reported that Neutroleum Alpha® can be effective for deodorizing washable items as well. Use at a rate of 1 oz per 2 gallons of warm water. The manufacturer does not offer evidence for laundry and carpet use. Neutroleum Alpha® has toxic and irritating properties. Use the product in well ventilated areas and avoid direct contact with skin and mucous membranes. Wear rubber gloves (vinyl if allergic to latex) when mixing the solution. Product dissolves best in warm water. Only use freshly-made solutions and dispose of any left over product. Unmixed Neutroleum Alpha® must be stored in a cool dark environment to prevent fire hazards. Neutroleum Alpha® can be ordered from the Pocatello Supply Depot in Idaho 208-236-6920.
Freshwave® is the retail name of the industrial product known as Ecosorb®. The product captures the malodorous compounds and chemically neutralizes them. Freshwave® can be sprayed on affected surfaces and repeated as needed. Freshwave® does have a slight smell which has been described as “Tea tree” in nature. For lingering odors, pour the product in a wide mouthed jar and allow it to spread into the air. Use a fan to hasten the process. Freshwave® is also available as a gel or candle for slow dispersal. Use appropriate fire pre-cautions with candles. Freshwave® consists of plant oils and has few safety warnings, but avoid splashing product in the eyes. It is available at the company’s website "FreshWave" and Pocatello Supply Depot in Idaho 208-236-6920.
Epoleon N100® has had good reviews in its ability to neutralize skunk odor. The manufacturer states that Epoleon® is a water based organic odor neutralizer. The Epoleon® is sold as a concentrate and must be diluted in water before use. Unfortunately, the manufacturer doesn’t specifically give mixing instructions for skunk odor. One professional, who has used the product on multiple occasions, suggests a 1 to 20 ratio up to a 1 to 5 ratio depending on need. The diluted chemical can then be sprayed or atomized. The product will leave a slight residue as the water evaporates. Simply wipe down surfaces with a wet towel to gather up any remaining product. Although the chemical has an odor, it is so slight that it can almost be classified as an odorless product. Epoleon® can be used in a variety of settings except where food is prepared. Epoleon® can be obtained through the company at "Epoleon".
Bioshield® is an anti-microbial (EPA Registration Number 70871) that deodorizes by actually killing odor causing bacteria. It has been successfully used to control skunk odor. Bioshield® has a slight alcohol scent but is otherwise neutral in odor, but given its toxicity and warnings regarding use, it is perhaps advisable that homeowners not use this product.
Sometimes the skunk odor is so dispersed that fogging a deodorant is necessary to cover a large area. Atomizers, by converting the deodorant solution into fine mists, provide two key advantages for odor control over hand-pump sprayers. First, the small droplets that they produce stay airborne longer, thereby circulating throughout the treatment area. The tiny nooks and crannies present in basements and crawl spaces can be completely treated by exploiting natural air movements. Second, smaller droplets allow less product to be used because they have greater surface area to volume than larger droplets. As a rule of thumb, 16 ounces of neutralizing deodorant solution, atomized with a droplet size of 15 microns can deodorize a 1500 square foot residence. The droplet size should be 22 microns or smaller. Several foggers are available and here are some tips to help you evaluate the type which will best suit your needs.
1. Portability—Evaluate the weight, balance and power source. 2. Versaility—Use a flexible spray hose to direct the fog to different areas of the room. 3. Cost—You can rent foggers or purchase them for less than $100.00
1. Ozone generators are sometimes marketed as having deodorizing abilities. Studies have raised significant questions regarding their safety and effectiveness. It is best to avoid these products. 2. Never mix deodorants with other chemicals or products unless the directions specifically permit it.
First Aid guidelines are often included with product use directions. Be sure that you and those around you familiarize yourselves with the guidelines before using the product. Keep the product handy in case you need to re-read the safety information.
If one is experiencing headaches, difficulty breathing etc. then the individual needs to be immediately moved into an area with fresh air. Clothing soaked with deodorants should be removed and the exposed skin flushed with clean water for (fifteen minutes) to prevent any potential for chemical burns. Eyes, exposed to caustic deodorants, must be flushed with clean water for 15 minutes making sure the water from the contaminated eye doesn’t spill over into the unaffected eye. Have someone else call for Emergency assistance during the flushing process. If deodorants are ingested call the Poison Control Center for more detailed instructions.
1. Some deodorants contain toxic materials and may cause adverse reactions in people sensitive to the ingredients. Thus all chemicals, whether natural or synthetic, should be used in a manner that reduces exposure. Special care should be taken to avoid exposing children, pets and plants to chemicals unnecessarily. Remove or secure food stuffs and food preparation areas whenever possible. 2. Read and follow all product label directions and warnings. It is preferable to use deodorants in well ventilated areas. 3. Some products may discolor fabrics and other materials. Always test the product on a less noticeable area prior to treating more visible areas. 4. Whenever odors penetrate porous surfaces, such as sheet rock, concrete or unpainted wood, etc. multiple deodorant treatments maybe needed. Sometimes removal of contaminated materials will be the only solution.