From her skunk research, biologist Luanne Johnson knows what to do if you get skunked.

David Welch


How it Works: Getting Rid of Skunk Smell

I came across this advice at an online discussion group for dealing with a pet that has been skunked: “Take several ounces of tomato juice...add vodka...drink.”

Believe it or not there’s actually some wisdom there because the tomato-juice bath, probably the most commonly prescribed solution for de-skunking a pet, actually does little more than mask the odor; it doesn’t actually get rid of it.

According to Luanne Johnson, a wildlife biologist from West Tisbury, the only way to truly eliminate skunk odor is to break down the chemical bonds in the mercaptans – the molecules that give skunk spray its signature odor – and the way to do that is by exposing them to oxygen.

She recommends a mixture of about four cups hydrogen peroxide, a half-cup baking soda, and a dash of dishwashing soap. Mix it up in a bucket, put on some rubber gloves, and rub it thoroughly into the pet’s coat. Also, make sure you don’t get the scent on your clothes for obvious reasons.

If you’re washing the pet’s head, be careful to avoid the eyes and mouth, and you may want to put cotton balls in the pet’s ears to protect the inner ear tissue. Let the solution sit for five or ten minutes then give the pet a bath with regular pet shampoo. Luanne points out that the peroxide solution could lighten the pet’s coat a shade or two, but that’s a small price to pay for having a dog you don’t have to exile.

But what do you do if you get skunked or if the skunk sprays your deck, car, or worst-case scenario, your dog comes into the house and sits on the furniture? The good news is that eventually the odor will go away as it reacts to the oxygen in the air. But that could take time. To remove the scent from your skin, Luanne recommends the hydrogen-peroxide solution. For objects such as a deck or car tires, she advises scrubbing them down with a water and bleach solution: about a cup of bleach to a gallon of water. For fabric she suggests trying white vinegar but cautions that many synthetics won’t hold up to this treatment.

Paul Ferzoco, owner of Vineyard Cleaners in Vineyard Haven, pulls no punches. He recently received a load of clothes and upholstered materials that had been hit pretty badly. He treated them with a professional grade product not sold over the counter and claims that it got about 90 percent of the odor out. “But if it was hit any worse,” Paul says, “I’d recommend bundling up the clothes and throwing them out.”

Of course the best way to deal with skunk spray is to avoid the problem altogether. You can start by keeping your dog in after sunset. And keep your trash and your compost pile, if you have one, covered. Luanne explains that, in addition, having a bird feeder in your yard can be a skunk magnet. They’ll come out at night not only to feed on the seed but on rodents that feed there as well.

And don’t think that come wintertime you’re safe. Generally speaking, skunks are dormant in the winter, but if they have a food supply they’ll come out if it’s above freezing, especially around February when their hormones begin to act up and they’re looking for love.

So to review: Skunk-proof your yard. Keep your pets inside after sunset. And if they do get hit, go with the solution of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. As for tomato juice – I like my Bloody Mary with Worcestershire sauce and horseradish too.