How to Get Rid of Skunk Smell

An unfortunate encounter with a skunk can mean weeks of lingering reek. The right combination of cleaners can neutralize the odor on your body, your clothes, and inside your home before the day's over.

By Bob Vila and Teresa Odle | Updated May 17, 2022 12:06 PM

How to Get Rid of Skunk Smell

Photo: istockphoto.com

The stench of a skunk is strong and unmistakable, even when you’re in a car with the windows closed, driving through an area sprayed hours prior. So a skunk smell in your backyard or, worse, inside your home or on your loved ones must be addressed immediately—ideally within an hour or two of the spray.

If neglected, that foul odor can linger for months on household textiles, everything from bed linens to furniture upholstery. It can even wind up on your own skin! Fortunately, there are effective ways to neutralize the nastiness, using common items you might already have at home.

The rotten egg reek that is skunks’ prime mode of defense comes from an organic compound called a thiol. It’s produced in the critters’ anal glands and has sulfur as its chief component. These nocturnal animals don’t spray unless they’re in danger, but when they do, whew! The odor is strong and the substance is oily, which is why it’s tough to banish. However, with the one-two punch of a detergent to cut the oil and a chemical to absorb and neutralize, you can de-skunk.

Consider these home remedies for how to get rid of skunk smell in various situations.

How to Get Skunk Smell Out of Clothes 

Hydrogen peroxide ranks as perhaps the best weapon against the scourge of the skunk. This chemical compound can damage the fibers of clothing, however, so it must be diluted prior to application. Still, you can use it in a solution to clean most clothing and remove skunk scent in wearables. For getting rid of skunk smell in delicate fabrics, skip the hydrogen peroxide. Our note below modifies these cleaning tips to make sure getting the stink out won’t damage your favorite delicates.

how to get rid of skunk smell

istockphoto.com

SUPPLIES

STEP 1: Mix up a cleaning solution.

Grab a large bucket (large enough to hold the stinky clothing plus water) and mix in 1 part hydrogen peroxide to 6 parts water (except on delicates). Stir or shake lightly to mix.

STEP 2: Soak the clothing for an hour. 

Make sure the cleaning solution completely covers the clothing. Let the clothes soak in the solution for 1 hour. Then empty the bucket, don some gloves to protect your hands, and wring out the clothes.

STEP 3: Run the clothing through a wash cycle, adding baking soda. 

Place the damp clothes alone into your washer and run them through a regular wash cycle with your laundry detergent. Add ½ cup of baking soda to the load to help further absorb the remaining scent. Don’t add dish soap to the washer; it can create too many suds.

STEP 4: Hang clothes outside to dry. 

Don’t just throw the affected clothes in the dryer. Some odor can still linger, and the heat of drying will “bake” the odor into the fabric. Plus, there is no need to take the chance that you’ll add skunk scent to the dryer’s interior or lint trap. Let fresh air do its work by hanging the clothes where the wind can blow through them, for as long as it takes.

Note: Take special care of delicates.

If the affected piece of clothing is delicate or dry clean only, skip the peroxide, opting instead for a common pantry staple: vinegar. Though somewhat less effective than hydrogen peroxide, it’s much less harsh. Prepare a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Let the garment soak for about 3 hours, then rinse in cold water and hang to dry.

Take care of items that can’t be washed by leaving them hanging outdoors for as long as it takes for the odor to dissipate.

How to Get Skunk Smell Out of Your House

If a person or a pet has a run-in with a skunk, they may unwittingly track some of the offensive odor into the house with them. Even if the skunk sprays your pet or another critter outside, the stink can waft in through open windows while you sleep.

Worse, a skunk might have taken up residence near or even under your house. Any skunk spray can linger for months, even after you are rid of the skunk. If your house smells like skunk, take the steps below to get rid of the odor. Then invest in a skunk repellent to put a stop to the encounters and make sure you won’t get stuck having to repeatedly rid your house of the smell.

how to get rid of skunk smell

istockphoto.com

SUPPLIES

STEP 1: Place bowls of vinegar around your home.

Start by placing open containers or bowls of vinegar in the corners of the room and adjacent to any affected furniture. The vinegar will work to absorb odors over the next few days.

STEP 2: Begin a targeted attack on specific surfaces.

Ventilate the rooms before using strong cleaning products and wear gloves to protect your hands from toxic chemicals. Scrub tile with diluted chlorine bleach (following the instructions on the bleach container). For wood, use a solution of 1 part ammonia to 4 parts water. Wet the sponge or rag and wring it out (soaking wood can damage it), then scrub.

STEP 3: Steam-clean curtains and carpet.

For heavy fabric curtains or wall-to-wall carpeting, consider hiring a steam cleaning service, renting a steam cleaner, or using your own steam cleaner to do the job yourself. Once you’ve worked on all the surfaces, open the windows if you can. Then add an air purifier or use whatever other tactic you rely on to rid your home of typical pet smells.

How to Get Skunk Smell Out of Cars

Unfortunately for both skunks and drivers, encounters with cars occur. Maybe a skunk got into your garage, or perhaps you ran over one with your car. Even if you come across a dead skunk in the road, the smell can get on and in your car. If you have the bad luck to run over one, or if a skunk spray hits near your vehicle, the odor can linger and possibly even penetrate the tires.

A thorough washing should take care of the exterior, but the steps below will help get the stink out of those surfaces most affected. When the stink gets inside the car, follow the steps below to remove the smell, and then add a car air freshener if needed to mask any lingering odor.

how to get rid of skunk smell

istockphoto.com

SUPPLIES

STEP 1: Mix a cleaning solution.

So you can work on the stench as soon as possible, let the cleaning solution you use depend on what you have on hand. It will also depend on the materials on your car’s exterior or interior, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s cautions for use of cleaning materials on upholstery or trim.

In a spray bottle, mix about 1 part vinegar with 1 part water, and add only a teaspoon or so of detergent. Spray it on the stinky hard interior surfaces and scrub well, using rags, sponges, or a brush. Then wipe off these surfaces with a wet cloth. Also use this solution on any affected exterior surfaces, such as the tires or parts of the undercarriage. Rinse the exterior thoroughly with a garden hose.

Repeat the process if smell lingers on these surfaces. Once you have removed the stink, feel free to go back and clean the entire exterior and interior hard surfaces with the cleaning products you normally use to return the shine.

STEP 2: Work on the upholstery and carpet.

Use water and some Murphy’s Oil Soap (according to package directions) on leather upholstery. The soap contains lauramidopropylamine oxide and sodium tallate, cleaning agents that may counteract the oiliness in skunk spray. Spray the solution directly onto a towel and dab the seats with it, covering as much surface as you can reach. Dab it dry with another clean microfiber cloth. The soap also will clean vinyl upholstery.

For cloth seats, start with water and vinegar (half of each) in a spray bottle. Mist the seats and let the solution sit for several minutes before dabbing the fabric with a clean cloth. Avoid scrubbing and rubbing upholstery, which can push the smell deeper. Clean the carpet this way as well, and clean the car mats as usual.

STEP 3: Absorb lingering odor with activated charcoal.

Still stinky? It might be challenging to leave bowls of vinegar or baking soda in your car, but you can tuck activated charcoal in various corners. Activated charcoal is a porous filtering agent that can absorb odors floating in the air. It may remove the skunk odor in as little as 24 hours.

If the undercarriage or tires remain smelly, try laying some activated charcoal beneath the car or near the tires to absorb odor.

How to Remove Skunk Smell From Dogs and Other Pets

Getting sprayed by a skunk is no fun for you or your pet. If your pet has been sprayed, grab the hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, and dishwashing detergent. (Send a family member indoors to retrieve the supplies so you won’t bring the stink indoors.)

how to get rid of skunk smell

SUPPLIES

STEP 1: Mix a peroxide and baking soda solution. 

Measure a quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, a quarter- to half-cup of baking soda, and a teaspoon of dishwashing detergent.

STEP 2: Apply the solution to your pet.

Dip a rag into the solution and rub your pet down. Don’t wet the skin (or fur) first, as the solution may not absorb well if wet. Avoid your pet’s eyes and any other sensitive areas, and don’t leave the solution on your pet for too long. When you’re finished, dump the mixture; it shouldn’t be stored (this potent brew can actually destroy its container).

STEP 3: Thoroughly rinse your pet with clean water.

Thoroughly rinse all of the solution off your pet. Hydrogen peroxide can bleach fur, plus you want to avoid letting the cleaning solution run down into your pet’s eyes. If a curious pet got skunked right in the face, rinse the eyes gently but thoroughly with water—don’t apply the solution to this area.

STEP 4: Shampoo your pet.

Next, reach for the shampoo you normally use on your pet and wash as directed once again. Rinse all soap from the fur and towel-dry as well as possible. Place your pet in a sunny room or outdoor spot to keep warm for a few hours until dry.

Final Thoughts

No matter the game plan, be sure to act as quickly as possible for effective skunk smell removal. Addressing the skunk smell in your clothing, home, car, or pet’s coat immediately can save you days of multiple showers or dog washes and endless household cleanings. Then, do your best to air out the house by opening windows, using fans, and changing your HVAC filters. This, too, shall pass!



FAQs About Skunk Smell Removal

If you still have questions about getting rid of skunk smell, read on for the answers to some common questions about how to clean skunk smell off a dog, home, clothing, and car surfaces.

Q. How do you get skunk smell off a dog without peroxide?

If your pooch comes home reeking of a run-in with a skunk, you may not wish to use hydrogen peroxide. After all, it could be challenging to keep the stinging stuff out of the eyes of an agitated animal during your de-skunk dog rubdown.

Swap out the peroxide for distilled white vinegar, which is slightly less effective but less stinging, still taking care to be extra gentle around sensitive spots. Don’t bother trying tomato juice. This old-timey skunk odor remedy may briefly mask the smell, but it doesn’t have the goods to get rid of it.

Q. How hard is it to get rid of skunk spray smell?

Skunk spray is not only redolent, it’s also oily, thanks to the organic compound thiol that the creatures naturally produce. The smell is foul, and the oiliness allows it to adhere to the skunk’s enemy, making it hard to remove with plain soap and water. However, using a combination of a degreaser and an odor-absorbing/neutralizing agent can effectively get rid of skunk smell.

Q. How long does it take for skunk smell to go away?

Left untreated, skunk odor can settle into surfaces, especially textiles, and the odor can take months to fully dissipate. That’s why it’s important to get to work de-skunking clothing, furnishings, and other surfaces immediately—ideally within an hour of being sprayed.

It’s simply not enough to open the car or house windows, hold your nose, and hope for the best! Get moving ASAP with the targeted technique described above that best suits your skunky scenario.