If you heard that tomato juice is a cure-all skunk odor remover, don't depend upon the stuff being totally up to snuff. Skunks don't look dangerous; rather, they look more like predator snacks. Further, they don't run well and they're lousy fighters, so you might expect them to be in a panic to elude predators. But this small, unobtrusive critter never seems to hurry, even when uninformed higher-ups on the food chain give hot pursuit. This mild-mannered little fella fears and scurries from few due to his very own high-powered secret weapon. Any creature that ends up on the wrong end of a skunk will suffer mightily for a long time, but will avoid Pepe LePew for the remainder of his days.
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What is Skunk Spray?
Skunk spray is the common term for the sulfur chemical compound produced within the anal scent glands of skunks. This liquid spray has an overpoweringly offensive odor capable of deterring and sickening nearly all living predators, including humans, bears and foxes. This is the skunk's primary defense mechanism, and it can be used to accurately spray predators as far away as 15 feet.
If the sulfurous chemicals hit a predator's eyes, temporary blindness can be caused. The powerful odor is notorious for being very difficult to neutralize, and untreated can last up to three weeks. Pity the poor wild would-be predator!
The Time-Honored Tomato Juice Solution
The origins of the use of tomato juice as a skunk odor remover for skunk smells are hard to definitively pin down, but today it is widely regarded as somewhat of a homemaker's myth. Still, it can work to a small degree, but it only masks the odor and fools the olfactory senses rather than neutralizing the skunk smell.
The tomato juice solution works because of a phenomenon called olfactory fatigue. Olfactory fatigue occurs when a person or animal inhales a very strong odor over a prolonged period of time; after long enough, they will no longer be able to distinguish the powerful odor, as they have grown accustomed to it. Skunk odors are exceptionally strong, so anyone who is exposed to them for a prolonged period will begin experiencing olfactory fatigue. When this happens, the smell recognition of the sulfur chemicals is diminished, which helps to make other distinctly different smells stand out.
Tomato juice has a distinct and lingering smell that many would call pleasant, so a bath in tomato juice can effectively fool the olfactory senses until tomato juice is all that can be smelled. Of course, to people who have not been subjected to olfactory fatigue from skunk odors, the sprayed areas will smell like a combination of tomato juice and sulfur spray. This is because the acids in the tomato juice do not neutralize the sulfur odors, allowing them to profoundly offend most if not all people the skunked individual comes into contact with.
A More Effective Skunk Odor Remover
To effectively remove the smell of skunk spray, one must utilize agents that will neutralize the sulfur particles on a chemical level. One of the most powerful ingredients with these capabilities is used around the world to deodorize refrigerators, laundry and even teeth. Baking soda, when mixed with diluted hydrogen peroxide and detergent, makes a safe and gentle skunk-fighting scrub for humans, pets and even color-fast fabrics.
A combination of one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and 2 tbsp. liquid dish detergent is recommended, although this solution should be mixed in a large container, because the ingredients will foam up when mixed. The skunk odor remover should be stirred thoroughly and used with brushes and sponges to scrub sprayed areas while the mixture is still foamy.
Do not get de-skunking solutions into your eyes or the eyes of your pet. Baking soda is extremely caustic to delicate tissues. Both baking soda and soap burn the eyes severely.