What Makes Skunk Spray Smell So Bad?

The smelly spray of a skunk is a defense mechanism against large predators; it's a stream released from their anal glands.
What Makes Skunk Spray Smell So Bad?
Francisco María García

Written and verified by the lawyer Francisco María García.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

It’s common to come across a stinky smell of skunk spray on the road. Surely, their strong odor will allow you to detect the presence of this animal even before you see them, if they’re close by. Anyone who ever caught a whiff of it will agree it’s one of the most unusual smells in nature.

A skunk’s friendly appearance is counterbalanced by their characteristic smell. As is often the case with everything natural, there’s a reason for this smell.

The life of a skunk

  • This animal inhabits American lands mainly; although, there are some smaller populations in other continents as well
  • These omnivorous mammalians eat many things but their preferred meals are rodents, insects, eggs, honey, fruit, and vegetables
  • The largest populations of skunks are in areas where there are many rodents so they’re great to have around for rodent control
  • They live in the burrows dug in the ground by their strong front paws
  • They’re solitary animals, difficult to find in the company of other skunks, and only approach each other during mating season
  • Females keep their young with them in their den and when these grow up, they move away in search of their own destiny
  • There are several species of skunks, although their lifestyles are similar
A skunk ready to spray predators.

Stinky skunk spray

A characteristic musty, pungent, bitter odor is this animal’s defense mechanism. They squirt it out of their anal glands when they feel threatened, frightened, or become trapped.

The great pressure with which they expel the liquid allows it to reach a distance of more than four yards. They keep predators at bay this way.

Actually, this scent system can scare away large and powerful animals, such as bears. The ability to spray from long distances, combined with the speed at which they can escape and their ability to hide, keeps them safe in hostile environments.

Ways to eliminate the odor of skunk spray

A person who gets a skunk bath on their clothes, backpack, or car will smell like it for a while. The perfume will also circulate if the skunk has impregnated the household pet.

It isn’t easy to eliminate this odor as it seems to settle in the nose and nothing can make it go away. It permeates clothing, carpets, and even skin, and remains there for months, so a sprayed person must act quickly.

An animal outdoors.
  • A common suggestion is to wash the affected item with tomato juice. This is a transitory solution, as it only masks the odor, which then reappears.
  • Exposure to air and sunlight bring down the odor intensity. This is because ultraviolet rays contribute to neutralizing it.
  • Another good strategy is to wash the impregnated area with water and neutral soap, and then spray it with vinegar diluted in water (one part vinegar to five parts water).
  • Baking soda mixed with hydrogen peroxide and liquid soap is another excellent solution. You can use this mixture on objects and animals (you included).

It may be necessary to repeat the procedure more than once. We also advise alternating the methods, and airing the rooms is always good for eliminating odors.

Myths about skunk spray

This isn’t as serious as it seems and it’s just a strong smell. Some people believe that skunks just go around the world spraying everyone who crosses their path, but this isn’t true.

In fact, their capacity to spray the musty substance is limited and they only have enough to do so about five times in one session. It takes up to six days for them to generate it again after they’ve depleted the reserve.

Imagine you’re sprayed and the liquid gets into your eyes. No problem, just flush it out with plenty of water. The irritation may last for a while, but it won’t blind you as some claim.

There are even warnings as to when a skunk is about to release their liquid weapon: they raise their tail. So, just get out of their way if you get a warning.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.