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How does tomato juice make skunk smell go away?

Category: Chemistry
Published: August 29, 2013

By: Christopher S. Baird, author of The Top 50 Science Questions with Surprising Answers and physics professor at West Texas A&M University

Tomato juice does not make skunk odor go away. More specifically, tomato juice does not react chemically with the skunk odor to destroy it. Instead, it simply has a strong enough smell on its own to partially mask the skunk smell. But in this respect, it is no different from any other strong odor. Perfume or scented candles will do just as well as tomato juice to mask the skunk smell. As soon as the tomato juice scent wears away, the skunk odor becomes noticeable again. A better approach is to deactivate the skunk spray through chemical reactions. Your allies in this effort are bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda. Wash clothes and fabrics that have the skunk smell in bleach. To clean hard surfaces that have the skunk odor, spray on a cleaning solution that contains bleach, let it sit, and then wipe off. To clean items that can not withstand bleach, such as pet fur or colored clothes, instead use a hydrogen peroxide/baking soda solution. Combine one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda and 2 tbsp. liquid dish detergent for an excellent skunk odor killer that is safe enough to bath pets in. For best results, this solution should be scrubbed into the fur or fabric while still foaming. Note that this mixture is potentially explosive if left to sit too long in a sealed container. Discard the unused portion instead of storing it.

Public Domain Image, source: US National Park Service.

The culprits in skunk spray are chemicals called thiols which contain sulfur. Skunk spray also contain thioacetates, which degrade slowly into stinky thiols. This degradation process is what gives skunk odor its longevity. Reactive agents such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide work to deactivate the thiols and thioacetates.

Topics: odor, skunk, skunk smell, smell, thiol, tomato juice