(Updated on June 18, 2021)
Despite the utmost caution, you may eventually experience the dreaded skunk encounter while driving, especially if you live in a rural area.
Whether the vehicle hits a skunk, drives on roadkill, or even just drives through an area where a skunk recently released its payload, the smell can permeate through the vehicle and cause a lot of discomfort to everyone involved.
Keep reading to understand why skunk smell is so strong and how to de-skunk a car if needed.
Why is Skunk Spray So Overwhelming?
Spraying is a defense mechanism for skunks. The oily substance refills in their anal sacs somewhat slowly so they try not to use it unless necessary, though it usually leaks when skunks are hit by a car.
A skunk’s spray is a type of lachrymator, which means that it causes irritation to the eyes and nose. This leads to redness and weeping eyes, similar to tear gas.
Two components are responsible for the stench: thiols and thioacetates.
- Thiols cause the immediate stink like rotten eggs, since they contain sulfur.
- Thioacetates are the reason that the stench lingers, as they are activated when contacted by water in the air or on surfaces.
These can be tricky to remove from materials, especially since the overall solution is quite greasy. While most instances of skunk smell will eventually go away on its own, that process may take months or even years in some cases. It’s much better to take matters into your own hands.
How to De-Skunk a Car
While there are many traditional methods used by grandmas all over the world to remove skunk odor from the kid or dog that got a little too curious, it’s not a good idea to use tomato juice to clean the car.
Febreze is an odor-removing spray that you can try, though it will probably not remove the smell on its own. It’s important to remove as much of the oily spray as possible.
Here are some useful tips for removing the skunk odor from the car. It’s a good idea to use gloves to avoid contamination of your skin.
1) Hurry Up!
The longer it takes to start removing the stench, the harder it will be to get rid of. As soon as you notice any skunk smell, air out the car immediately (the smell is so strong, you probably won’t need to be told to do this anyway).
When the vehicle returns from the drive, remove the interior mats and place them outside to air out. Leave the doors open if you can until you can clean the car.
2) Allow for Sun
When you remove the mats, put them in the sun if at all possible. The sun should also shine on the interior of the car if possible, as sunlight is a natural deodorizer.
3) Wash Exterior Surfaces
Since the tires and undercarriage of the vehicle probably had the most contact with the skunk, those need to be more thoroughly washed to eliminate the oils.
A solution of distilled vinegar mixed with some dish soap works best to remove the oils. Put this solution in a garden sprayer to reach the entirety of the car’s underside. Once applied, let it sit for a couple of minutes and rinse off with a hose to avoid damage to the metal.
Apply this same solution to the tires and wheels with a scrubbing brush and clean thoroughly. Rinse well.
The rest of the car’s exterior should be cleaned with a normal car wash soap. If the vinegar and soap solution contact the paint, rinse it off immediately to avoid damage to the paint (vinegar is acidic and can eat the paint).
You may be wondering, will an automatic car wash get rid of a skunk smell? While it may help a bit, the skunk oils will likely remain. The manual method above will be much more effective.
4) Wash Interior Surfaces
If the smell lingers despite airing out the car, the oil has likely permeated into the surfaces.
Clean the dashboard and other hard surfaces like interior doors and steering wheel with a dashboard cleaner or a solution of mild soap with water. Wipe clean with a water-only moistened microfiber towel to rinse any residual solution and best protect the surfaces.
Leather seats can be cleaned carefully with a mild soap solution and rinsed immediately with a damp cloth, then dried with a clean microfiber towel.
Any fabric surfaces such as floor mats or fabric seats can be cleaned with either a carpet deodorizer or a mixture of one quart of hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda, and one teaspoon of dish soap. It’s a good idea to test this solution on a hidden area of fabric first to make sure there is no discoloration.
Spray the mixture onto fabric surfaces (or alternatively wet cloth in mixture, wring well, and wipe fabric surfaces), let sit, and then wipe with a water-only moistened microfiber towel to help remove soapy material. Dry the material as much as possible with clean microfiber towels.
Leave the doors open to allow the fabric to fully dry (you will have different problems if you close off a damp car for a long time).
Don’t forget to clean the windshield. The stench may adhere to just about any surface.
5) Place Charcoal In Vehicle
To absorb any remaining smell, place a small container of charcoal in the vehicle for the next few weeks. A container of vinegar or baking soda may also work, just not as well.
Good luck! May this be the last encounter you have with a skunk, though if it happens again you will be ready. Avoiding more rural roads at night may help prevent skunk encounters, though some skunks may live in the city.