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Skunks can release a foul-smelling odor into the atmosphere.  If you have ever smelt it, you will never forget it.  I had an email asking me why skunks spray, and if you want to know why, please read on.

Skunks have many predators and spray as a mechanism to keep themselves safe.  Skunk spray is not dangerous to humans.  It is not toxic and does not transmit any diseases.

Skunks are mammals that are native to North and South America. They vary in size according to the species and have a standard fur color of black and white. Some skunks have brown or grey fur. Another common characteristic of skunks is that they are born with stripes.

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Why Do Skunks Spray?

Skunks spray to protect themself and ward off predators. Skunks are small mammals and are attractive to several predators.  A significant way they can defend themselves to survive is through the awful-smelling spray.

Many predators include coyotes, badgers, bears, and wolves. Many predators rely on their senses of smell to detect prey and hunt. 

Animals with an advanced sense of smell will find the scent of the skunk spray unbearable and overwhelming. 

For this reason, predators will not be able to go anywhere near them.  They also wouldn’t perceive the skunk as a tasty meal.

The spray of the skunk is a weapon that they reluctantly use.  Before a skunk can spray an enemy, the skunk has specific warnings.   First, the skunk has a bold black-and-white coloration to make its appearance memorable. 

Many predators would not go near a skunk out of fear for its spray if witnessed previously. 

Threatened skunks give other warnings, including hissing.  If this doesn’t work, they will stomp their feet several times before portraying threatening postures, such as raising their tails high.

If the warning signs don’t work, they turn and face their anal glands toward their target. This is the last warning to the offender before the skunk unleashes the spray.

Skunks do generally not spray other skunks. However, males might do this when fighting over partners. 

When fighting over territories and den space, skunks prefer to do so with their teeth and claws.

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When Do Skunks Spray People?

Skunks will spray humans for the same reason they will spread a predator.  This is when they feel threatened or in danger. 

It is a bad idea to disturb a skunk intentionally. If you spot one nearby, leave the animal alone, and go your way. Otherwise, you may be walking around with a stinky odor.

People accidentally frighten skunks when they walk close to their dens without knowing it. These animals live in burrows that they dig for themselves or take over an abandoned ones. 

The den is usually covered to keep away predators. You might get sprayed if you walk over its caves and unintentionally surprise it. Skunks do this as a defensive measure.

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How Can I Avoid Getting Sprayed?

If you encounter a skunk somewhere, leave it alone.  Do not walk towards them or make any sudden movements.  Skunks will only spray you when they perceive you as a threat or if you are surprised.  Skunks do not want to be bothered, so try to avoid them.

What Is Skunk Spray?

The spray of the skunk is a chemical liquid that contains organic compounds referred to as thiols. 

The foul odor of the spray is attributed to its constituents. Thiols are a compound of one sulfur atom bonded to a hydrogen atom.

The compounds are chains of carbon and hydrogen with sulfur and a hydrogen thiol group attached on one end.  They are also volatile. This means that they can disperse efficiently in the air.  Due to the volatility, the human nose picks it up quite fast. 

When the spray from a skunk comes into contact with water, the compounds are rearranged into a potent configuration. 

The smell only worsens when you or your pet gets sprayed by a skunk and bathes in water.  The more you try to wash off the spray, the smellier it becomes. 

This is probably a good reminder that humans or pets should not mess with skunks. 

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How Do Skunks Spray?

Skunks have two scent glands located on each side of the anus. The glands produce and store the potent liquid they spray on potential threats or predators. Each gland is connected to an external squirter found beneath the tail on each side of its anus.

There are muscles located just next to the spray glands. These anal muscles help skunks eject the stored spray and shoot it out. They are extremely good at aiming, rarely missing the target. 

A skunk is capable of shooting spray with high accuracy reaching targets as far as 3 meters away.

The anal scent glands contain about 15 cubic centimeters of spray. Skunks have enough spray use to 6 times. 

It can take ten days before they can produce more of the spray.  Due to this, the rush is not something that skunks are willing to use unless they have to. 

When they deplete the stored spray in the scent glands, they are left vulnerable to predators. Now, the skunk has no other practical way to protect itself and quickly falls prey. 

Mostly, they will try to discharge only small amounts at one time to preserve as much spray as possible.

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Is Skunk Spray Dangerous?

Skunk spray is not dangerous to humans.  It is not toxic and will not cause you any complications. Their bouquet does not transmit diseases and will not burn your skin, either.  

Skunk spray is an intense smell.   Once you have smelt a skunk, you will never forget the smell.

The smell is bad enough to trigger nausea and even vomiting.  This shouldn’t be surprising, considering the spray is a chemical defense that can ward off predators as large as a bear, wolf, or coyote. 

If the liquid happens to get into your eyes, it can cause significant irritation and, at times, temporary blindness.  In this situation, seek medical help to avoid issues with your eyes.  Besides getting it into your eyes, skunk spray is not too bad, apart from the smell. There is no need to worry that skunk spray will cause you harm.

How Do I Remove Skunk Spray?

The problem with skunk spray is when it comes time to remove the smelly substance from your clothes or body.

Essential home remedies are tomato and lemon juice; however, these will not remove the smell.  Trying to eliminate the smell of skunk spray using home remedies such as these will not work. 

You can find some commercial skunk odor removers here on Amazon.

How To Make A Homemade Solution 

How to Remove the Spray From the Skin

  • First, a shower or bath should be the first thing you can do to eliminate most of the smell.  
  • Use a soap or body gel with a deodorant in it.  
  • Wash your hair with a shampoo designed for oily hair
  • Use baking soda in a bath.  Pour up to 4 cups into warm water.
  • Soak in the bath for up to 20 minutes.
  • Use a shower to remove the baking soda from your skin

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How To Remove The Spray From Clothes

  • The smell of a skunk can be removed from most clothes with regular washing.  However, if you have some baking soda, I recommend mixing it in 1/2 cup with your normal washing powder.

How To Remove The Spay From Pets

  • The only reliable solution to getting rid of the smell of a skunk from pets is to use a combination of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. 
  • Create a mixture of 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup of baking soda, and one teaspoon of liquid detergent.  
  • Use the mixture on the fur, leaving it on for up to 5 minutes. Do not leave the mixture on for more than 5 minutes. Otherwise, it may slightly change the color of your pet’s fur.
  • Wash your pet with regular pet shampoo.
  • Dispose of any leftover mixture.  Please do not keep it, especially in a sealed bottle, as it can explode.
  • This makes a good remedy, perfect for removing skunk odor from their body and fur.  
  • You can also take your pet to the vet and ask them to do this for you if you feel uncomfortable doing it.

Skunks aren’t the only animals in North America with a defense mechanism. I have written an article you can find here to find out how the porcupine uses its quills.