One evening, while walking my dog, I met a skunk. Striped skunks are usually nocturnal. During the day, they hang out in dens made by other animals, including spaces under porches or sheds. They have poor eyesight and supposedly, if you back away slowly, you should be okay. Fortunately, this skunk just shuffled away without raising a stink.
But if a skunk feels cornered, it will stamp its feet as a warning. Then it will turn its tail so the two glands on either side of its anus line you up. Skunks can fire fluid for up to 5 metres and the smell can carry on the wind for up to 1km! Skunk spray has been described as a combination of rotten eggs and burning tires. The key ingredients are sulphur-based, oily chemicals called thiols. Thiols also occur in decomposing flesh and fecal matter, so our revulsion to the smell makes sense. If this stinkorific spray hits you or your pet, what should you do?
Forget tomato juice
For a long time, no effective solutions existed to deal with getting skunked. You may have heard about tomato juice, but apparently this does not remove the smell, it just distracts your nose with another smell.
Better living through chemistry
Along comes a chemist named Paul Krebaum, who was working with thiols for other reasons. He wanted to get rid of the smell and this is what he came up with. I put the recipe in the comic, in case you were in a hurry and needed the essentials.
The break down
The soap gets the oily skunk spray into solution, so that it can react with the peroxide. The baking soda raises the pH, which helps the peroxide and thiol molecules react. Hydrogen peroxide adds oxygen to the thiol molecule and turns it into sulfonic acid, which does not smell. The baking soda also neutralizes this acid.
I have not personally tested this recipe and hope I never have to. But others have.
If you have any skunk spray stories to share, please comment.