Features August 2004 Issue

How to Wash a Skunked Dog

We didn’t test every product on the market, just ones we could find FAST.

We had not planned to review products that promise to remove skunk scent, but then, are skunk/dog conflicts ever planned? No, this was an emergency, and we dealt with it by running out the door to our local pet supply store and buying every odor-eliminating product on the shelves.

As I mentioned in my editorial, I promised my brother that I would dog-sit his darling Hannah while he and his girlfriend vacationed. It became quickly apparent to me that Hannah had been more closely acquainted with a skunk than is wise. My brother hadn’t mentioned this to me, probably because he is completely without a sense of smell – a result, our mother always told us, of his many ear infections as a baby.

I work at home, in a little office built into the ground-floor basement. It works for me and the many test and model dogs who come and go, because they can lay around my feet or zip out into the backyard for a wild romp any time they like. I leave the door open when I’m working, but after Hannah got here, I had to open the window and put a big fan in it, too. Pee-yew!

Keith had brought one of Hannah’s beds with her, but it was too stinky to bring inside. I hung it over a fence in my backyard to deal with later. Unfortunately, because Hannah had arrived at night, I couldn’t do anything about her stench until the next morning.

Not the most scientific test
I’ve read accounts of double-blind lab tests of odor-removing products, complete with control groups. My test was going to be much less controlled! I had just one stinky dog on my hands, not a whole pack of them! Plus, there were only three products indicated for removing skunk-smell on the shelves of a local PETCO; I bought all three.

As I rode my bike back from PETCO, I made my plan. I would put each product on one third of Hannah – front, middle, and back end. I’d delineate the lines of demarcation with a Sharpie permanent marker. And I’d enlist my family and the neighbors who were still speaking to me to come over and “Smell the dog now!”

Skunked Dog

I changed my plan slightly when the first product I opened turned out to smell disgusting – easily as repulsive as the skunk. I put the top back on, and quickly checked the scent of the other two; they were inoffensive. I changed my battle plan to include just the other two products, one for Hannah’s front half and one for the back half.

So, I didn’t test De-Skunk, the product that smelled bad. To be specific, it has a super strong, sickly sweet, but bad chemical smell. The directions indicate that the product is supposed to be used promptly after the dog has been sprayed by a skunk – a caveat not made by the makers of the other products I tested. The dog is wetted with warm water, and then the thick, goopy product is applied much like shampoo. The directions suggest leaving it on for at least three to five minutes, rinsing well, and then repeating the process at least once more, or until the skunk odor is gone.

The label doesn’t explain how it works, although a review of the ingredients (water, nonionic emulsifiers, citric acid, propylene glycol, pine oil extract, isoparafinic solvent, polyquaternium 10, fragrance) suggests it acts as a solvent, deodorant, and astringent.

The maker, Synergy Labs of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, suggests following De-Skunk with a shampoo and conditioner. It’s just as well I skipped testing this product, because the next two products I used were much simpler.

We’ve found enzyme-based odor removers to be safe, nontoxic, and effective for use in removing pet “accidents.” For skunk scent, the products are applied directly to the dog’s dry coat and allowed to dry.

The most effective enzyme-based product I tried, hands-down, was Nature’s Miracle Skunk Odor Remover, made by Pets ’N People, Inc., a subsidiary of Eight In One Pet Products, of Hauppauge, New York. I used it on Hannah’s back half, pouring the clear, watery liquid directly from the bottle onto her coat and rubbing it in well with my hands.

Nature’s Miracle smells like rubbing alcohol, not surprisingly, since this is its second ingredient (after water). It also has a slight perfumey fragrance. The only other ingredients are “Nature’s Enzymes,” and natural citrus scent. It was easy to saturate Hannah’s coat with the product, and despite the alcohol, it didn’t sting my eyes or skin, nor did it seem to bother Hannah in any way.

After Hannah dried, I could not detect any skunk odor on her back half at all. That is a miracle! She smelled like a fairly clean dog, and her coat was nice and soft.

On Hannah’s front half, I used a product called Pet Odor Eliminator, made by Beaumont Products, Inc., of Kennesaw, Georgia. It came in a spray bottle, which made it easy to apply around her face (holding the bottle very close to her skin, to avoid getting into her eyes). But to really wet her shoulders and chest, I took the top off and poured the watery liquid over her, while rubbing it into her coat.

I was not crazy about the smell of Pet Odor Eliminator, which has a stronger perfumey odor than the Nature’s Miracle product. However, this odor faded quite a bit as Hannah dried, along with the skunk odor, which was vastly reduced – but not completely gone.

I asked three “sniff test” volunteers which half of Hannah smelled better, and each said her back half was odorless, but that they could still detect faint traces of skunk odor on her front half. Still, it was an amazing improvement. You had to really lean into Hannah’s fur and sniff hard to pick up the scent, whereas before she was treated, you could smell her from 20 feet away.

The label of this product does not list all its ingredients, only its active ingredient, “100% natural vegetable enzyme complex.”

More testing
That night, as usual, Hannah slept in my office, and when I entered it the next morning, it still smelled a little. It was probably from two nights before, when she was still covered in skunk and got the scent on the dog bed that was in there.

That morning, I happened to go to my local health food store, looking for a dog shampoo that I love the smell of (CloudStar’s Buddy Wash). On the shelf next to the shampoo was another enzymatic odor-removing product, PureAyre Odor Eliminator. Its label promised it eliminated all odors instantly, even skunk, and was child- and pet-safe. Its ingredients were listed as distilled water and plant enzymes. I bought it, too.

Back home, I decided to use this product on the bed that Hannah had slept on the night she was still skunky. I sprayed a generous amount on the bed, and rubbed it well into the fabric with my fingers. This product has a mild peppermint fragrance, and it definitely improved the smell of the dog bed once it dried.

I kept sniffing Hannah, too. Back end? Odorless. Front end? Well, still a little skunky. I decided to soak her front end again, this time with the PureAyre product.

Interestingly, when I first sprayed the watery liquid on her, it seemed to bring on the skunk smell again, and this persisted until she was completely dry. Then she smelled fine, skunk-free.

Of course, this was a slightly less vigorous test of the product than the other two received, since Hannah had already been treated once, and the bed received only a secondhand skunking. Still, I suspect that all three enzyme-based products are fairly similarly effective, with Nature’s Miracle having an edge over the other two for some reason. Nature’s Miracle is also the only product of the four I bought that says on the label, “Guaranteed or your money back!” You gotta love that.

Missed opportunity
At this point, I remembered that someone had sent me an odor-removing product once upon a time (I hadn’t been able to think through the skunk smell!). After some digging, I found the product, Petrotech Odor Eliminator, distributed by SeaYu Enterprises, Inc., of San Francisco.

This product is radically different from the others I tried. SeaYu’s Web site explains, “When Petrotech is sprayed on an odor source, it shears the hydrocarbon chain (of the odor source) and then encapsulates the odor source; this immediately eliminates the odor. Once Petrotech encapsulates the odor source, it becomes a microbial-food source for the indigenous bacteria in the environment, which accelerates the biodegradability of the odor source.”

I still have no clue as to what is in it. But it’s supposed to be safe for pets and humans, and the label indicates, “Satisfaction guaranteed! Or your money back!” And it says it works on skunk spray.

Only Hannah’s bed from home was still skunky. I sprayed its cover fairly liberally, and rubbed the soapy-feeling liquid into the fabric with my hands. As the bed dried, I also misted my office carpet. Fairly quickly, my office actually did smell less . . . doggie.

Now I was intrigued. I walked around my house, spraying smelly things: a pair of running shoes, the inside of my car, the compost bucket, and even the outdoor garbage can. Each thing I misted immediately smelled less.

Incredulous, I went back to Hannah’s bed. Whoops! It still smelled skunky, although much less so. SeaYu’s Web site explains, “In order to eliminate the odor, Petrotech must be sprayed directly onto the odor source.” My theory is that the skunk smell on the bed from home had saturated not just the cover, but the whole bed.

I didn’t experiment further, however, leaving the bed outside for the rest of Hannah’s stay. Given its other successes, I’ll try Petrotech for other uses, and will report on it more thoroughly when we cover general-purpose pet odor removers.

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