Skunked? Tomato Juice Is Not The Answer SciFri producer Annette Heist's terrier was sprayed by a skunk, sending her looking for a deodorizing remedy. Chemists William Wood of Humboldt State University and Paul Krebaum explain how to neutralize the stinky skunk spray molecules, and debunk the tomato juice remedy.

Skunked? Tomato Juice Is Not The Answer

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IRA FLATOW, host:

Flora Lichtman is here. Welcome, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN: Hi.

FLATOW: Our video producer. Tell us what we've got on our video pick of the week this week, Flora.

LICHTMAN: This week we have a myth buster.

FLATOW: A myth buster.

LICHTMAN: That's right. You may have heard that tomato juice can deodorize skunk spray, and actually if you look on Flickr and you search tomato juice dog you can see these tons of pink dogs that are stained with tomato juice. But here's the kicker. It does not work.

FLATOW: It doesn't?

LICHTMAN: So this story actually goes back a few months, when senior producer at SCIENCE FRIDAY Annette Heist, her very cute dog, Pete, was -had an encounter with a skunk.

FLATOW: Put it that way.

LICHTMAN: We'll put it that way. And it was - it was really traumatic, you know. I heard from Annette. Pete was sprayed and, you know, she had - she wanted to get the skunk spray off. It smelled terrible, and so she went online and she found this recipe by Paul Krebaum, who's a chemist, and he - it miraculously worked.

FLATOW: Wow. And so you went out to the scene of the crime?

LICHTMAN: Right. I went out to Pennsylvania to the scene of the crime, did some reenactments.

FLATOW: And you reenacted the spraying of the dog, and the remedy that worked.

LICHTMAN: Right. And the amazing thing about this is that it's, you know, it's just simple chemistry.

FLATOW: Yeah.

LICHTMAN: You just turn these sort of stinky skunk spray molecules called thiols into something else, and you get rid of the smell.

FLATOW: Wow, wow. I wish I had known that about 25 years ago when I had that same sort of encounter, and it was the awful. And if you want to see Flora's video - and she and Annette reenacting what happened, you go to sciencefriday.com, our video Pic of the Week is there. And the good - the good news about this is that it had a happy ending, right?

LICHTMAN: Yes, the dog - the dog is okay and smell free.

FLATOW: Wow.

LICHTMAN: Did you - so you had a skunk encounter?

FLATOW: I had a skunk encounter in my basement. My wife opened the door and the skunk and she were looking at each other. Right by the laundry, and you know what happened, all the laundry got skunkified, so to speak. And it took months to get the smell out, and what would happen is that when you thought that - you wash the clothing 10 times and then when you started sweating, all of a sudden it would start smelling.

LICHTMAN: And we heard why that's true. It's these molecules called thioacetates that - they're sort of reactivated when they encounter water.

FLATOW: Hmm.

LICHTMAN: And that's why you have that lingering smell when it's humid or when you get things wet again.

FLATOW: And so you're going to show us how using everyday products we can make a sort of a seemingly magical solution.

LICHTMAN: Yes. So stock upon hydrogen peroxide. That's sort of the take-home point, if you live in the woods.

FLATOW: If you live in the woods and some other useful things around the house. Okay, thank you, Flora.

LICHTMAN: Thanks.

FLATOW: Flora Lichtman, our digital video producer and the SCIENCE FRIDAY Pic of the Week at sciencefriday.com, the science of the skunk. So that's - that's a great video you'll be able to see right now.

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