How to Get Rid of Skunks

As a homeowner, the distinct, foul aroma of a skunk or its family nearby could cause you concern. Don’t worry. There are effective, humane, and environmentally friendly ways to send skunks packing. Here’s how to get rid of skunks and keep them away.

Skunk Removal From Your Home and Yard

Photo Credit: Ryan Hodnett / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

If skunks are frequently visiting your yard — or worse, occasionally finding their way into your home — these are proven ways to get rid of these cute but smelly pests.

But know that skunks can be disease carriers. Skunks are especially susceptible to rabies. Along with foxes, raccoons, and bats, the skunk is one of four primary species proven to be significant rabies transmitters. Skunks also carry leptospirosis, a bacterial infection. For these reasons, hiring a wildlife removal specialist is often better.

However, if you think you can chase your skunk problem away safely, here are a few methods to consider.

Locate Entry Points

Skunks like to burrow. David Mizejewski, a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, says, “Make sure there are no entry points into any crawl spaces, including basements and decks.” 

Photo Credit: ikinikon / Canva Pro / License
  • Check your property for any potential entry points or burrows. Look underneath structures like decks, travel trailers, patios, your home porch, and sheds.
  • Check for activity because you must ensure the skunks have left before sealing the opening. It is crucial to prevent trapping the babies under your house. Skunks give birth to their litters between May and June.

    If you’re unsure if the skunk is still inside, seal all possible entry points except the entrance to the main burrow. Spread flour on the ground in front of the opening and check for tracks.

Drive Skunks Away with Sound, Light, Predator Urine

Photo Credit: Pexels

Skunks are nocturnal, non-aggressive, and often move along on their own. There are steps to persuade them to leave safely.

  • Chase them away by following these recommended steps from the Toronto Wildlife Centre for “humane harassment”:
    • Install a bright, fire-safe light outside the den door.
    • Keep a radio tuned to a talk show near the den. The sound of human voices is frightening to them.
    • Mimic predator urine by soaking rags in apple cider vinegar or ammonia. Put these repellents into plastic bags with holes poked in them for the smell to escape. Soiled kitty litter or mothballs sometimes work, too.

      Warning: The California Agriculture and Natural Resources say to avoid putting strong-smelling repellents underneath occupied buildings like your home because the fumes may get pulled in by the heating and air conditioning systems.
    • Maintain the above measures for at least three days and three nights. You must be persistent in getting the skunk to leave.
    • Finally, when you think the skunk has left, either stuff the exit with balled-up paper or tape a double layer of newspaper across it. Wait three more days and nights. If the paper is still there, the skunks will likely move on.
    • Cover potential entry sites and evacuated burrows with 1/4-inch mesh hardware cloth or chicken wire. Bending the fencing in an “L” form will keep animals from tunneling beneath it.

Traps, Fumigants, and Pesticides

  • Can use traps, but it’s not recommended.  You can catch a skunk using an enclosed cage live trap. Plastic box traps beat wire traps because they are entirely enclosed, decreasing the likelihood that you’ll get sprayed.

    It would seem like catching and moving a skunk is the “humane” course to take, but it is not. A relocated skunk is less likely to survive than one that remains in its usual territory. 

    The Toronto Wildlife Centre receives multiple reports of abandoned baby skunks after their mother was caught and relocated. Anyone without experience catching skunks should hire a wildlife control specialist.
  • Control method options also include fumigants. In rural areas, burrow fumigants can work if the skunks’ tunnels can be found and are not under or near any structures. Because of the risk of fire and gas seeping into homes, they are not recommended for use in residential areas.

    There are no pesticides approved for use in poisoning skunks. Never use rodent control bait to get rid of skunks. Improper poison use can have significant legal consequences, commonly discovered after a pet is inadvertently killed.

    DIY methods of turning on the sprinklers or natural skunk deterrents, such as pepper repellent spray, can frighten a skunk and cause it to release that odorous skunk smell. Call your local animal control if you suspect a family of these critters has taken up residence in your backyard. A wildlife removal expert will also know what to do. 

How to Keep Skunks Away from Your Yard and Home

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Ensure you’re not inviting a new skunk now that the old one has left. Reducing skunks’ access to food, water, and shelter is the most efficient strategy to make your property less alluring to the animals. 

In your yard

  • Rake and remove food sources such as berries, nuts, or fallen fruit. You should also remove any piles of grass clippings that may have seeds that skunks will eat.
  • Put a tray underneath your bird feeder and gather the extra bird seed. Harvest ripe fruits and vegetables as soon as possible. Otherwise, skunks will enjoy the buffet.
  • You can reduce their food supply by controlling grass grubs and other insects. In theory, this will discourage them from digging in your yard. Consider an integrated pest management approach to control multiple threats to your lawn.

Around your home

  • Keep garbage cans and compost bins secure with tight-fitting lids or stored in an enclosed area. Skunks will eat rotting fruits and veggies.
  • Don’t leave out pet food. Although your intentions are noble, skunks love snacking on cat food.
  • Keep log and timber stacks away from your home, ideally at least 18 inches off the ground, to reduce areas where they can build a den.
  • Install a motion-sensor light in your yard. Skunks don’t like bright light.

How to Identify Skunks 

Skunks are easily identified by their shiny black bodies, bushy tails, and white stripes down their backs. The length of an adult skunk, including the tail, ranges from 13 to 34 inches long, making it roughly the size of a house cat.

Skunks are members of the Mephitidae family and exhibit one of the family’s distinguishing characteristics: scent glands. If a skunk cannot be seen, the powerful stench it releases in self-defense will let you know it’s around.

Skunks usually sleep during the day and when they’re awake, they eat insects, larvae, earthworms, grubs, rodents, lizards, salamanders, snakes, frogs, birds, moles, and eggs. They also eat berries, roots, leaves, grasses, nuts, and fungi.

How to Identify Skunk Damage in Your Yard

Skunks are nocturnal animals and, most of the time, go unnoticed. While they are not aggressive creatures and do not present a direct threat to humans, they can be a nuisance, damage your property, and transmit serious diseases to pets and people. You should familiarize yourself with skunk habits and know what to look for.

  • In your yard and flower beds, look for holes in the ground that are only a few inches deep and encircled by loose soil. You probably have moles if you find mounds of dirt that look like miniature volcanoes. Raccoons leave clumps of dirt and grass lying around.
  • On your home and other structures, check for chewing damage. Skunks will gnaw on wood or siding when making a burrow.
  • Under debris piles or buildings are great hiding spots for skunk burrows. Burrows underneath foundations can eventually damage the whole structure.

How to Get Rid of Skunk Smell

Photo Credit: Trenten Kelley / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Skunk odor is familiar to many, and none of us can ignore it. “It’s rare that people get sprayed,” says Mizejewski. “If you do get sprayed, take off your clothes and wash them a handful of times. A skunk’s spray permeates clothing, skin, and (dog) fur. It can last for weeks if left untreated.”

Say No to Tomato Juice

Bathing in tomato juice is folklore. It masks the smell, but it doesn’t get rid of it. Due to olfactory fatigue, you lose the ability to smell an odor after being exposed to it for a long time.

Say Yes to Hydrogen Peroxide

The following is a home treatment recipe recommended by the University of Nebraska:

  • 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ to ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid soap

Mix the ingredients in an open container and use them immediately. The release of oxygen can cause a closed container to explode.

For your clothes

  1. Soak your clothes in this mixture for at least an hour.
  2. Place clothes in a washing machine; use your regular detergent.
  3. After that cycle, hang the clothes to dry. Using the dryer can set the odor into the fibers.

For your skin:

  1. Soak in a tub with 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, ½ cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of dish soap or laundry detergent.
  2. You can shower off with soap. It may take a few soakings.

How To Get Rid of Skunk Smell on a Dog

Photo Credit: Jean Beaufort / PublicDomainPictures / CC0

“Dogs are the most common recipients of skunk spray,” says Mizejewski. “They see something moving and want to chase after it. If they get sprayed in their eyes, in addition to a burning sensation, it can cause temporary blindness. But the smell is the worst part.”

  1. Wearing gloves, immediately wash your dog after a skunk has sprayed it.
  2. Run a tub, and add 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 teaspoon of dish soap. 

    Be careful not to get the mixture in your or your pet’s eyes. Also, check to make sure your dog has no bite marks. If you find bite wounds from the skunk, contact your vet to verify your pet’s current vaccination and get advice about wound care.
  3. After treatment, thoroughly rinse your pet with plenty of water. You may have to wash your dog a few times a week.

Encounters of the Skunk Kind

“Skunks want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them,” Mizejewsk says. “And they will give you a warning before they are about to spray. It’s as if they’re telling you to back off.”

If they stomp their feet, hiss, tweet like a bird, and stand up on their hind legs, they’re getting ready to spray. “That gives you ample time to retreat,” says Mizejewski. “They only spray if they feel threatened.”

If you live in an area where skunk problems are common, make sure your dogs and cats receive rabies vaccinations regularly. Some pups never learn their lesson after being sprayed. Check your local animal control for low-cost vaccines available in the area.

Skunk Bites

You should handle skunks with extreme caution if they act strangely during the day and appear calm or sleepy, as this is a sign of rabies. They are almost undoubtedly rabid if they act aggressively toward people or other animals while showing no fear.

A bite from any animal, especially one not vaccinated against rabies, should be handled quickly. The Mount Sinai hospital advises taking the following steps in case of an animal bite:

  1. Apply pressure with clean, dry cloth to stop bleeding.
  2. Wash the wound with soap and water, then flush the bite with water.
  3. Repeat this process for three to five minutes.
  4. Apply an antibacterial ointment to the wound.
  5. Cover the wound with a clean dressing and apply pressure.
  6. See immediate medical attention if there is a risk of rabies, a deep wound, or if the bite is on the neck, head, face, hand, fingers, or feet. Don’t worry. Doctors no longer give painful rabies shots in your stomach. Now a simple course of injections in the arm is all that is needed. There is no treatment for the rabies virus once symptoms develop.
  7. Contact animal control as soon as possible to capture the animal.

Skunk Facts

  • Skunks mate between February and March or April each year, and litters are born from mid-spring to mid-summer.
  • A litter consists of four to six skunk pups, weaned at two months. By the fall, they establish a den of their own.
  • They don’t hibernate in the winter and can be found in your yard year-round.

FAQ About Skunks

How Do I Get a Skunk Out of a Window Well?

Due to their limited vision, skunks frequently become stuck in window wells or other pits. Simply give them an escape route.

Carefully place a board into the hole at no more than 45 degrees. Skunks are not great climbers, so make sure the board has chicken wire or smaller boards attached to give them something to grip. Once placed, keep pets and people away to provide them with a chance to climb out.

What Should I Do if I Find an Orphaned Skunk?

If it’s big enough to fit in both hands, it’s probably old enough to be out on its own. Watch it for a bit, to be sure, as curious babies wander off but not far from home. Skunks are good mothers, too, and won’t quickly abandon their babies. If unsure, contact local wildlife control for advice.

What Should I Do if I Encounter a Skunk?

Stand still. A skunk will only spray if it’s frightened. Watch for warning signs:

— Stomping its feet
— Turning its back toward you
— Raising and shaking its tail

It’s best to slowly back away. When the animal feels safe again, it’ll scurry off on its own.

When to Call a Wildlife Removal Professional

It might be time to call a wildlife professional if you’ve tried all of the suggestions above and the skunk or other wild animals still won’t leave your yard, especially if there is the possibility of babies getting left behind.

If the skunk is acting strangely, do not try to get rid of it yourself.  Rabies symptoms include aggression, keeping active during the day, and convulsions. If you suspect the skunk is rabid, contact your local animal control or state wildlife agency for assistance.  

Main Image Credit: Greg Schechter / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Raven Wisdom

Raven Wisdom is a writer with a passion for pest control, gardening, sustainable living, and making a positive impact in the world. When she's not defending her garden from critters in the wilds of West Texas, Raven can be found writing, wrangling two kids in a neurodivergent family, and supporting her local animal rescues.