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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Does Tomato Juice Stop Skunk Stink? (for the Week of March 18, 2007)

March 12, 2007

Q. Dear Twig: Does tomato juice work to get rid of skunk stink?

A. No. Lots of people swear that it does. But scientists actually say that it doesn't.

Why do people think that it works? A thing called olfactory fatigue ("ohl-FAK-ter-ee fuh-TEEG").

Olfactory fatigue is when your smeller gets tired of smelling a super-strong smell. (As from a skunk.) The smell overloads your sense of smell. So your nose takes a break and tunes out the funk. Ignores it. Thankfully, gratefully, you don't even notice the reek anymore!

You still, however, smell less-smelly smells. Like, for example, the smell of a dog soaked in 18 gallons of tomato juice. That you can smell. Skunk? Not so much. Your snoot's still tuning it out. You draw a natural but errant conclusion: the juice got rid of the stink. Hurray!


Next week: What really works to get rid of skunk stink!


P.S. North America's skunks (Le Pew!) are the striped, the spotted, the hooded, the hog-nosed.

Notes: Sources included William F. Wood, Department of Chemistry, Humboldt State University, Arcata, Calif., and his 1999 article in The Chemical Educator titled "The History of Skunk Defensive Secretion Research." Sniff out his potent, ripe-with-facts "Skunk Defensive Secretion" Web site at Tidbit from that article: In a prank gone bad back in 1879, two Virginia college students gave their roommate a huge sniff of skunk musk — and it knocked him out for one whole hour!

About this column: "Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," a free public service of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences - specifically, of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, both part of the College - is a weekly column for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. The reading level typically rates at grades 3.5-4.5. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691,, (330) 263-3776. Online at

Kurt Knebusch