Dealing with skunk spray is never fun, and it can be particularly challenging when you're trying to rid the smell from an air unit such as an air conditioner or intake vent. A couple of natural remedies can work, but chemical approaches may be necessary as well. Leaving the smell to go away on its own is not an option since it can then permeate the vent system into the building.
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To protect itself when it senses danger, a skunk will discharge a yellow, oily spray from its anal glands. Not only does the spray carry a horrible odor, but it vaporizes quickly, which means that it gets into everything around it. It's important to address the odor as quickly as possible and key that you use the right products when you tackle the problem.
Use Spray and Soap Wash
An initial spray and wash of the air unit can reduce the smell somewhat with soap and water, but it won't make skunk spray smell go away. Additionally, be careful when cleaning an air conditioner that you don't bend the delicate fins on the outside of the unit. Doing so will damage the air conditioner's ability to produce cold air and could cause a Freon leak.
Try a Household Quick Mix
For a quick solution, you can use household products to "cook up" a neutralizing agent. With a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap, you can create a spray that can break down the oil that causes the skunk smell. The mixture consists of a quart of hydrogen peroxide, 2 tablespoons of dish soap other than Dawn soap, and 1/4 cup of regular baking soda.
Combine all the ingredients in a spray bottle with water and adjust the ingredients to boost the strength. Vinegar is also known to be effective at breaking down skunk spray oil as well. Both can be used as a scrubbing agent on the external side of the air unit.
Apply Commercial Cleaning Products
Cleaning products such as Simple Green have been known to work on skunk spray, but smell neutralizers like Febreze won't get rid of the cause, which is the skunk spray itself. Simple Green can be sprayed onto the area of the air unit and scrubbed in. Since it already comes in a ready-to-use form, you don't need to worry about premixing the liquid before use.
According to a Simple Green customer service rep, you can use their outdoor odor eliminator inside. It comes with a garden-hose sprayer nozzle that you can remove by first running it under warm water before twisting. Then mix 1 part cleaner to 16 parts water in an ordinary hand-operated spray bottle.
Remove the Unit
If possible, the air unit should be removed for the best cleaning application. For a vent, this is typically possible by removing the vent from its frame via a screwdriver and loosening the securing screws. For an air conditioner unit, removal of the front panel is possible if the unit is a window insert. However, if it is a full-grade air unit, you won't be able to access the inside of the unit. You may be better served by calling a professional service to come out and do a full cleaning of the inside of the air conditioner box.
Take Additional Steps
If odor remains around or throughout your house after taking these measures, open as many windows as you can and ventilate with fans running on high. If your home utilizes an HVAC system, let its fan run until the odor is further eliminated. Try placing bowls of vinegar in each room to help absorb the smell.
Clean all hard surfaces that can handle bleach with a 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water mixture — or with the same proportions of vinegar and water. Just be sure to test before application. It's also important to change all HVAC system filters after the odor has been eliminated.
Since 2009 Tom Lutzenberger has written for various websites, covering topics ranging from finance to automotive history. Lutzenberger works in public finance and policy and consults on a variety of analytical services. His education includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science from Saint Mary's College and a Master of Business Administration in finance and marketing from California State University, Sacramento.