“Chemistry: Skunk Antidote”
by Steve Nadis
“Paul Krebaum knows a thing or two about
smells. As a chemist at Molex, Inc., in Lisle, Illinois, he
occasionally tangles with vile-smelling substances. When the stink
becomes overpowering, Krebaum relies on chemical tricks to spare his
Krebaum faced perhaps his biggest
challenge when a colleague came to work fretting about a pet cat that
had waged a losing battle with a skunk. The recommended antidote,
tomato juice, had failed to rid the cat of its repellent odor, and the
still-reeking pet had been banished from the house.
Krebaum leapt to the rescue, prescribing a
concoction – a quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup of
baking soda, and a teaspoon of liquid soap – that saved the malodorous
feline from exile. The man bathed his pet in the solution and applied
a tap-water rinse, an the smell instantly vanished.
The success of the recipe stems from
Krebaum’s extensive experience with “thiols” – chemicals that impart a
stench to skunk spray, decaying fecal matter, and decomposing flesh.
The remedy Krebaum prescribed neutralizes thiols by inducing them to
combine with oxygen, supplied by the hydrogen peroxide.
Krebaum has not tried to market his skunk
potion, because there is no way to store it. “If you put the
ingredients in a bottle, the whole thing would explode,” he
pet's been skunked then you've come to the right place. Tomato juice
doesn't work, this does. Best of all, it's free!!!"
"4 out of 5 e-mails say that their pet was not
bleached. ... What about that fifth e-mail ?"
"If bleaching was observed it was slight. Your black
terrier won't become a platinum blonde. I have heard (1 instance) of a
black Lab turning chocolate brown, but have no further info. Perhaps
prior use of tomato juice helped (black + red = brown)"
"The quicker you treat your pet the less work you'll
have to do later. The peroxide mixture must come in contact with the
skunk spray in order to neutralize it. As time passes the skunk spray
soaks deeper into the hair shaft and skin, making the washing a
lengthier process." [Note
from Helen: I don't recommend "Febreze"]
while working on the first patent that the skunk remedy was invented.
Part of the research involved a reaction which produced hydrogen
sulfide gas...and was not appreciated by others in the building. I
used a much stronger version of "the recipe" to scrub this waste gas
stream, to much success. One of the guys I worked with in the lab, Maciej Pike-Biegunski, told me one day that the family cat had just
gotten skunked. I wrote down a much milder formula for him to try on
the cat, and it worked ! I sent my tale in to Chemical & Engineering
News, K.M. Reese published it in the "Newscripts" section on Oct. 18,
1993. And as they say, the rest is history. Actually, things were kind
of uneventful until Peter Kendall of the Chicago Tribune caught the
scent of the C&EN article and published a piece in the Trib. 15
minutes of fame does wonders for the ego, more than that is a pain in
the ass...the last thing parents of a newborn need is the local UHF
station wanting to drop by with a camera crew because it's been a slow