Skunk Smell Car: A Guide on Causes and How To Get Rid of It

Skunk smell car is unpleasant and difficult to remove. Eliminating the skunk smell is key to having a clean car with a pleasant scent. Although these foul odors are difficult to remove from cars.

Skunk Smell Car

This article covers the different causes of the odor and how to get rid of them.

Why Does Your Car Have a Skunk Smell?

Your car has a skunk smell because you have driven over a dead skunk or other animals. The smell could also come from gas leaks, cigarettes, or bad air filters. If you notice such smells, you should immediately identify the cause and learn how to get rid of the smell.

Fuel Leakage

If the foul skunk-like odor is coming from your tailpipe, you most likely have a fuel leak issue. Gas leaks usually have a burning odor that smells much like a skunk. You will also notice that you can’t get rid of the smell by simply opening your car doors.

Gas leaks usually smell like skunks because of the presence of hydrogen sulfide, which has a distinct skunk-like odor. The hydrogen sulfide builds up and is released when you burn fuel. The smell is, however, more obvious when you have a gas leak in the car.

There is also methyl mercaptan chemical in the gas. Methyl mercaptan is a highly pungent chemical usually added to natural gas and propane, among other substances. The chemical gives them a distinct and noticeable odor. This is a safety measure implemented to help detect gas leaks more easily.

Killing or Stepping on a Dead Skunk

The most obvious cause of a skunk spray smell in your car is when you kill a skunk while driving. Your car will also smell bad if you drive over a dead skunk. The odor is unpleasant and easily seeps inside the car, making the ride unbearable.

Since skunks are frequently on the road, coming across a dead skunk or hitting one with your car is common. When a skunk is killed, it releases its enzymes to the environment and decays very quickly. Its body fluids, when mixed with air, are quite offensive.

Skunks produce a sulfur-based scent gland that smells a lot like rotten eggs. The scent gland is a highly concentrated thiol compound. The smell isn’t bad; it can last for weeks when you step on a dead skunk. Sometimes, the smell can last for two to three weeks.

Presence of Human or Animal Waste in Your Car

A mixture of musk, feces, and urine (waste products) can create a skunk-like smell. The smell is due to the volatile organic compounds and sulfur-containing substances like in skunk spray. If this mixture is present in or around your car, it could cause a skunk-like odor.

Car Have a Skunk Smell

Sometimes pets, babies, or disabled persons could leave behind human or animal waste in your car. If not cleaned up immediately, the waste products will come in contact with each other, rot, and emit a skunk-like odor. The odor could also be a result of spoilt leftover food.

When these wastes are fermented, some bacteria feed on them and break them into certain organic compounds. The whole process leaves a bad odor you can compare to a skunk’s spray. Your car will then absorb the smell, causing the insides of the car to smell like a skunk.

Running Over a Dead Animal

Dead animals can produce a skunk-like smell in your car due to the decomposition process. When an animal dies, its body begins to break down, releasing various gasses and organic compounds as part of decomposition. Some of these compounds can be quite intense and foul-smelling, resembling the odor of a skunk’s spray.

The decomposition process involves the action of bacteria and other microorganisms breaking down the animal’s tissues. As these microorganisms consume the dead animal’s body, they release compounds like methane, benzene derivatives, sulfur dioxide, and hydrocarbons. They also release various sulfur-containing compounds, which can produce strong and unpleasant odors.

If a dead animal is trapped inside your car, or if you mistakenly run over it while driving, your car is bound to smell. The smell from the decomposition process can become noticeable and may resemble a skunk-like odor due to sulfur compounds.

Lingering Odor of Smokes and Cigarettes

Another cause of such smells is the smell of cigarettes. Although smoking and cigarettes do not produce a skunk-like smell, the lingering smell after smoking could. The odor of smoke and cigarette residue in the car can sometimes be described as skunk-like because of the intensity of the smell.

When smoke and cigarette residues accumulate inside your car, they can mix with other odors, such as from food, spilled drinks, or other substances. This combination of odors and the strong and distinctive smell of tobacco smoke can produce a repulsive odor that resembles a skunk’s spray.

The chemical compounds in tobacco smoke, like tar and nicotine, linger inside the car and stick to surfaces. The compounds can then undergo some chemical reactions and produce some sulfur-containing compounds. Once the smell becomes obvious and heavy, it will feel like a skunk-sprayed substance in your car.

Air Filter Is Dirty or Musty

A musty air filter could also cause the skunk smell in your car. Over time, your air filter is bound to accumulate dust, debris, or even dangerous pollutants. If not cleaned correctly, these particles will build up and get sprayed in your car, producing a foul smell.

Musty air filters in your ventilation system provide a favorable environment for certain bacteria and fungi to grow. This process indirectly results in a skunk-like smell. When these air filters become clogged or damp from moisture buildup, they create a dark and moist environment that encourages the microorganisms to grow.

As these bacteria and fungi grow, they release sulfur-based organic compounds as part of their natural life cycle. These compounds then produce an offensive odor. When you activate the car’s ventilation system, the air carrying these odors circulates throughout the cabin, spreading the skunk-like smell throughout the car.

What Are Quick and Easy Solutions To a Skunk Smell in Your Car?

Some quick and easy solutions to eliminate a skunk smell in your car include freshening up your car interior, using charcoal or vinegar mixtures, changing or cleaning the air filter, or using deodorizers. Other remedies include using tomato juice or homemade solutions to remove the skunk’s odor.

Ventilate and Freshen Up the Car

The first step to take when trying to eliminate the odor is freshening up the interior. You should aim for as much ventilation as possible to release the bad air. You can begin by rolling down all the windows and letting fresh air circulate throughout the cabin.

Allow your car to sit in a well-ventilated area for some time. It is best to find a location with good air circulation. If possible, park the car in direct sunlight. Sunlight and fresh air can work together to break down some odor-causing compounds, aiding the deodorizing process.

You should note that this method may not completely eliminate the bad smell. However, proper ventilation is a vital first step to reduce the concentration of the odor. It will also create a more pleasant environment inside the car.

Put Charcoal Under Your Car and Around Its Bases

Charcoals are well known for their exceptional odor-absorbing properties, making them an ideal choice for neutralizing unpleasant smells. They are also safe and non-toxic, making them suitable for use in confined spaces like inside the car. Also, they won’t release harmful chemicals into the environment or produce harmful by-products.

To apply this method, find charcoal briquettes and place them in shallow containers or newspapers. Next, place these containers strategically under and around the base of your car. The charcoal will start working immediately to absorb the odor molecules present in the surrounding air. Charcoal effects are usually long-lasting.

Clean With Vinegar and Water

Cleaning inside your car with white vinegar and water is a powerful way to tackle the skunk-like smell. Vinegar is well-known for its natural deodorizing and disinfecting properties, making it an excellent choice for neutralizing odors. Its acidic nature helps break down the odor-causing compounds, leaving your car smelling fresher.

First, mix equal white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Next, spray the mixture onto hard surfaces like the dashboard, door panels, steering wheel, and seats. Use a clean sponge to wipe down these areas thoroughly. You can also use other good cleaning solutions like baking soda and hydrogen peroxide for effective skunk smell removal.

Use a Good Carpet Deodorizer

Applying a deodorizer designed for cars is also a great method of eliminating the offensive smell from your interior. These deodorizers are usually formulated to effectively neutralize odors embedded in fabrics and carpets. With their potent odor-absorbing properties, they work to trap and eliminate the smell at the source.

Solutions to a Skunk Smell in Car

You can start by sprinkling the deodorizer on the car’s floor and seats. Allow the deodorizer to sit for the recommended duration, usually 15-30 minutes. During this time, the deodorizer will absorb and bind with the odor molecules, breaking down their unpleasant smell.

After 30 minutes, thoroughly vacuum the entire car’s interior to effectively remove the deodorizer and any trapped odors. You should use a vacuum with a brush attachment on the carpet and seats. Ensure you vacuum all corners, leaving a fresh and pleasant scent behind.

Apply a Strong Skunk Odor Remover

Using a smell remover designed to remove the skunk smell is also effective. These products are specially formulated to target and neutralize the sulfuric compounds in skunk spray. These skunk sprays are usually challenging to eliminate with regular cleaning agents due to their potency and pungency.

The remover breaks down the malodorous compounds, neutralizes them, and ultimately removes the skunk smell. You can repeat the process if the smell persists. Additionally, these products often leave behind a fresh and pleasant scent. The remover will enhance your car’s scent, providing a fresh-smelling environment.

Use a New Air Filter

If the skunk-like smell is because of a musty air filter, consider changing the air filter. Replacing the old filters guarantees that any remaining skunk odor trapped in them will be removed. This is particularly important if you’ve already addressed the skunk smell using other deodorizing methods.

Changing the air filter is important to ensure that the smell doesn’t recirculate. Even a small amount of residual odor in the filters can continue to circulate through the ventilation system. This will consequently hinder your efforts to achieve a completely fresh interior.


How Long Does a Skunk’s Smell Last in a Car?

A skunk’s smell can last up to three weeks in a car. With timely intervention, however, the smell should be eliminated within a few days. If the smell lasts longer than three weeks, it could mean deeper or additional penetrations of the skunk’s spray.

Spray Pungent Liquids on Car

Could a Squeaking Noise in My Car be Attributed to a Skunk Smell?

Could a car squeaking noise while driving be attributed to a skunk smell? While these two issues may seem unrelated, it’s unlikely for a skunk smell to directly cause a car squeaking noise. However, if you notice both problems occurring simultaneously, it’s best to consult a professional for car squeaking noise driving solutions.


Skunk-like odors can last for weeks, but it is possible to eliminate them completely.

Here’s a quick recap of what you’ve learned in the article:

  • Skunks can spray pungent liquids on your car if you accidentally kill or step on dead ones.
  • Skunk sprays are not the only cause of the offensive odor in your car.
  • Your air filters can recirculate the bad odor if they are not changed immediately.
  • You can eliminate the smells using charcoal, smell removers, deodorizers, thorough car wash, or any good cleaning solution.

Now that you know what causes the offensive smell in your car, you can eliminate them effectively.

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