Vinegar: Can You Use It to Repel Skunks?


Young striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Skunks are one of those animals we know not to mess with. This is, of course, because of the pungent odor they can blast at you as their defense mechanism. If a skunk is living on or near your property, you may be wondering what you can do to repel it and how to keep it repelled for good.

Skunks have a great sense of smell which they use to find their favorite foods. While there’s no scientific evidence to support that vinegar will repel skunks, there is evidence that strong-smelling scents such as cayenne are effective repellents, suggesting that vinegar may have the same effects.

So, how effective is vinegar at repelling skunks? What else can you do to keep these odorous critters out of your yard? Read on as we pack your brain full of skunk knowledge so you can effectively repel them!

Why Repel Skunks?

Before we get too far into skunk repellents, let’s first figure out if skunks even need to be repelled. They might smell when they spray, but are they that bad to have around the house?

There are four different types of skunks, all of which are pretty reclusive and like to keep to themselves. The striped skunk is the most often seen in North America, as their populations are widely distributed.

Besides the obvious drawback of getting sprayed, skunks can also be a menace in your yard and garden and can be a threat to corn crops, waterfowl, and poultry.

Skunks Can Dig Holes on Your Property

Just like Timon and Pumba, skunks love overturning logs and rocks looking for grubs. Insects are a skunk’s preferred food. According to Penn State University, grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and white grubs specifically seem to be their fav meal.

The only problem with this is that many insects burrow and live underground. If a skunk can smell a delicious grub beneath the soil, they won’t hesitate to dig down and work a little to get to their food. This, in turn, tears up your nicely manicured lawn, leaving little dirt piles everywhere.

Skunks Can Den on Your Property

And who wouldn’t, especially in the cold, cold months of winter?

Skunks do not hibernate, but they’ll certainly slow down during the winter months. During this time, they like to curl up in their den and sleep away the day in warm comfort.

Unfortunately, this ‘den’ of theirs might be the space beneath your porch, in a shed, or under a woodpile. February through June is the breeding and young-bearing months for skunks, so be particularly aware at this time.

Skunks Eat Vegetables and Fruits From Your Garden

Skunks are omnivores, meaning they eat both animals and plants. They’ll eat animals and plants in equal amounts during the colder months, but in the warmer seasons, they tend to lean a little more toward the carnivore side.

Because skunks aren’t too picky about their diet, they’re willing to eat your left-out pet food, the scraps in your garbage, and bits of that corn you’ve worked so hard to grow. They’ll also munch on your garden vegetables or fallen fruit from your fruit trees.

Here’s a bit more on how skunks can eat

How to Make Sure Skunks Are on Your Property

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you have a skunk problem. But if you haven’t actually seen the creature, you may be blaming the wrong critter. 

So, how do you tell if it’s a skunk to blame for your spilled garbage, ravaged garden, and smelly property?

Did your mystery critter have to climb a fence? Skunks are not very graceful, as you can tell by the way they trundle and waddle their way through life. If your garden veggies are eaten, but you have a fence, skunks are not likely the culprit. They’re not skilled climbers.

The more likely culprit? Raccoon, deer, or squirrel.

Are there holes in your yard? This is an indicator of a skunk problem. Utah State University explains that skunks will leave cone-shaped holes that are about 3 to 4 inches deep. The cone shape is key. Most other diggers, such as raccoons and opossums, will not have this distinctive shape.

What part of the corn was eaten? If you’re having issues with something feeding on your corn, take a look at what is left of the corn. If only the bottom is eaten, it’s likely a skunk. If the entire stalk is pushed down, it’s more likely a raccoon. If the stock is missing, a beaver is to blame. If the ear has been eaten in no specific fashion, it could be a deer, bird, or squirrel.

Are your chickens injured? If you have chickens and they are in a secure, enclosed pen, skunks are rarely able to get to them unless there is an obvious sign of burrowing. Even if a skunk manages to get inside the coop, it will rarely attack full-grown chickens. If your chickens have been harmed, you are more likely dealing with a raccoon, weasel, or dog.

Skunk smell doesn’t always mean a skunk is nearby. The well-known and well-disliked smell of a skunk can be wafted up to a mile away. Yep, a MILE away! So, if you’re smelling that distinctive funk, it doesn’t always mean a skunk is necessarily nearby.

If you’re interested, you can learn more about why you may be smelling skunks at night here.

If you see some of the skunk-like patterns in your yard, then it’s time to find a way to repel these critters before they call your home their home.

A skunk wandering around on the lawn.

Will Vinegar Repel Skunks?

So, you bought the bulk-sized vinegar, and you’re wondering if you can use it to repel those pesky striped critters.

As we said, there haven’t been any studies done on vinegar specifically for repelling skunks. It would be a little strange if there were studies! However, there is anecdotal evidence as well as reports that suggest strong smells like ammonia will repel skunks.

From this, we can extrapolate that the main deterrent here is a strong scent. Ammonia and mothballs have both been studied for their effectiveness against skunks and found to be moderately effective. 

Vinegar is made of mostly acetic acid (at least 4%) and water. The acetic acid is what gives vinegar its sinus-clearing smell and amazing cleaning properties. The strong smell of it should give skunks pause in approaching areas treated with vinegar and may repel them altogether.

What about apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar contains just about the same amount of acetic acid, around 5%-6%. However, when the initial smell of the vinegar fades, you’re left with a sweet scent. ACV is made with apples, after all! 

The sweet scent of apple cider vinegar may actually do the opposite of what your goals are and attract skunks and other critters to your yard. So, when it comes to using vinegar as a deterrent, stick with white vinegar.

You can use several different techniques to deter skunks with vinegar. You can make a spray or use cotton balls or rags.

Use a Vinegar-Based Spray to Keep Skunks Away

Making a spray is one of the easiest approaches you can take, but it also needs to be reapplied most often. To do it, you’ll want some white vinegar such as Lucy’s Natural Distilled White Vinegar. You’ll also want a glass spray bottle like this one from Sally’s Organics

That’s it! Simply put the vinegar in the spray bottle and mist the areas where skunks frequent. Be careful around any edible vegetables or fruits, sensitive plants, and sensitive trees. Vinegar is acidic, which some plants cannot tolerate.

Using a vinegar-based spray is a great option if you are applying it to places around your house, such as beneath your shed or deck. Just be aware that you’ll need to reapply often as the scent will dissipate quickly (within 2-3 days) and can get washed away by the rain.

Use Vinegar-Soaked Cotton Balls and Rags To Repel Skunks

Your second option for using a vinegar-based repellent is to soak cotton balls or rags in the vinegar. This method tends to last a little longer than just spraying, as the fabric will retain the smell for longer than, say, concrete or soil. 

To use this method, you can pour some white vinegar into a bowl and then soak your rags or cotton balls in the bowl. When they’re nice and smelly, place them in areas where you’ve seen skunks frequenting.

There are a few issues you can run into with this method. First and foremost, how do you keep the rags and cotton balls from blowing away? If you are using rags, you can place rocks on the rags to keep them down. For cotton balls, try placing them in a mesh bag and holding the mesh bag down with rocks or stapling them to stakes.

Speaking of stakes, they’re another great tool to use with vinegar-soaked cotton balls and rags. You can use a staple gun to staple the rags or cotton balls to the stakes. This way, you don’t have to worry about damaging your acid-sensitive plants.

Rags and cotton balls are a great choice when you are trying to deter skunks from a large area such as a garden. The scent on the fabric is more likely to last longer, and you can distribute the rags and cotton balls over a larger area than with a spray.

What Else Repels Skunks Naturally?

Vinegar is an easy household product that most of us have in the cupboard already. But what else might we have hiding in our spice cabinet that will make these cute but smelly critters waddle away from our yards?

Scents That Repel Skunks

As we said before, skunks have quite an impressive sniffer. They can smell out grubs and grasshoppers under rocks and logs and follow their nose to leftover scraps in your garbage. Because of this, we can use scents and smells that skunks dislike to deter them from your property.

Here are some of the scents that skunks are NOT fans of:

  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Ammonia
  • Moth Balls
  • Peppermint
  • Putrescent Eggs
  • Predator Urine
  • Coffee Grounds

If your vinegar concoctions don’t seem to be doing the trick, try one of these out instead! One of them is bound to work on your neighborhood skunk.

If you’re interested, you can view our full list of scents that skunks hate here.

Skunk eating in the garden

Use Physical Deterrents to Repel Skunks

Fencing, solid gates, and wire mesh are always going to be more effective at repelling skunks than scents and smells. It’s also more expensive, but if you want to repel those skunks, this is a surefire way to do so.

We mentioned before that skunks aren’t great climbers. Utah State University states that skunks rarely climb fences, BUT they will dig under them.

Because skunks are diggers, it’s important to bury any fencing at least six inches below the surface and bend the fencing out at a 90-degree angle. This will discourage those rascals from digging under your fence to get to your chickens, ducks, or garden.

Window wells are an area that skunks sometimes find themselves in, even though they do not want to be there. These happy little accidents can be avoided by covering window wells with wire mesh.

You can use wire mesh on openings beneath your shed and deck as well to keep skunks out. 

Note: When repairing holes or gaps in your foundation or sealing the spaces beneath buildings, be sure that you’re not accidentally trapping any animals in. Because skunks are nocturnal, they’re likely to leave any spaces near your home at night to go chow down. You can use this time to repair the holes.

If you’re not sure whether there are skunks (or other critters!) in spaces that need to be repaired, try sprinkling some flour on the ground in front of the entrance. When it gets dark, examine the flour for activity every hour until it appears something has crossed the barrier.

You can read our full guide to the best skunk repellents here.

Make Your Yard Unappealing To Skunks

Habitat modification is an easy way to keep skunks and other unwanted guests from showing up on your property. By doing simple tasks around the house, you can make your yard less appealing to your furry neighbors.

Here are a few things you can do around the house to make skunks skedaddle to a different yard:

Keep the rodent population under control: skunks are excellent to have around farms and rural homes because they keep the rodent and insect population in check. However, if you don’t want skunks, then you must find another way to keep the mice and rats at bay. You can read our list of scents that mice hate here.

Keep the bugs away: Another favorite food of skunks is bugs. Grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, they’ll chow down on all of it. Unfortunately, some of the scents we use to deter skunks (vinegar, for example) can attract bugs. So be sure to check out other ways to repel bugs so you can discourage skunks from your yard.

Remove hiding places: Skunks are pretty reclusive and love to keep to themselves. If their home overlaps with new housing development, a skunk may find their way into your yard looking for a new home. Old cars, woodpiles, and dilapidated buildings are sure to attract skunks as well as other wildlife. So, keep your yard tidy and dispose of any unneeded building materials.

Keep your garbage secure: Just like raccoons and opossums, skunks aren’t above digging through garbage for an easy meal. Be sure to keep your garbage stored in a shed or have a secure lid. The Strong Strap Universal Garbage Lid Lock is an excellent way to make sure no wildlife will get in your trash. It doesn’t require tools, fits almost any garbage lid, and won’t interfere with trash pickup. 

That’s a Wrap!

Skunks are docile creatures that don’t really want to be bothered. Before they spray, they’ll give you plenty of warning. But even so, they can sometimes become nuisances when they coincide with human habitats. 

While looking for food, skunks can dig up your yard. They’ll frequent your gardens and eat your fallen fruits. They’re definitely not above dumpster-diving, either!

The good news is, you can use vinegar to repel skunks from certain areas around your property. You can either create a vinegar-based spray or use cotton balls and rags soaked in vinegar for covering wide areas.

Skunks can be repelled by a few other scents as well, such as cayenne pepper, ammonia, putrescent eggs, and predator urine. Physical deterrents work great at keeping skunks out of buildings and away from the spaces beneath buildings.

The best deterrents are those that are combined with several others. Combine scent deterrents with habitat modification or physical deterrents for best results.

Although it’s never fun to butt heads with wildlife, especially if they are damaging your property, the average skunk will not cause significant trouble. They’ll also keep the rodent and insect population under control.

With that being said, if you’re not sure how to handle your skunk problem, get help from a professional! Our nationwide pest control network can get you in contact with a wildlife professional in seconds for free!

Now that you’re packed with all the skunk knowledge you ever thought you could know, you can go out and repel those skunks! Good luck!

References

Dustin, K., Messmer, T. A., Conover, M. R., & Dotson, L. D. (1997). Skunks.

Fisher, K. A., & Stankowich, T. (2018, September). Antipredator strategies of striped skunks in response to cues of aerial and terrestrial predators. Animal Behaviour, 143, 25-34.

Hunter, J. S. (2009, November-December). Familiarity breeds contempt: effects of striped skunk color, shape, and abundance on wild carnivore behavior. Behavioral Ecology, 20(6), 1315-1322.

Kolodzinski, J., & Mengak, M. T. (2007, October). Managing Wildlife Damage: Striped Skunk. Wildlife Damage Publication Series. Retrieved 2021.

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