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How to get rid of skunks

Find out how to get rid of skunks – without harming them

Striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) spraying, USA
(Image credit: Tom Brakefield / Getty)

Researching how to get rid of skunks? Our sympathies. These curious and courageous animals can become a bit of a nightmare if they take a liking to your backyard. Not only do they make a mess in a similar way to raccoons, but they are famous for spraying their sulfurous, rotten-eggs-and-onion scent if they feel threatened. So, you've guessed it: yelling at skunks to go away will make things worse, so you need a better strategy to drive them away.

You may have to rethink some of your backyard ideas in order to get rid of skunks, but these are small adjustments considering the benefits of having a skunk-free outdoor space. 

1. Remove food sources 

This should always be your first and main step, regardless of the specific animal that's begun frequenting your backyard. We spoke to Roger Dickens, Technical Expert at Bird & Wildlife Control Rentokil (opens in new tab), explains that skunks' preferred food is grubs in your lawn: 'in the early spring, as ground temperatures rise and the soil becomes soft, skunks emerge from their dens and begin digging for grubs.'

The solution? 'Lawn treatments specifically designed to control grubs will reduce the chances of skunk foraging and digging in the yard.' Grub control treatments are widely available at Amazon (opens in new tab) and your local home and hardware stores. 

The striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) in a residential backyard

(Image credit: Karel Bock / Getty)

However, you likely will need to be a bit more creative in your understanding of what a food source is – skunks certainly are. Jeremy Yamaguchi of Lawn Love (opens in new tab) reminds us that skunks 'are similar to raccoons in that they are “opportunists,” meaning that they will pretty much take advantage of anything that might benefit them in some way.' 

If we're talking about food sources, you'll have to include garbage cans, pet food, water bowls, grills, and bird/squirrel feeders. 'When it comes to your garbage can, make sure it never overflows and try to secure it shut so that no animals can get in. Any pet food or water bowls should be brought in every night. Make sure your grill is cleaned and covered.'

It's likely that completing just this one step will significantly reduce skunk presence in your backyard. 

2. Use live traps to remove them

If you're still seeing them around, you can go down the live trap (opens in new tab) method. You can do this yourself if you feel confident enough, though Dickens urges everyone to 'check your state and local wildlife regulations before trying to trap them yourself.'

Clarissa Benny, Certified Pest Control Technician at HouseGrail.com (opens in new tab), also warns that 'skunks spray when they're scared so you may want to steer clear of this idea.'

If you are undeterred by the prospect of trapping a skunk, Dickens recommends using 'a sweet-smelling bait such as marshmallows, jams, or jellies to prevent non-target catches such as neighborhood cats, other bait options include bacon grease/drippings or other rendered meat fat, sardines, dry or canned pet foods.'

Top tip: 'Cover the trap with an old sheet or cardboard box to prevent the skunk from spraying you once they are trapped.'

3. Apply castor oil to areas they frequent

Castor oil is an effective remedy for all sorts of garden pests, including moles and skunks – it irritates the animals' skin, creating an unpleasant association with your backyard. Apply castor oil (opens in new tab) strategically along entry points and areas they frequent. 

4. Install motion sensor lights

According to Benny, 'one of the best ways to keep skunks away is to install yard or garden lights. They are nocturnal and don't like the light. To work they have to be kept on all night.'

The best outdoor security lights are well worth installing anyway, but they do have enormous benefits for keeping wildlife out of your property. 

Skunk in Backyard Patio

(Image credit: Adrian Wojcik / Getty)

5. Discover the power of citrus peels

We've yet to meet an animal that likes the smell of citrus – which makes it a powerful tool (that's completely harmless) in getting rid of skunks, cats, and many other animals you don't want around your flower beds. Camden Benoit, the CEO and Founder of Sustainably Off-Grid (opens in new tab), reports success with orange and lemon peels. Admittedly, the peels have to be changed weekly to have any effect, but 'at the end of the month, the skunks were gone, and I haven't seen them since.' 

6. Wash out your recycling

You may have cleaned your best bbq and made sure you've removed pet bowls and have shut your trash cans, but if you don't wash out your recycling properly, you'll still be seeing skunks around, attracted by the smell of those leftovers. There are other great reasons to wash out your recycling (this increases the chance it'll actually get recycled, for one). But smelly recycling will attract skunks, raccoons, and rats (yikes). 

7. Block off crawl spaces under your deck

Food isn't the only thing that draws skunks to your yard. They may be seeking out a space for a cozy and quiet nest. If you have crawl space under your porch or deck, you're basically providing them with a ready-made home. 

What to do? Dickens advises that if skunks are burrowing under a deck or shed, you'll have exclude them from those areas 'by digging into the ground and installing hardware cloth or other metal flashing, then covering the exclusion material with soil.'

8. Install a motion detector sprinkler

Benny advises that skunks don't like water, 'so a good way to get rid of them is to install a motion detector sprinkler. The skunk moving through the yard will set off the sensor and turn on the sprinkler. The combination of the sound and noise should send the skunk scurrying off.'

9. Install an ultrasonic repeller

You may be surprised to learn that skunks don't have great eyesight – but their hearing is great. For this reason, according to Benny, 'installing an ultrasonic skunk repellent (opens in new tab) will deter skunks from coming into your yard because they don't like loud annoying sounds. It's easy to set up and use because all you have to do is put it in the ground and turn it on. It also has a flashing LED light that skunks find annoying. It's important to note that you should install this in the sunlight because it is solar powered.'

10. Combine different methods for maximum effectiveness

You likely will find that any one method on its own is not very effective at keeping skunks away. Most animals are adaptable and will put up with some annoyance and discomfort if they're interested in something in your yard. For best results, combine several remedies at once to drive them away for good. 

How do you prevent skunks from coming back?

First, the bad news. According to Dickens, 'there is no way to completely eliminate them from coming into someone’s yard as skunks are foragers and constantly looking for their next meal.' 

Now, the good news. Taking the above steps should ensure they won't come round as much, and in far fewer numbers. If you're really worried about them, you can sprinkle skunk repellant granules around your yard. However, according to Benny, 'one of the best ways to keep skunks away is to install yard or garden lights. They are nocturnal and don't like the light. To work they have to be kept on all night.'

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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