Here’s a question for all you chemistry whiz wannabes. What do you get when you mix hydrogen peroxide with baking soda?

If you guessed science fair-project volcanoes, you’re wrong. Their “lava” is made with baking soda and vinegar, not peroxide. If you said that adding peroxide and baking soda to half a bottle of Mountain Dew would create a homemade glow stick, you’re wrong again. That urban legend has been around for at least a decade but is false. If, however, you believe that baking soda and peroxide can be used for cleaning pots and pans or that it will lighten hair or that it makes an inexpensive tooth whitener, you’re right on the money.

But none of those is the very best use for this simple chemistry solution. Here’s
how I know.

One lovely July evening, a farm dog and her owner went tromping through an overgrown pasture to pick blackberries. They headed for the biggest thicket, the one that gets the most sun during the day and which grows on a fairly steep slope. Which created no problem for the dog but which meant that her human companion had to stand with one leg uphill and one leg down, trying to reach the fattest, juiciest berries while battling flies and mosquitoes and June bugs.

The dog was widely known as a world-champion groundhog killer, whose hunting strategy was to immediately plunge into the middle of wherever groundhogs might be hiding. A blackberry thicket, for instance.

Before the lopsided woman had dropped a single berry into her bucket, she heard a sound she knew all too well.  The dog had discovered prey and pounced upon it. She sprang from the thicket shaking her head violently to break the neck of the animal she’d caught. But this animal wasn’t brown and stocky. It was slender. And black-and-white.  And while the dog was in the process of dispatching it, the animal got its final revenge.

Sophie got skunked. And so did I.

I yelled DROP IT and she did. Immediately. But the damage was done. Never had I smelled a skunk odor that strong. I’ve avoided dozens of dead skunks while jogging or riding my bike. I’ve accidentally hit several with my car. Every February, pheromonal skunks meet under the giant magnolia tree near my bedroom window to mate.  No kidding. But never, until then, had I or any dog I’d ever owned actually been sprayed by a skunk.

Since there was no tomato juice in the house, I decided—before heading out to buy some–to do a little internet research to see if it’s still the recommended way
to get rid of skunk odor. It’s not. As one website says, “Bathing your skunked dog in tomato juice will merely result in a dog that smells like a skunk pizza.”

Instead, you’re supposed to mix one quart hydrogen peroxide, one-fourth cup baking soda and a squirt of dish detergent together in a bucket and saturate the dog with it. Walk her around, preferably in the sun, for about ten minutes while her skin and hair absorb the magic solution. Then rinse. All of which I did. And I have to say it worked pretty well. Sophie smells fine as long as you don’t rub your nose directly in the fur around her neck.

And me? Let’s just say that because I’d rather be a redhead than a blonde, I didn’t take a bath in peroxide. But if people keep holding their noses every time I walk into a room, I just might have to.

(July 14, 2013)

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