Differences Between Pepper Spray And Mace: The Definitive Guide

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 09/22/20 •  6 min read
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What are the differences between Pepper Spray and Mace? Aren’t they the same thing? You might be surprised. 

The biggest difference between Pepper Spray and Mace is found in their degree of effectiveness. Mace causes discomfort, while Pepper Spray will stop an assailant cold. Mace is an irritant, Pepper Spray is inflammatory. Recovery from Mace take up to 15 minutes; while Pepper Spray can take up to 90 minutes. 

People really want to know which one is more effective, Pepper Spray or Mace?  Which one will give you the confidence you need to walk outside, without fear of being mugged?   

Pepper Spray vs Mace 

Characteristic(CS) Mace(OS) Pepper Spray
Used for Self DefenseYesYes
Legal in Aall StatesYesYes
Will Stop AssailantMaybeYes
Irritates EyesYesYes
Recovery Time15 Minutes15-90 minutes
Delivery FormGasLiquid or Gel
Delivery MethodAerosolAerosol
Water SolubleNoYes, with Detergent


Mace was developed to be a nonlethal self-defense weapon. It will stop most sober people, but it will not stop those who are severely drunk, those who are crazed with rage, or anyone under the influence of drugs such as PCP.  It is used for riot control.

Mace irritates the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs of an assailant.  It causes moderate pain with a burning sensation on the skin, tearing eyes, and mucous membranes will swell up. It triggers the coughing reflex and irritating the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.  

Pepper Spray

Pepper spray was then developed for military use as a nonlethal weapon. It could be used on an assailant, without killing them. Pepper Spray will stop anyone cold. No exceptions.

Pepper spray inflames the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and the lungs of an assailant. Pepper spray causes temporary blindness, coughing spasms, shortness of breath, and disorientation.  Mucous membranes will swell up so much that the eyelids and nostrils may swell shut, and exposed skin will have a severe burning sensation that may cause blistering. 

Pepper Spray is made from the same peppers that are used in cooking and are up to 10 times hotter than the jalapeno.  The side effects of pepper spray include burning sensation on the skin, burning sensation in the eyes and mucous membranes, coughing, choking sensation, and disorientation. The effectiveness disappears after about 15 minutes to an hour and a half, although the eye irritation can linger for 24 hours. A one-second spray achieves all this. 

Mace is an Irritant While Pepper Spray is an Inflammatory

In the simplest non-medical terms, an irritant causes mild to moderate symptoms, and an inflammatory causes moderate to severe symptoms.  Recovery from irritants is quick, usually no more than 15 or 20 minutes once exposure to the irritant ends, while inflammatory symptoms can last anywhere from 1 to 2 hours after exposure, with the exception of the eyes, which my take up to 24 hours to fully recover. 

For example, Mace will irritate an assailant’s eyes, but Pepper Spray will inflame the capillaries (tiny, thin blood vessels), in his eyes so they swell up to the point that blindness can occur. Mace will irritate an assailant’s exposed skin, but will “wear off” after 20 minutes or so.  Pepper Spray will inflame the assailant’s skin so that it becomes red (capillaries again), and may even blister with the burning sensation.  The effects of Pepper Spray will take more than an hour to “wear off”.

Clearly Pepper Spray has the advantage, and a big one at that.

Every state in the United States allows for the use of both Pepper Spray and Mace for self-defense only. However, local laws and regulations may restrict its use.  Both Pepper Spray and Mace, however, are banned in Canada for all purposes. Pepper Spray is permitted to defend against a bear attack, while Mace would only make it mad. 

Sometimes these regulations take the form of chemical concentration restrictions, limiting the amount of irritant chemical per unit of propellent and carrier. This would have the effect of reducing the amount of actual Mace delivered to the assailant. The same thing can be said about the inflammatory Pepper Spray. 

Container size is another way localities use to restrict use. Size limits range from 5 ounces to ½ ounce, without regard to the quantity of chemical or its concentration. 

The quantity to be carried may be restricted. In one town, for example, you may be allowed to carry 2 ounces of mace or Pepper Spray, while in the town next to it you might only be allowed ½ of one ounce of chemical, with corresponding container size limitations. 

I have deliberately not listed any specific locations where these restrictions may exist. This is because the restrictions can change often. I cannot emphasize it enough: You must check out each locale personally because any or all of the restrictions I have conveyed may change at any time. The local police department will be able to tell you what you need to know, and I encourage you to ask them.  They will be more than happy to make you aware. 

Will Pepper Spray and Mace Cause Harm?

There are known and documented instances when Mace did, in fact, cause harm, going beyond mere discomfort. There have been instances where police used Mace and the resultant hospital stays lasted from a few hours to several weeks.

There have also been rare instances of death when the victim was confined to a close space for an extended period of time. Despite this, Pepper Spray and Mace are generally regarded as safe, nonlethal alternatives for self-defense.  

Closing Thoughts 

Given that countless people have been protected from assault, rape, or even murder, through the use of both Pepper Spray and Mace, you may want to consider adding them to your own personal protection arsenal.  Just be sure to check with the local authorities regarding any regulations that might restrict your use.

Tim Chesonis

Tim loves writing to help people succeed. He loves tech, Linux, his iPhone and iPad. When he's not writing another article, he's probably binge-watching “The Middle” or “Breaking Bad”, (again). To learn more about Tim, click here.