Is Pepper Spray Good For Self Defense?

By Tim Chesonis •  Updated: 07/03/19 •  14 min read
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There are a number of ways that you can defend yourself or others from someone meaning to harm you. For many reasons, pepper spray has increasingly become more popular over time, but is it really a good choice for self defense?

Pepper spray is a great choice for self defense because it is easy to conceal, very inexpensive, and will immediately incapacitate any animal or person. It will even stop one who is are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Together, we are going to look at the positives and negatives of using pepper spray. We will discuss how effective it is, and how and when to use it. When you finish this article, you will absolutely know if pepper spray is the right choice for your or your family members as a means of self defense, and I’ll even offer 4 pepper spray options that I think you might want to consider.

Why Use Pepper Spray?

Pepper spray made it’s first debut for commercial use in 1963, and has been evolving ever since and has increasingly become more and more popular for the following reasons:

Pepper Spray Does Not Require Formal Training

You can learn how to use pepper spray in less than 15 minutes . . . if that. It does not require any formal training like one should take if purchasing a gun for self defense. Don’t get me wrong, you SHOULD learn how to use it, and even practice using it.

The first time you purchase a canister of pepper spray, be sure to buy two. One to carry with you, and the other to use to practice with. You want to know how far it will spray so that you know how close you have to be for it to be effective. You also want to know how the wind will effect the stream of spray when using it. You will also want to know how long to hold the spray nozzle.

All of these things only come from experience. Most importantly, however, is that you want to practice so that if and when the time comes to use it, you won’t be caught off guard. You’ll know what to expect, and not be surprised when using it.

Pepper Spray is Less Intimidating that Other Weapons

Though people may be afraid to use a hand gun, or even a knife to protect themselves, people generally are are not afraid to use pepper spray because the delivery method is already familiar to them.

Because people are already familiar with other household items such as a small bottle of hairspray, or a pocket-size spray bottle you use to clean your desktop monitor with, using a small pepper spray bottle is not that much different in their mind.

The more you handle a pepper spray canister, the more comfortable you become with it. The more comfortable you are with it, the more likely you are to use it should you find yourself in a situation where you need to use it to ward off an attacker.

This is why it is important to keep pepper spray with you. For example, if a woman were to attach a small canister of pepper spray to her key-chain, she will be touching that canister every day. The same applies if she just places it in her purse. Again, the more familiar you are with it, the less afraid you are to use it.

Pepper Spray is Easy to Use

Pepper spray is as easy to use as hairspray. Not to sound over-simplistic, but you literally just point and spray. Understand, however, it is a defensive weapon and comes with a lot of responsibility.

As already mentioned, it is essential that you become very familiar in handling it, but only use it when absolutely necessary. It is to be used as a defensive weapon, not an offensive weapon. Unfortunately, because of it’s ease of use, some people, namely activists, use pepper spray offensively, and not in self defense.

Pepper Spray is Legal in All 50 states

While some states do everything they possibly can to eliminate the use of guns for self defense, (hm-mmm New York and New Jersey), all pepper spray manufacturers say that their product is legal in all 50 states if used as a personal defense weapon. They do, of course, recognized that each state and municipality for that matter, may have restrictions. Before purchasing pepper spray, I highly encourage you to check with your local police department to find out what restrictions, (if any), exist in your community.

Regarding the legality of pepper spray, it should be noted that stores are not legally allowed to sell pepper spray to minors (anyone below the age of 18), or to those who have been convicted of a felony.

Finally, it goes without saying that you should never try taking pepper spray with you on an airplane. That’s a BIG “no-no”, and if you try, you will probably miss your flight, because TSA agents will almost certainly pull you aside 😉

The Downside of Using Pepper Spray

As with most things, there is a downside, but given the advantages of using pepper spray, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the downside to using pepper spray.

You Could Spray Yourself

In a moment of panic, you could turn the canister the wrong direction and spray yourself, but that is not very likely, especially if you practice using your first canister as I have already mentioned. Additionally, the more you handle the canister, the more familiar you become with it, the more natural it will feel in your hands when you do need to use it.

If Used Inside, The Spray Will Linger

If used inside, the lingering effects of pepper spray could last for a little as 10 minutes and as long as 30 minutes. It is entirely dependent on the airflow circulating after use.

After using pepper spray in-doors, you may have missed your intended target when spraying the intruder. In fact, it’s likely that you will have unintentionally sprayed pepper spray on furniture, walls, or even the carpet. Once you know that you are safe, AND you are in the company of other trusted people, the first thing you will want to do is to open windows and doors to air out the place.

You can easily clean the lingering remnants of pepper spray by using cold soap and water to scrub the carpet and furniture, and oil-free soaps such as liquid dishwasher detergent to clean your walls.

Just remember, the priority is your safety, not the after effects. In other words, if your life is being threatened, by all means, us the pepper spray to incapacitate the threat. How the pepper spray will affect your furniture should never be a consideration. Use Pepper spray, and be liberal about it.

Pepper Spray Does Have an Expiration Date

Unfortunately, pepper spray does have a shelf-life. The expiration date should be respected, and though it may sound like the manufacturer is just trying to get you to purchase more, there is a legitimate reason for the expiration date.

The reason that pepper spray has an expiration date is because over time, pepper spray looses potency. The more time that passes beyond the expiration date, the less effective pepper spray is.

The shelf-life of pepper spray (depending on the manufacturer), is anywhere between 3 to 5 years. The reason for this is because after the expiration date, pepper spray looses potency. In addition to that, it also looses pressure over time as well.

If you attempt to use pepper spray after the expiration date, it may not stream out as expected, but instead, like a wimpy water hose without a nozzle, it may dribble out.

Imagine for a moment that you (or a loved one), find yourself in a life-threatening situation where you need to use pepper spray. After pulling it out and pressing the spray nozzle, you find that the chemical flows out all over your hand instead of spraying into the face of the perpetrator. So, be sure to read the label so that you know the date that it expires.

Does Pepper Spray Work on Everyone

It has been argued that pepper spray is not effective on everyone. This simply is not true. Pepper spray does, in fact, work on all people. The reason for this is because pepper spray is comprised of Chloracetophenone (CN) and Orthochlorobenzalmalonitrile (CS). CN attacks the tear ducts which causes a burning sensation in the eyes. CN goes a step further by not only causing severe burning to the eyes, but it also stimulates the nerve endings. This makes the mucous membranes secrete big time, making it difficult to breathe. Nasty stuff, but very effective. Pepper spray even works on crazed drug users. You know, those who are so high on drugs that they become crazy violent. Pepper spray will completely disorient you because it will, in effect, temporarily blind you due to the burning sensation. When you spray someone with pepper spray, you force the person to take his focus off of you, and focus on breathing.

How is Pepper Spray Different than Mace?

The confusion comes from a misunderstanding found in the terminology used. Mace does not work on all people, [not to be confused with the company called, “Mace” that sells pepper spray]. Mace*may* not incapacitate someone who is high on drugs or alcohol, but pepper spray certainly will. In fact, pepper spray will always incapacitate the person whose face encounters pepper spray.

Does Pepper Spray work on All Animals?

There is a reason why every mailman in America carries Pepper Spray. Dogs, in particular, can be a major threat, especially if you encounter a stray dog in the city. Running only encourages the dog to chase and catch you, so what are you to do?

Pepper spray does work on dogs, but not in the same way that it does on people. Understand that it will promptly stop a dog if you spray the dog in the nose, which will give you time to escape. Dogs are extremely sensitive to smell, and pepper spray can completely disorient a dog, but not with Police dogs, because they are trained to withstand the oils found in pepper spray.

The bottom line is that you can use pepper spray to protect yourself against dogs, should you need to do so while jogging at the park, or walking in the city at night.

Is Pepper Spray Good for Use While Hiking?

The answer to this question depends on where you are hiking, and what type of animals you might encounter. If you are hiking in an area where bobcats or wolves live, pepper spray will probably work just fine for you. Just keep in mind, however, that Bobcats ambush their prey, so unless it is already in your while hiking, the bobcat will probably win.

Does Pepper Spray Work on Bears?

If you are hiking where bears roam, you will need to take it up a notch and carry “Bear Spray” (or “Bear Deterrent”) . Mind you that bear spray is only meant for bears, not people. In fact not all states sell it, and some manufacturers may not ship it to you unless it is shipped to a state where it is legal to use.

Using Pepper spray on a bear will not work. It’s ineffective on bears, but bear spray, (which contains capsaicin and related capsaicinoid), however, is highly effective. Even if a Grizzly bear gets a whiff of “bear spray”, do to the wind, it will leave that meal, namely you, alone.

How To Use Pepper Spray for Self Defense

When carrying pepper spray, you have the advantage. You don’t need to be afraid to walk your dog, or walk to you car after work. Even if someone were to approach you with a knife attempting to rob you, the last thing a knife-wielding thief expects, is to be sprayed in the face with pepper spray. Once sprayed, he will promptly drop the knife and cover his face with his hands, attempting to alleviate the burning sensation that pepper spray leaves in its wake.

The key, however, is to ensure that your pepper spray is in your hand.

A woman cannot be fumbling through her purse to find her pepper spray before warding off an attacker. She needs to already have it in her hand while walking (or jogging). Carry it in hand when you know there is no possibility of a threat. This way, when the time comes where you really need to use it, you won’t be afraid to use it.

As I have stated earlier, practice using it. Become comfortable in holding it. Make it a habit to hold it in your hand when leaving work at night, or when taking your dog for a walk.

If you ever have to use pepper spray, aim for the face.

If someone gets this in their mouth, nose or eyes, they will immediately stop what they are doing and try to breathe. They will cough and may even vomit. Due to the burning sensation on their eyes, they will do anything they can to find water to flush their eyes out.

4 Great Pepper Spray Self Defense Options

PepperBlaster 2

This small pepper blaster will shoot 2 separate shots of 4 million scoville heat units at 90 mph at a distance of up to 15 feet. When dispensed, it shoots out a “puff” of smoke, (not a stream), the ideal shot should be dispensed anywhere from 8 – 13 feet for maximum effectiveness.

458 Amazon customers have given this product a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.

It is designed for used with either the left hand or right hand. It has an advantage over other “spray guns” because it is incredibly light, thin, compact, and very concealable. My son-in-law swears by this product and has given it to my daughter to use for protection. I highly recommend it.

SABRE Red Pepper Spray – Runner

At the time of this writing, 2,326 Amazon customers give this product a 4.5 out of 5 star rating. That’s impressive. This product is perfect for the jogger, or while out walking your dog.

What I like about this product is how easily accessible it is for runners or cyclists. It adheres to a your arm via a Velcro strip that sports reflective tape, freeing your hands. When needed, you can easily pull it off of the Velcro strip to use.

Fox Labs Mean Green H2OC

One thing that I like about this product is that it will leave green dye on your target to identify the assailant. This pepper spray offers a heavy spray that will stream its content 12 to 15 feet. It also allows you to use this many times, enough so that you can shoot 32 to 36 half second bursts of spray.

At the time of this writing, 56 people Amazon customers have given this product a 4 out of 5 star rating. You also can’t mistakenly spray yourself with this unit because you have to flip the top open with your thumb to engage the unit.

Fox Labs Flip Top

This spring loaded flip-top safety cap will protect you against accidental discharge. It contains 1.5 oz of pepper spray and fires 18 half-second bursts of a heavy pepper stream pattern between 17 to 20 feet. That is VERY impressive.

At the time of this writing, 218 people Amazon customers have given this product a 4.5 out of 5 star rating.

The manufacturer claims that this pepper spray is what is used by police officers, law enforcement agencies, security guards, and military agencies, and for good reason. This American made pepper spray canister is the world’s hottest 5.3 million SHU (Scoville Heat Units) pepper spray, and does have a 3 year shelf-life from the manufacturer’s date stamped on it.

Closing Thoughts

Using pepper spray is a defensive measure to ward off an attacker. It’s not pleasant or fun, and can be downright scary. However, the more familiar you are in handling it, the more likely you are to use it when necessary. Using pepper spray on someone, or even an animal, is far better than being raped, kidnapped or killed.

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.