Here’s the scene: You’re walking home from a party—it’s late and you’re alone.
That’s when someone jumps you.
It could happen to anyone.
Regardless of the motive behind the assault, you’ll want to be prepared.
Familiarizing yourself with proper self-defense techniques can potentially save your life, but so can carrying pepper spray.
This article will explain all about pepper spray for self defense, and provide recommendations for the best pepper sprays, gels and foams to carry daily, plus information on personal alarms.
What is Pepper Spray?
Pepper spray (also known as capsicum spray) is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and temporary blindness) used in policing, riot control, crowd control, and self-defense, including defense against dogs and bears.
Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits people in danger to use pepper spray in self-defense for an opportunity to escape.
To make it easier to spray, OC oil is mixed with a water-based or oil-based solution. It’s also mixed with a propellant, a solution that allows it to shoot outward, and then the entire solution is pressurized inside the canister.
The effects of the pepper spray last between 20 and 90 minutes, giving the user plenty of time to escape their terrifying situation.
Pepper spray units can be fired multiple times and can have a range of 8 to 20 feet, depending on the particular model you purchase.
The newest defensive spray agent, Oleoresin Capsicum, is a derivative of hot cayenne peppers. OC is an inflammatory agent and unlike tear gas, OC is effective on those under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
When the OC contacts the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, throat, and lungs), symptoms will appear instantly.
The capillaries of the eyes will immediately dilate, causing temporary blindness. Inflammation of the breathing tube tissues will cause difficulty in breathing; however the victim will still be able to breathe.
Pepper spray will not cause lasting after-effects; however the short-term effects are quite effective.
Some consumers think that when it comes to pepper defense spray, the higher the percentage, the better the pepper spray. However, this isn’t true.
The percentage of OC doesn’t correlate to the spray’s level of intensity.
The OC in pepper spray is effective against all attackers; even attackers who can’t feel normal levels of pain (psychotics, drug abusers, alcohol abusers) will be affected by pepper spray. Pepper spray is also the best deterrent against attacking wild or vicious animals.
The actual term OC (oleoresin capsicum) refers to chili peppers, and is a horticultural term. Jalapenos, chiletpin, cayenne, and habaneros are all chili peppers.
Although they look quite different, and can taste quite different, they all contain an alkaloid called capsaicin.
Capsaicin is tasteless and odorless. It’s so powerful that even when it is immersed in water, the heat from it can be detected. Studies show that humans can detect even one part per ten million of this powerful alkaloid.
In 1912, Wilbur Scoville, a pharmacologist, developed the standard for measuring the power of capsaicin. The Scoville Organoleptic Test was used to determine the temperature of peppers.
Scoville conducted his research by measuring the ground pepper into a mixture of sugar, water, and alcohol. He then took the mixture to a panel of tasters who then gave the mixture a grade between zero and 5,000,000 with a majority needed to assign a proper value. This is now referred to as an SHU or Scoville Heat Unit.
Today the method of measuring the power of capsaicin is much more sophisticated. High Pressure Liquid Chromatography or HPLC is a computerized method that is now used to determine the Total Capsaicinoid % and SHU. It is a significantly more accurate method of testing the heat of OC.
What to Know Before You Buy Pepper Spray
Pepper spray can be a great self defense tool to have on hand, whether you love to run outdoors or simply need a little added protection while walking on campus or to a parking garage at work. Pepper spray is a non-lethal way to keep yourself safe!
However, before you run out and make a pepper spray purchase there are a few things you need to think about.
An excellent pepper spray 101-type video – learn the benefits and limitations of pepper spray, and avoid marketing ploys:
What’s Legal In Your State?
Pepper spray is legal in all 50 states but some states have stricter laws regarding it than others. It’s important you know what’s legal in your state before making your purchase.
For example, in New York residents can only buy pepper spray from licensed firearms dealers or licensed pharmacists, and Massachusetts residents are only legally permitted to purchase defense pepper sprays from licensed firearms dealers within the state.
Wisconsin residents can only use sprays consisting of pepper only (no tear gas, no UV dye, orcombo sprays allowed). Plus, they can only use a 10% solution or less, in cans with a safety feature, and only 20 ounces or smaller.
So you can see, it’s important to find out what’s acceptable in your state.
See the chart lower down in this article to check the pepper spray laws in your state.
What Size Is Best For You?
Sizes of pepper spray usually determines how much can be dispensed and for how long.
Small units of pepper spray are great for those who want a keychain pepper spray or pocket clip pepper spray product. This is idea for joggers or those who want to protect themselves while on-the-go.
Those who buy medium sized sprays (2 oz.) can often keep their canister in their purse or on a belt. The larger 4 ounce size is normally intended for wearing in a belt holster.
How Will You Want to Carry It?
Since pepper spray products come in various styles, it’s important to think about how you’ll carry it.
If you like the idea of carrying it on your keychain or in your purse, then look for a compact spray with a keychain. You can also find pepper sprays with attached lobster claw hooks on them, for clipping the spray to the handle of your bag, backpack or belt loop.
Various holsters are available, too, for the larger size pepper sprays (4oz and above), for waistband or belt attachment.
Best Pepper Sprays
Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray
Trust the compact can of SABRE 3-IN-1 Pepper Spray to fend off assailants. This pepper spray is trusted by law enforcement officials all over the country, comes with a spray range of 10-feet, and delivers a nasty combination of pepper spray, tear gas, and UV-marking dye to help you thwart an attack and get away from danger.
Unique Feature: This police-strength pepper spray comes with a belt clip.
- Best Seller. The SABRE 3-IN-1 Pepper Spray is the number one Best Seller on Amazon.
- Police Force. Police units use this brand to restrain criminals and control mobs.
- 3-in-1. This comes with a mix of pepper spray, tear gas, and UV marking dye.
- 10-foot range. You won’t need to get too close to an attacker to have them feel the effects of this pepper spray.
- Belt Clip. Keep this pepper spray within reach by clipping it onto your clothes with a convenient belt accessory.
- Large Capacity. This device holds 35 bursts of pepper spray.
- Too Strong for Some States. You can’t buy this in DC, HI, MA, MI, NJ, NY and WI, and possibly other states with restrictions on pepper spray strength and ingredients.
Kuros! Pepper Spray by Sabre Red
- Compact. Designed to be used on a keychain, the Kuros! pepper spray bottle is small enough to stick in your pocket.
- Self Defense Advocacy. Kuros! donates pepper spray canisters to women in the developing world to help prevent sexual assault and other violence.
- Keychain. Clip this pepper spray container to your keys, bag, or clothing.
- Less Capacity. You’ll receive 25 bursts of pepper spray with this device—10 less than other models.
Sabre Pepper Gel
This is the third SABRE pepper spray product to appear on this list, and for good reason. Sabre Red’s Pepper Gel can emits pepper spray gel that easily adheres to the face and is resistant to environmental factors like wind and rain. Plus, it has an excellent spray range.
Unique Feature: This pepper spray gel can reach up to 18 feet away from where it’s sprayed.
- Holster. A concealed fabric holster comes with this pepper spray gel, so you can attach it to clothing without it sticking out.
- Safer Indoors. The gel is much more contained and can be safely used indoors.
- Sticks to Attacker. The gel is harder for an attacker to wash off, so police will have an easier time finding him/her.
- Water-resistance. The gel stands up to water and weather much better than sprays.
- Very Long Range. This pepper spray gel is designed to spray up to 18 feet.
- Too Strong for Some States. You can’t buy this in DC, HI, MA, MI, NJ, NY and WI, and possibly other states with restrictions on pepper spray strength.
Wrist Saver Pepper Spray
The Wrist Saver Pepper Spray is one of the best pepper sprays for runners, bikers, walkers, and people who want to wear their self-defense on their sleeves. This pepper spray is designed to be worn as a bracelet, so you can always reach it if you’re in trouble.
Unique Feature: Wear this pepper spray on your wrist for quick access.
- Wearable. This pepper spray was designed for runners, bikers, and people who want fast access to self-defense spray.
- Long Range. Sprays up to 10 feet away.
- Compact. This is a small pepper spray bottle (half of an ounce), so it’s legal in most states.
- ID Holder. The bracelet itself has space for your ID.
- Reflective. The reflective material on this bracelet makes it easier for you to see what you’re doing, and for motorists to see you too.
- Low Capacity. You’ll only get 10–20 bursts of pepper spray with each of these canisters.
BlingSting Pepper Spray
This Blingsting Pepper Spray Keychain for Women is both blingy and powerful! Available in 6 colors, this stylish pepper spray projects 10′ with an accurate burst stream. It’s also formulated and bottled in the USA.
With its attached lobster clip, you’ll be able to keep it handy (instead of fumbling for it in a zipped-up in a compartment in your bag)
The Blingsting Pepper Spray has excellent ratings, with customers complimenting both it’s look and convenience. They also like that it’s refillable with Blingsting’s ½ oz. canister.
One satisfied purchaser shared:
“I purchased all my close girlfriends one of these for Christmas as well as myself, just for safety reasons. One of those friends was a victim of strong armed robbery and I want all of us to be okay. They all were pleased, especially the one who was attacked, she tried hers out in the backyard to see how it sprayed and such and was very happy – great!” investment!!
Fox Labs Flip Top Pepper Spray
Fox Labs Flip Top Cone pepper spray is top-rated on Amazon for a multitude of reasons. For one, it’s a compact self-defense weapon that doesn’t take up too much room or cost a ton.
While it doesn’t come with bells and whistles like a keychain or holster, it’s still a handy device to keep in your bag or car.
Unique Feature: It sends out a cone fog pattern.
- Long Range. Spray 12–15 feet.
- Reliable. used by the U.S. Military, all types of municipal, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies
- Compact. The canister is only a four inches long, making it easy to tuck into a purse or pocket.
- Low Capacity. You’ll only get 8-10 half-second bursts with this pepper spray container.
Mace Brand Pepper Foam
This Mace Brand Magnum 3 Pepper Foam Bundle combines the power of OC Pepper and UV Dye in a thick foam spray.
The thick foam covers an assailant’s face, making it difficult to see while the OC forces the eyes to slam shut.
The set includes:
Large size – A large compact, powerful model, which features a flip-top safety cap. 67 gram unit sprays 8-10 feet. Contains 5, one second bursts.
Magnum size – A high powered model, which features a flip-top safety cap. 115 gram unit sprays 8-10 feet. Contains 8, one second bursts.
The both spray 8 – 10 feet and include UV dye.
This video demonstrates the differences between pepper spray, foam and gel:
Your State’s Pepper Spray Laws
Pepper spray is a powerful substance containing capsaicin, a derivative of cayenne pepper. Also known as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), when sprayed in the eyes, it causes an excruciating burning sensation—incapacitating your attacker and allowing for a safe getaway.
It’s important to note that while pepper spray is legal in all 50 states (when used as a self-defense weapon), some states have strict regulations.
|Alabama||Legal with no restrictions|
|Alaska||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray. You’re also not allowed to bring pepper spray to school unless you’re 21 or older.|
|Arizona||Legal with no restrictions|
|Arkansas||You can’t carry more than 150cc of pepper spray (about 5 ounces).|
|California||You can’t carry more than 2.5 ounces of pepper spray. If you break this law or use it illegally, you can get up to a $1,000 fine or three years in jail.|
|Colorado||Legal with no restrictions|
|Connecticut||Legal with no restrictions|
|Delaware||Minors may not use pepper spray.|
|Florida||You can’t carry more than two ounces of pepper spray.|
|Georgia||Legal with no restrictions|
|Hawaii||Only people 18-years and older can carry pepper spray, and no more than half of an ounce.|
|Idaho||Legal with no restrictions|
|Illinois||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray. Carrying pepper spray in Chicago is illegal.|
|Indiana||Legal with no restrictions|
|Iowa||Legal with no restrictions|
|Kansas||Legal with no restrictions|
|Kentucky||Legal with no restrictions|
|Louisiana||Legal with no restrictions|
|Maine||Legal with no restrictions|
|Maryland||Legal with no restrictions|
|Massachusetts||You can only purchase pepper spray from licensed firearm dealers.|
|Michigan||You can’t have pepper spray with more than 10 percent Oleoresin Capsicum (OC).|
|Minnesota||Legal with no restrictions|
|Mississippi||Legal with no restrictions|
|Missouri||Legal with no restrictions|
|Montana||Legal with no restrictions|
|Nebraska||Legal with no restrictions|
|Nevada||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray, and it can’t be more than two ounces.|
|New Hampshire||Legal with no restrictions|
|New Jersey||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray, and it can’t be more than three quarters of an ounce.|
|New Mexico||Legal with no restrictions|
|New York||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray.|
|North Carolina||You can’t carry more than 150cc (about five ounces) of pepper spray|
|North Dakota||Legal with no restrictions|
|Ohio||Legal with no restrictions|
|Oklahoma||Legal with no restrictions|
|Oregon||Legal with no restrictions|
|Pennsylvania||Legal with no restrictions|
|Rhode Island||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray.|
|South Carolina||You can’t carry more than 50cc of pepper spray (about 1.69 ounces).|
|South Dakota||Legal with no restrictions|
|Tennessee||Legal with no restrictions|
|Texas||Legal with no restrictions|
|Utah||Legal with no restrictions|
|Vermont||Legal with no restrictions|
|Virginia||Legal with no restrictions|
|Washington||You have to be over 18 to possess pepper spray, or 14 and older with parent permission.|
|West Virginia||Legal with no restrictions|
|Wisconsin||Pepper spray can’t contain UV dye or a combination of spray types. It also may not have more than 10% Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) concentration or be camouflaged. Wisconsin is pretty strict, so it’s best for residents in this state to check with local law enforcement to ensure they’re following the law.|
|Wyoming||Legal with no restrictions|
* This data was used from Cabela’s pepper spray database. Everyone who purchases pepper spray should double check with local police departments to verify state laws.
Pepper Spray Usage and Tips
Make sure you understand how to use a pepper spray product. Educate yourself on the effects of pepper spray, how to test it, how to use it and what to do if you’re accidentally exposed to the spray.
After you’ve done your research and have thought it through completely, you’ll be ready to purchase your pepper spray product and start protecting yourself.
Keep in mind that pepper spray units usually need to be replaced every year to 18 months and you should get into the habit of testing them every 3 to 4 months to ensure they’re working properly.
In this brief video tutorial, Gershon Ben Keren, co-creator of SEPS (Situation Effective Protection System), gives pointers on using pepper spray for self defense –
This is an excellent instructional video on the proper use of pepper spray, from the first indication of threat, through the confrontation:
Retired Sheriff Lenny Millholland from Winchester, Virginia, a law enforcement officer with over 37 years of experience, offers the following tips for using pepper spray:
- Use downwind.
- Don’t let the suspect get within arms’ reach. Keep them at bay.
- Once you spray the assailant or animal, turn and run, and don’t look back until you are away from the threat. Take the pepper spray canister with you.
- Use in the face area — eyes, nose and mouth.
- Don’t spray it close enough that it blows back on you.
- Make sure you know in advance the distance the spray will squirt.
- If you get the spray in your eyes, or you’re a victim of being sprayed, try washing your eyes with milk or sour cream.
Replacing Pepper Spray
Replacing pepper spray on a regular basis (yes, even before the expiration date on the can) ensures your pepper spray is ready any time you might need it.
Even if you properly store your pepper spray canisters, it is a good rule of thumb to replace the canister at least every 1 to 2 years and certainly by the canister expiration date.
Like any aerosol can, pepper spray canisters will lose some pressure over time, and you don’t want to find out the hard way that, when you need it most, the propellant has weakened and your spray is more like spit. When you need it, you need it to be powerful.
Carrying Pepper Spray Public Transportation
Pepper spray is allowed on public transportation units in most states. Each state makes their own laws and mass transit system companies do have the right to individually restrict the use of pepper spray on their units (such as large train companies).
Check with each specific state or transit company to ensure you’re permitted to carry pepper spray with you on their transit systems.
Pepper Spray and Car Travel Precautions
Traveling with pepper spray by car is not nearly as complicated as traveling via air with it. Many people choose to bring pepper spray with them during their road trip for safety reasons.
It can be dangerous to be out on the road without proper self defense protection. There are many crimes committed each year at rest stops and at Interstate gas stations.
In addition, if you were to break down on the side of the highway you’d instantly be at risk for danger and pepper spray could help you stay safe until professional help arrived.
It’s recommended storage of pepper spray be done so in a cool, dry environment, so if you’ll be keeping it in your car, keep the temperature under 120F (out of the sun or a hot car) or above -5F.
Removing Pepper Spray
If you have accidentally (or purposely) sprayed pepper spray into eyes, skin, fabric or indoors, check out these tips for cleaning and removing the spray.
To begin, no matter what antidote you need to remove pepper spray from the first thing to remember is to stay calm and avoid rubbing the exposed area (which just agitates the OC, and makes your symptoms worse).
Move yourself into an area with great ventilation or fresh air. In the unlikely event of cardiac or breathing problems while removing the pepper spray, call for emergency medical assistance.
Most accidental exposure to pepper spray occurs on the skin. Start by applying whole milk to the affected area via a spray bottle or simply splash it on the area affected.
You can then saturate a towel in milk and lay it over the skin area that was affected. The milk can help take the burn away but it won’t remove the oil from the pepper spray.
After the burn starts to subside, be sure to use dishwashing liquid and water to remove the oils from the pepper spray. Be sure you use cold water and wash the area at least 8-10 times.
The first few times you use the soap and water, don’t rub the area. Simply soak the infected area in the soapy-water mixture or pour it over the affected area. After a few times of doing this, you can start lighting rubbing the area with the soapy-water mixture.
If you get pepper spray in your eyes, be sure to immediately flush your eyes with cool water. If you have contacts in your eye, take them out immediately and throw them away; you won’t be able to get the spray residue off the contacts.
Plenty of blinking can help wash the pepper spray out of your eyes, as well. You can also try using saline solution to flush the eye area, but expect discomfort for up to 2 hours or more.
Be sure to wear rubber gloves if you’re dealing with clothing exposed to pepper spray. You can then apply your facial cold cream to the affected area with a plastic spoon.
Using the spoon, rub the cream into the fabric and let it sit for 20 minutes. Because it’s not an oil based cleanser, the cold cream will help remove the oily pepper spray residue.
Next, wash the cold cream off under cool water and place the piece of clothing in a bucket full of cold water and laundry detergent. Let it soak for 30 minutes and then launder as usual.
If your pepper spray leaks or gets into your car or home, you’ll need to rid the air of it. Start by opening the doors and windows. Next, turn on any ceiling fans or exhaust systems you have. If there is a foul smell in the air, use an air freshener to help get rid of the smell.
Disposing of Used or Expired Pepper Spray
In most cities, simply empty the container before disposing of it in the regular city trash pick-up.
To do this, press the valve and release all contents and pressure. Be sure to stand upwind in a well ventilated area when doing this so you won’t harm yourself in the process.
You can also spray directly at the ground (grass, dirt, etc.), but choose a spot that is not frequented by humans or pets. Follow the same precautions you would if you were testing your pepper spray container to ensure its effectiveness.
Another Option: Personal Alarms
If for any reason, pepper spray isn’t an option for you, consider carrying a personal alarm.
Personal alarms are inexpensive and easy to use: just pull the pin out to activate the super-loud alarm, and replace the pin to silence it.
This Personal Alarm Set from Jimite has a powerful 140 decibel alarm, and it’s mini size makes it convenient to have on you at all times.
The siren will sound continuously for 30 minutes unless the pin is reinserted.
The siren will sound continuously for 30 minutes unless the pin is reinserted.
It also has a built-in LED light for any low lighting emergency environment.
Pepper spray is a non-lethal weapon and should only be used for self-defense.
Don’t take unnecessary chances, and always be aware of your surroundings. If you’re alone, don’t wear your headphones or be distracted by your phone.
But if you do have an emergency, pepper spray can be a very effective, non-lethal tool which allows you time to get away.
Also, consider taking a self defense class to enhance your ability to thwart attackers.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience with personal safety.
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