Pepper spray is not legal in all areas, but if it is in your locale, we recommend keeping a canister in your GO-Bag, pocket, purse, home and other areas where you might need it. We regard it as the best non-lethal weapon for self-defense. This article is included to help you understand aspects of pepper spray that are often forgotten or misunderstood. For more on pepper spray, see our feature article on options and product recommendations.
How to Use Pepper Spray
Pepper spray should be sprayed directly into the eyes of your assailant. Tests have been conducted at 18-inches without producing any eye injury, but most manufacturers label their products indicating 3-feet as a minimum distance. Maximum distance varies by brand and model. Respected makers indicate this range prominently on the dispenser’s label.
During use, don’t stop delivering bursts of the spray until the assailant’s eyes are completely doused or the attacker has run away. If an assailant has swollen-shut eyes they will not be able to chase you, and they will not be able to continue with their acts of violent aggression. This is the objective of pepper spray.
Once a person is hit in the face with pepper spray, it usually takes 2-5 seconds for them to react. With tear gas, it can take considerably longer. With either product, don’t stop spraying to see if it is working. Keep delivering bursts of the spray into their eyes until the threat has totally stopped. Or, just keep spraying a solid stream into your assailant’s eyes until they stop their aggression and are fully debilitated.
An assailant who is wearing eyeglasses or sunglasses will take longer to react. Eyeglasses and the brims of caps will often reduce the quantity of OC chemical that is reaching the assailant’s eyes. So, keep spraying until the aggression has completely stopped.
Activation / Safety: Select a brand/model that is easy to carry, and easy to use. Unlike a lot of spray bottles which need to be looked at to determine which direction it sprays, a quality pepper-spray dispenser will be tactile, so you are instantly able to grab the device and point it in the proper direction, just by feel. It will also have a safety device to eliminate accidental discharge. This is often a simple twist to the activation plunger.
If you ever use pepper spray or tear gas, expect to get some on yourself. Even if you are using a device which uses a “stream” delivery method, expect exposure to the compound, especially if the wind is blowing toward you.
When you get hit by even a little mist of OC spray or tear gas, it can make you cough uncontrollably. And, it can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. Keep in mind that pepper spray, CN and CS tear gas are all harmless for those who are reasonably healthy. Remind yourself, too, that you’ll be okay, and you can still run or fight if the circumstance demands it.
Pepper spray and tear gas dispensers which look like a gun are problematic. When you draw your pepper spray, others may think you have a handgun. This can result in a more violent reaction by both assailants and observers.
OC spray, as well as tear gas, will actually not incapacitate you unless you get enough in your eyes to make them swell shut. Even then, you can usually see enough to get out of the area. So even if you are affected, don’t delay, get out of the danger zone as soon as possible. This is additionally important as you may be further exposed to more OC, as the gas vapors if you linger in the area.
After using pepper spray, don’t touch your face with your hands, and don’t rub your eyes with a finger, as this can introduce OC residue into your eyes or skin. Any sweaty area of skin, like your neck and underarms, will be particularly susceptible to a burning sensation.
When convenient, remove and wash your clothing as they will likely have become contaminated. When possible, wash your hands with soap and water shortly after using pepper spray, and again after removing your clothing.
* Be sure to read the cautions and usage directions on the label of the device you purchase. Absent other instructions, the below remedy is considered to be universal.
If you become exposed to OC or teargas, the best treatment is simply to force yourself to breathe normally and flush your skin with cool, fresh water from a drinking fountain or garden hose. You can use regular soap to remove the pepper spray from the skin, but do not use regular soap on your face, at least not initially. Just use plenty of fresh water, and blink repeatedly as this will produce a squeegee-like effect that will gently push the OC or teargas out of your eyes.
If you have access to baby shampoo, combine it with the water to speed the recovery process for your eyes and face. You can use this mixture to splash on your face. Or, put the baby shampoo and water mixture into a clean spray bottle that is capable of gently misting your face. Use the gentle spray from the bottle to dampen your face, making the natural tears and blinking process more effective.
Do not use other types of soaps around your eyes. Soap can introduce additional burning and irritation to the eyes, whereas baby shampoo does not irritate eyes and its detergent action can help remove even oily pepper or tear gas compounds.
Either way, the irritation will pass in 15-45 minutes. Discomfort is only temporary. Breathe normally, and force yourself to relax as this will help the discomfort pass more quickly.
Will pepper spray work against vicious dogs and animals?
Pepper spray can be useful against aggressive dogs and various preditors, but will probably not work against an animal that is actively attacking. Special pepper spray formulations are available for animals, especially larger animals such as bears, but a device designed for humans may still be effective against animals.
A pepper spray product sold as “bear spray” may contain as much as 50% Oleoresin Capsicum, but counterintuitively, these high-concentrations are less effective for self-defense against human attackers. If your concern is animal attacks, it’s best to purchase a device made for the specific type of animal, but the human version will often work nearly as well on dog-size and smaller animals.
Just as it is important to understand that pepper spray is not reliably effective against all human attackers, nor will it stop all vicious dogs and other predators. It is a useful product, but it is not perfect. Nor does it always work as advertised.
Keeping additional devices in the door pocket of your car, and your pocket or purse, may also be a good idea, but for most people, it’s best to use the exact same device so that you don’t become confused in an emergency situation.
The label on most of these products indicates that the device should not be exposed to temperatures above 120-degrees. this is a much lower temperature than the interior of a car left in the sunshine with windows closed. Nonetheless, many owners report no problem as long as the windows are left with a small 1/2-inch gap to provide air flow and to allow heat to escape.
Children and Unauthorized Users: Since pepper spray is a weapon, it is important to keep these devices out of the hands of children and unauthorized individuals. If kids do get into it, they’ll probably only make that mistake once as exposure is unpleasant, but it is nevertheless your responsibility to keep these weapons out of the hands of unauthorized users.
Testing: Before you start carrying your pepper spray device, test it. To accomplish this, in a safe place outdoors, release two quick 1/2-second bursts toward a head-high target that is 10-feet distant from you. (Just so you know how it works.) Every year thereafter, repeat this process using a single, quick burst, to make sure your device is still working properly.
Important Legal Considerations
As odd as it may seem, pepper spray is not legal everywhere, so be sure that you understand your local laws before you possess or use pepper spray.
In most jurisdictions where pepper spray is legal, you still must be an adult to possess these self-defense tools.
If you ever use pepper spray—even if your assailant runs away and no harm came to you, be sure to immediately call the police. You need to immediately report the incident, and express to the 9-1-1 dispatcher that you were in fear of your life or physical safety. This is important as criminals have been known to report the incident themselves—claiming that they were the victim of an assault! To minimize the possibility of unnecessary hassle and legal problems, be the first one to call the police.
Wasp Spray as an Alternative to Pepper Spray and Tear Gas: Don’t do it! Some people advocate using ‘wasp spray’ as a weapon, claiming that it is more effective than pepper spray. This is ill-advised as it may cause blindness and life-threatening injuries. It may also result in criminal prosecution and huge civil liabilities for anyone who intentionally uses it as a weapon. A court may determine that using wasp spray as a weapon, is on par with the use of chemical warfare materials.
For most people, it is best to purchase pepper-spray devices online, because the selection and price are generally better than what you will find at gun stores, sporting goods or running-products stores. Moreover, oftentimes the models found in a local store will contain less than the optimal 10% of the Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) chemical.
If you opt for a pepper spray brand other than the three which are recommended here, carefully read the label. It is very important to select a model that contains 10% OC. And keep in mind, too, that the failure rate of off-brands is 30%. This doesn’t mean they won’t work at all. It means that the amount of OC is less than that which is advertised.
Remember, too, that it’s prudent to select a model which contains a sufficient amount of pepper spray to protect yourself (and others) from multiple attackers, or for use in more than one altercation. Needing it more than once may be likely during an emergency situation, particularly if you are traveling in a post-disaster environment.
Some of the below models are single-use devices. For protection against multiple assailants or more than one violent encounter, purchase additional units or select a larger model which contains a more pepper spray. We recommend a 1.5 oz dispenser or multiple smaller devices.
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