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Self-defense is an important and impactful issue for most of us and one without a myriad of options available. Pepper spray has been repeatedly demonstrated to be one of the most effective non-lethal products out there. Theirs a reason why it’s used by law enforcement around the world and that’s because it works. Minimal training is required in order to effectively use the best pepper sprays, anyone can learn to use it for defense against attackers or animals.
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Regardless if your self-defense weapon of choice is non-lethal, it’s still an intimidating prospect to carry one around with you, especially if it’s not something you’re used to. In order to help put you at ease, we’ve covered the most common questions asked about pepper spray, an overview of what pepper spray actually is, how it works and what the health implications are. To round it off we have our top 10 pepper spray recommendations.
Is Pepper Spray The Right Choice For Me?
When you’re deciding on what pepper spray is right for you, it’s important to give some consideration as to how you’re likely to use it and how you’re going to carry it. Are you going to keep it in the glove box in your car? Do you need to be able to keep it close to you when out for a walk, either in a pocket or handbag? Is it going to be used as part of your home defense arsenal? We’ve put together a list of our 10 favorite pepper sprays, all of which are available in a range of sizes, from compact models through to larger variants that are better suited to home use.
Pepper spray may also be marketed as OC spray, this is due to the main active ingredients which are Oleoresin Capsicum. OC is an oil from chili peppers. The ingredients are completely non-lethal but will irritate the nose, eyes and respiratory system of a would-be attacker. Pepper sprays are known to cause the following symptoms:
- Watering Eyes
- Searing Pain
- Swelling of Eyelids
- Visual Impairment
As pepper spray directly impacts the respiratory system and the eyes, even the biggest, toughest and fiercest attacker will be equally impacted, it’s going to be a painful experience no matter what. Practicing with the spray is the key to using it effectively in a real-life situation. Many manufacturers can provide dummy spray canisters which work exactly like the real thing, the key difference being is that they don’t contain the OC chemicals. We would thoroughly recommend practicing with a dummy canister so you know what to expect, how it works, the range you’re likely to reach as well as any challenges you might encounter. All the pepper sprays we tested include extensive training materials, including videos, easy to follow visual diagrams and in-depth instructions. It’s vital that you consume all of this material prior to usage.
Things to Look out for when Buying Pepper Spray
As with most consumer goods, some are better than others, demonstrating qualities that ensure they lead the pack in terms functionality, usability, and power. There are a few characteristics that should be taken into consideration when choosing the best pepper spray.
Range: A pepper spray with a larger reach will allow you to more easily keep some distance between yourself and the would-be attacker. The main drawback with a longer range is the fact that these canisters tend to be used up in a shorter amount of time, meaning you’ll have less ‘shots’ available to you to use.
Shots: Pepper spray canisters will generally advertise a certain amount of shots available to use, however, it should be noted that a shot is classed as a half a second or of continues spray. So, even if you buy a canister that claims to have 30 shots, you’re still only going to get around 15 seconds of continuous use. The more shots you have available the more times you can use the spray, either against multiple attackers, on multiple occasions, or if you want to check to make sure it’s still working every 3 months or so.
Types of Spray: On the consumer market there are multiple spray types available to buy, with each type boasting an advantage or disadvantage.
- Stream Pattern: This type of pepper spray is a liquid and it works in much the same way as a water gun. The biggest advantage of this type of spray is its range, which can easily get to 10 feet or more. It’s an ideal spray to use in outdoor situations as it’s less likely to be affected by the elements, such as rain or wind. This helps avoid the spray being blown back into your own face, which is the last thing you want to happen. With a stream type of spray, having an accurate aim is imperative to having a successful outcome.
- Fog Pattern: This sort of spray is excellent at covering a large area which places less emphasis on being accurate when compared to other forms of spray types, this is especially useful when dealing with multiple attackers. The range of the canister is significantly larger than most on the market, offering the ability to target attackers up to 25 feet away. If you’re in the market for a bear spray, fog types are the most common form. The biggest drawback with these sprays is how easily the fog can be affected by the wind, increasing the chances of bystanders or even yourself having the spray being blown in your direction.
- Foam Pattern: Foam sprays are best suited for indoor environments given the lack of range which generally tops out at about 6 feet. The spray itself is quite sticky and thick, in some respects, it resembles the consistency of shaving cream, this has the advantage that it’s very difficult to indirectly affect a bystander or yourself.
- Gel Pattern: Gel sprays are in many respects similar to foam sprays, the biggest difference and advantage is the increased range, which can go up to 15 feet. As with foam sprays, it’s best suited for indoor use and given its sticky consistency, the chances of accidentally affecting an innocent bystander are very much reduced.
Safety First: Most of us will want to avoid accidentally triggering our pepper spray, whether that’s in your pocket, handbag or even when you’re just handling it. Most sprays will come equipped with some sort of safety features which will prevent accidental firing. Most sprays will either feature a sliding mechanism or a flip top to secure the firing mechanism, both types work equally well, just make sure you’re comfortable with how they work prior to any real-life scenarios.
Size: Depending on how you intend to use your pepper spray you’ll want to pick a spray of the appropriate size. It might seem obvious, but smaller canisters are the best choice when portability is a concern, so if you want to keep pepper spray in your pocket or in your purse when you’re out and about, choose a compact spray. For home or car use, you can afford to get one of the more sizeable cannisters with a larger capacity.
Ingredients: Every single consumer grade pepper spray will contain OC, but you might find additional ingredients in some models as well. For example, it’s common to find UV dye and tear gas as added ingredients, the UV dye can help identifying an attacker after the crime while tear gas can go some ways to increasing the potency and stopping power of a spray. In our opinion, the UV dye is the most useful added ingredient, while adding tear gas will only have a marginal effect on high strength sprays. If you’re looking for a strong spray then it’s better to look for OC strength rather than for the addition of tear gas.
The Law: In the United States, Pepper spray is completely legal in every single one of the 50 states. Some states have placed certain restrictions on the power of the spray, it’s capacity, who can purchase and what it can be used for. We strongly recommend familiarising yourself with your state’s laws before committing to a purchase.
What Gives Pepper Spray its Heat?
Most of us will agree that we want the strongest pepper spray that is available to us, maximizing our chances of stopping a would-be attacker on the first attempt. By far the biggest influencing factor on pepper spray strength is the OC oil. It’s important to not confuse the strength of the OC oil with the OC level contained within the spray. OC level refers directly to the percentage of oil in amongst the other ingredients in the spray, this will generally range between 5 and 15%. This in no way tells us how strong the OC oil is, it’s completely possible for a 5% OC level spray to be more effective than a 15% OC level spray. The effectiveness and stopping power is closely related to the strength of the OC, this is what makes pepper sprays painful and allows them to stop attackers. There are various means of measuring this strength:
Scoville Scale: In order to measure the heat of chillis, pharmacists created the Scoville scale, which displays the strength of a chili in SHU or Scoville Heat Units. Not all pepper spray manufacturers will show an SHU rating, but even those that do, it’s important to bear in mind that it’s an indication of the strength of the chilies used to make the pepper spray and doesn’t necessarily reflect the final sprays heat. Generally speaking, you’ll want to pick a spray which exceeds 500,000 SHU.
CRC: CRC or Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids is used to accurately measure the number of capsaicinoids that are present in pepper spray, it’s an official rating that is monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the rating is not often published by manufacturers which makes it difficult to make comparisons. When it is reported you’ll want to pick a CRC rating of at least 1%, preferably higher.
MC: MC or Major Capsaicinoids is a method of measuring the percentage of active capsaicinoids present in the pepper spray, generally this will range from around 0.15% up to around 1.35%. The higher the number, the stronger the pepper spray and the better the stopping power. This one of the most effective and commonly used methods for measuring the effectiveness of a spray, so check this number to gauge how strong the spray actually is.
What Happens If I Accidentally Spray Myself?
Accidents happen, and we certainly wouldn’t recommend testing out the strength of your pepper spray by trying it out on yourself, but there’s always a possibility of an accident, either by getting blow black on a windy day or by misfiring. If this ever happens to you it’s important to understand what you can do to lessen the severity of the effects.
- Remove yourself from the vicinity of the spray and get yourself into fresh air. Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings the whole time.
- Strip off any contaminated items of clothing. Avoid touching your face and hands with clothes that have been exposed to pepper spray.
- Rinse your eyes and face with clean running water. Remove any glasses and contact lenses immediately, try to get someone to help you to flush your face to avoid cross-contamination with your hands. It might be difficult but do your best to keep your eyes open as you rinse them or blink them. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly to remove all traces of the pepper spray. If you have access to a cold compress use it to soothe your eyes once they have been completely flushed clean.
- Avoid touching or rubbing affected areas. No matter how tempting it might be don’t rub your eyes, it’ll only make matters worse. If you happen to have some spray liquid remaining on your hands or face, remove as much as you can with a clean towel or cloth, anything that remains should be washed off with plenty of running water.
- As anyone who’s eaten chilies can attest to, milk is one of the most effective methods of reducing the burning heat. This can be true of pepper spray as well, whole milk can be used to treat irritated areas, either by soaking the area in milk or by using a towel soaked in milk. We don’t recommend treating your eyes with milk, it’s best to use clean water, eye washes or saline solutions designed for use on eyes.
- As oil is quite sticky you’ll need to use soap to assist with removing it from badly affected areas. A solution made up of one part dishwashing liquid and three parts plain cold water can be used to rinse or soak an affected area. You can make up a bowl and soak your face in the water for up to 30 seconds, rinse the soapy water off and repeat with another fresh bowl of soap mixture. This process should be repeated until the area is no longer painful.
- It’s extremely important to completely and carefully clean your hands after every time you use the spray and avoid touching your face until you’ve done so.
- In most circumstances, it’s very unlikely you’ll need to see a doctor or pay a visit to A&E. However, if you seem to be having a very adverse reaction or if the symptoms are not subsiding with time, then medical attention should be sought. Above all else you should not panic, doing so can put you in more danger or make the situation worse, stay calm and in control.
Just to Recap
Pepper spray is an effective tool that is easy to use, inexpensive and has a proven track record of success. Make sure you’re well aware of any state laws with regards to pepper spray to make sure you know what you’re allowed to purchase and use. Look out for the features that ensure you’re getting a good product. Be aware of strength of your pepper spray and make sure you understand and can interpret the marketing jargon. By the right size to match how you intend to use it. Practise makes perfect, know how to use a spray in stressful situations without having to think about it.
Pepper Spray Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is it important to occasionally use the pepper spray?
A. Absolutely. As with any self-defense tools, it’s extremely important to be comfortable using it before you’re put in a stressful situation when you’ll need to use it for real. You should become familiar with removing the spray from your pocket or handbag quickly and efficiently, as well as deactivating the safety features and aiming it at the intended target. Depending on the model, some sprays will provide dummy canisters filled with water for testing. It’s well worth practicing with these dummy canisters until you’re proficient with the usage.
Q. Will my Pepper Spray become less potent over time or expire?
A. Unfortunately, yes. Every spray available will have an expiry date printed somewhere on the canister. All aerosols will lose their effectiveness over months or years, additionally, the chemicals which make pepper spray effective will break down over time, losing their effectiveness. It’s important to check the expiry date frequency, it’s not worth the risk of using an expired spray, it’s better to replace it for a small expense.
Q. What happens if I spray someone accidentally?
A. Hopefully, it’ll never happen to you, but accidents can happen. If you accidentally spray an innocent bystander or yourself, it’s important to bear in mind that though the effects of a pepper spray are painful, they are temporary. You should rinse the affected area with plenty of clean fresh water and remove any contaminated clothing. Some people find oil-free creams can help soothe the irritation, just make sure it is oil-free.
Q. Do I need a license or training to carry pepper spray?
A. This answer will largely depend on the state you live in and what laws they have with regards to pepper spray. In the majority of states you’ll need to register with law enforcement, more so if you’ve purchased a large police grade canister.
The Best Pepper Sprays Reviewed
Defense Technology 56843 First Defense MK-4 Stream 360 Review
The MK-3 pepper spray has handily beaten the competition to make its way onto our hand-picked list of the best pepper sprays available. The Defense Technology brand is well known and respected for producing an impressive line of pepper sprays available in a range of strengths, sizes and spray patterns. We chose the MK-4 over any of the other models available due to its impressive range, high strength and capacity for shots. The biggest draw of the 360 version is the fact that it can be deployed at almost any angle, while most sprays need to be in an upright position, the 360 can be held upside down, sideways or any which way you can think off. Our biggest complaint is the size of the canister which is nearly two inches longer than the next closest rival, this added length stretches the definition of what we would call a compact pepper spray. However, the impressively long shelf life of 5 years means it’s a difficult spray to not recommend.
- The 1.3% MC means it’s one of the strongest sprays available
- The innovative 360 feature means it can be used at any angle
- Large capacity
- A significant range of 12 feet
- Easy to use flip safety top
- Impressive 5-year expiry
- Does not include UV Dye
- The long canister pushes the boundary of the compact definition
SABRE Pepper Gel Review
Another entry from SABRE on our list of the best pepper sprays, which is not at all surprising how good their sprays are. The beauty of this model is the gel that it produces will adhere to hands and faces for a long time, making it incredibly effective at stopping an attacker. Additionally, the gel is rarely affected by the elements and is almost impervious to rain and wind. Its range is by far the longest on this list
This is the second SABRE pepper spray product to appear on this list, and for good reason. This can emit pepper spray gel that easily adheres to the face and is resistant to environmental factors like wind and rain. Plus, it boasts the longest range out of all the sprays tested, easily hitting targets up to 18 feet away.
- A convenient holster is provided which means it’s easy to stow the spray out of sight
- The gel means the spray is much more focused and is far less likely to affect bystanders
- The sticky nature of the gel means it’s going to hang around for much longer on an attacker allowing you to escape
- The spray will resist the effects of wind and rain
- The significant range means it’s ideal for keeping distance between yourself and an attacker
- Too powerful for some States in the US
SABRE 3-IN-1 Pepper Spray Review
SABRE is perhaps one of the most well-known producers of pepper spray with thousands of verified reviews on Amazon. Law enforcement and professional security companies use this exact brand to equip their staff which says something about how effective it is. The spray boasts a range of 10 feet and can deliver an effective punch of tear gas, pepper spray and UV marking dye, hence the 3 in 1 name.
- Comes with a convenient belt clip
- Established pedigree
- 3 in 1 feature provides tear gas, pepper spray, and UV identification
- Very large capacity which can exceed 35 shots
- Might not be allowed in all states
Kuros! Pepper Spray Review
Kuros! has a unique incentive to buy their products, every time you buy one of their sprays they work to provide women in third world countries with pepper spray in order to better protect themselves from violent crimes.
- Very compact design and keychain which is ideal for pockets or clipping onto keys
- When you buy one of their products you’re supporting women in the third world
- Capacity is limited compared to other models, providing fewer shots
The Wrist Savers Pepper Spray Review
This pepper spray is perfect for any bikers, runners, walkers or for anyone else that would like to have a pepper spray available to them in a convenient, accessible location. As you might have already guessed from the name, this spray is worn on your wrist in the form of a bracelet, which is perfect if you don’t have pockets or want to have immediate access to the spray when needed.
- Specifically designed to be worn on a wrist
- Can reach targets up to 10 feet away
- The very compact design means its legal in almost every state
- It comes with a handy LED light which is great when you’re running at night
- The very compact size means its capacity is very limited, giving you between 10 and 20 shots
Fox Labs Mean GreenTM Pepper Spray Review
Fox Labs is one of the best-rated sprays available to buy on Amazon, partly due to its compact nature and partly due to its affordability. That’s not to say it’s not powerful and effective because it is. It is rather Spartan on other features though, but you get a great spray at a very affordable price.
- An impressive range of 18 feet
- Green dye for identifying attackers
- Compact design makes storage easy and convenient
- Low capacity limiting the number of shots available to use
- The spray is strong and might not be allowed in all states
Fox Labs Flip Top Stream Pepper Spray Review
The second spray from Fox Labs to make it onto our list of the best pepper sprays, it’s a very capable option that makes an excellent general purpose spray. Its biggest draw is its impressive range which easily exceeds 17 feet without compromising on the number of shots available for use. In order to pack so much punch into the spray, the canister is slightly larger than the average. Preventing accidental discharge is the clever flip top safety feature, it’s easy to use in a rushed situation and will ensure you and others around you are safe from a misfire. Our biggest complaint is the slightly shorter than expected shelf life at around 3 years, but despite this issue, we would not hesitate to recommend the spray to anyone.
- A fantastic range which exceeds 17 feet
- A significant amount of pepper spray discharged with each burst
- Up to 18 shots per canister
- Cleverly designed flip top safety design
- Strong formula
- A short shelf life of 3 years