How To Correctly Use Pepper Spray

For all intensive purposes, I'll start off by saying any agent or weapon used for self defense is most effective when trained with before hand. In addition to that, any person wishing to carry any such item for protection should be fully aware of the responsibility that goes along with it as well as the local, state and federal laws. Pepper spray, specifically "OC" which I will discuss further, is not a toy and should never be treated like one. Although the agent is considered less than lethal, there is always risk of back spray, multiple exposure, and or missing your target. 

What is Oleoresin Capsicum? Commonly called "Pepper Spray", Oleoresin Capsicum is a convenient aerosol spray that is used as a protection device. When used before hands-on defense, there is less risk of injuries to all parties.

Effects of OC? OC affects the skin, face, eyes, and respiratory system and is usually immediately debilitating. It is reliable and has no long-term harmful effects on the recipient. OC is widely accepted as a safe control option for human service personnel. 

OC is classified by both its strength and its concentration.  The strength (heat) of the peppers used to make OC is graded using Scoville Heat Units (SHUs).  The hottest peppers cause the most dramatic effects on the people being sprayed.  SHUs range in numbers from 500,000 to 5.3 million.  In general you will want a rating of at least one million SHUs for optimal effects.

Commercial concentrations normally vary from 1% to 20%.  Purchase a spray that has at least a 5% concentration.  That will insure that the chemical will affect your attacker for at least 30 minutes.


Chemical deterrent sprays range in size from the ubiquitous 1/2 oz. Keychain units to fire extinguisher sized models designed to help police quell riots.  Each size has its own unique attributes.  The small keychain-type units are convenient and easy to carry.  Their downside, however, is that they contain only a small quantity of chemical (usually about five seconds worth) and they only spray a distance of two to five feet. 


When choosing a spray pattern all options should be considered as well as understood because each pattern has its advantages and disadvantages. Your options are a stream, fog (aka spray or mist), foam and gel. The stream can be compared to squirting water out of a water gun, fog is like any other aerosol in that it deploys a cloud of the chemical, and the foam comes out in a pattern similar to shaving cream. I personally recommend stream because it is easier to aim in a specific location i.e. someones eyes and can still be effective in a situation where wind is a factor. But, that is my preference and the only real way to know what you prefer is to try deploying each of these methods. Another thing to consider is the amount of blowback possible with the mist pattern, chances are you will end up with it on you somewhere. And with the foam pattern, your attacker can scrape it off of there face and throw it back in yours. All good things to take into consideration.

Use Good Tactics

Even more important than all of the other items previously discussed is the proper use of the chemical you are carrying.  The best chemical and spray pattern in the world will not help you if your attacker takes it away or even worse, uses it against you.  Be able to get to your spray quickly! The best way to insure this, is to practice. Buy some inert spray, set up some cardboard dummies and get to spraying! Just like any tool or weapon, if you've never practiced or trained with it, chances are you won't be quick nor confident in using it when you really need it.
Whatever you do, don't announce to your attacker that you are going to spray them. More often than not this will not deter them, but make them try to take it from you. Otherwise they will cover their face which also defeats the purpose. Use quick bursts of spray, once you have successfully targeted their face don't continue to spray nor admire your handiwork, get out of there as soon as it is safe to do so. The spray is meant to impede and distract the attack so you have time to flea, standing in the same spot will probably only get you tackled, or worse and second hand pepper spray exposure. Most of all, have a backup plan and be ready to defend yourself with or without your OC spray, it should simply be an extra tool in your imaginary tool box of self defense knowledge.



Make a habit of shaking your canister on a regular basis to keep the active ingredients mixed with the carrier agent.  Test fire your spray every few months to make sure that the nozzle is not clogged with debris.  Replace your spray by the expiration date noted on the canister.  If your canister does not have and expiration date, replace it every two years.  While the chemical inside will not lose potency, aerosols tend to lose pressure over time.

If you come into contact with the spray, or you get pepper sprayed yourself, immediately rinse all affected areas with soap and water repeatedly. Using a tub full of ice and water works great to soothe the heat while scrubbing off the pepper residue. Then I suggest you thoroughly rinse your face under running water until you can force your eyes to stay open. Immediately following the washing and rinsing if you stand in front of a fan or sit in front of an a/c unit this will help reduce the inflammation. Effects will last for 30-45 minutes, but be warned they can reactivate later in the day when showering, etc. Its painful but bearable and I highly suggest if you are going to carry it, to get sprayed in a controlled environment, so you're prepared and understand its effects.

In Conclusion

Chemical spray deterrents add a potent weapon to anyone’s arsenal.  If you follow the simple steps outlined above, you will dramatically increase your ability to utilize a chemical spray deterrent in the most effective manner possible.  Good chemical spray selection, combined with viable tactics and excellent situational awareness will make you into a formidable opponent for any potential attacker.

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