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Pepper Spray Scoville Rating Explained – How Hot Is Your Pepper Spray?

woman using pepper spray on attacker

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Thousands of years ago, in ancient China, warriors threw hot spices at their enemies to disable them so they could easily defeat them. This fighting method was the precursor of today’s modern pepper spray. 

In the 1980s, the FBI did exhaustive research on pepper spray, which prompted the widespread use of pepper spray as a self-defense weapon. It has become one of the most popular self-defense products for its effectiveness. 

The ratings for pepper sprays are based on the Scoville heat unit, or SHU, a standard measurement of heat. One of the hottest peppers in the world, the habañero, has 500,000 SHUs. By comparison, most pepper sprays start at 2,000,000 SHUs.

How Does Pepper Spray Work?

If you have ever cooked with spicy peppers, such as jalapeños, you probably know you should avoid touching your eyes after using them. Doing it causes an unpleasant and burning sensation on your skin because of the jalapeños’ spiciness. 

Capsaicin is the chemical that creates heat in peppers. When you cook with jalapeños, that substance can remain on your fingers. Capsaicin is an irritant to human beings and animals, causing burning sensations, pain, and numbness. That’s why your eyes hurt if you touch your eyes after handling jalapeños. 

Imagine if you took the capsaicin in a jalapeño and concentrated it so you formed a substance 500 times more potent. That’s essentially what pepper spray is. When the pepper spray touches someone’s face, the inflammatory response is so strong it forces the eyes to close, causing temporary blindness. 

Even though there are no lasting effects, pepper spray temporarily incapacitates an attacker, allowing you to escape. A pepper spray gun is a wise investment for women, the elderly, campers, and hikers. In addition to being highly effective, it’s generally affordable and easy to carry around.

Pepper Spray vs. Mace

Mace is technically a brand name, but it’s often used to describe all kinds of pepper sprays. It’s similar to other products like Band-Aids, where the brand name is generally used to describe bandages. 

Traditionally, mace and pepper spray have used different active substances. Pepper spray uses a substance called oleoresin capsicum, or OC, which essentially is a capsaicin derivative. Conversely, mace uses phenacyl chloride, also called CN tear gas. 

When thinking about pepper spray vs. mace, it’s essential to know both are effective self-defense tools that irritate skin and eyes. However, mace has been found to be ineffective against people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

pepper spray stream on black

Source: Schnoeppl/

What Are Scoville Units?

Usually, as mentioned, pepper spray ratings are based on Scoville Units or SHUs, a measurement of hotness. More precisely, Scoville Units measure the amount of capsaicin in a pepper. The test is a subjective taste test, and it’s done by simply tasting the peppers. Since capsaicin is essentially the primary substance used in pepper sprays, companies rate their sprays using SHUs. 

How Does the Pepper Spray Scoville Rating Work?

Most pepper sprays start in the two million SHUs range, which, again, is about four times the hotness of a habañero, one of the hottest peppers in the world. Any pepper or mace spray in the two million SHUs range is effective, but you can go for even stronger ones. There are pepper sprays with up to five million SHUs, some of the strongest commercially available. 

MC Rating

Some people believe the pepper spray Scoville rating can be misleading because it’s a measurement of heat subjective to the recipient. SHUs measure the amount of heat you experience when tasting a pepper or a hot sauce, which can be different for people. 

A more accurate indicator of a pepper spray’s strength is the MC rating, or major capsaicinoids rating. The MC rating is not a subjective test, and it’s done in a laboratory by gauging the quantitative heat of the capsaicinoids, the chemical substance that produces hotness. 

screaming woman holding pepper spray

Source: Yaroslau Mikheyeu/

Get Quality Self-Defense Products at The Home Security Superstore

The Home Security Superstore is one of the oldest and largest independent distributors of high-quality home security, surveillance, spy, and self-defense products. We have years of experience with self-defense products, such as tasers, stun guns, pepper sprays, and other nonlethal weapons. Explore our online range to protect yourself and the ones you love.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best mace spray?

The best mace spray in our opinion is the Fox Labs 5.3 Million SHU pepper spray. It offers a more concentrated amount of capsaicin, what makes peppers hot, than other sprays giving it more kick and making it last longer than other brands.

How far can mace spray?

Mace sprays can generally spray as far as 25 feet with some larger high pressure models allowing you to shoot up to 30 feet away.

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