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How Effective Is Pepper Spray Against Attackers?

woman using pepper spray on attacker

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Pepper spray is a popular non-lethal defense weapon that can be carried discreetly on your person. It can be stored easily in a purse, backpack, or pocket, giving you fast access if someone attacks. Although there are generally no long-lasting effects of pepper spray, it can be effective in subduing an assailant so you can escape.

Despite the effects of pepper spray exposure, there are reports of it lacking the stopping power necessary to keep an attacker away. 

So, how effective is pepper spray? To determine how effective pepper spray is against attackers, it’s important to first understand what pepper spray is and how it is used. This has a significant impact on its efficacy. 

What Is Pepper Spray Made From?

The main ingredient in pepper spray is an oil called oleoresin capsicum. This is an extract from pepper plants of the genus Capsicum. Although the primary ingredient is the same as that in chili peppers, the pepper spray concentration levels are much higher. 

A common measurement of pepper spray strength is its number of Scoville Heat Units (SHU). These represent the spray’s pungency based on the capsaicinoid concentration. The Scoville scale is used mostly to compare the strength of different chili peppers, but it also works well in measuring pepper spray. 

To contextualize pepper spray strength, you can take a look at some peppers on the scale. A regular bell pepper measures 0 SHU, while a jalapeno registers somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 SHU. The hottest pepper in the world, the Carolina Reaper, measures 2.2 million SHU. A standard pepper spray starts at around 500,000 SHU, and certain brands produce a spray that measures up to 5.3 million SHU.

Use Pepper Spray to Protect Yourself from Attackers and Kidnappers

What Are the Effects of Pepper Spray?

When pepper spray comes into contact with someone’s eyes, it causes immediate discomfort. The capsaicin present in the spray binds to proteins present on the ocular membranes, which contain pain- and heat-sensing neurons. The eyes instantly close, and spray recipients experience extreme burning discomfort and temporary blindness. 

Capsaicin also irritates the respiratory tract, so other common symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain, runny nose, panic, dizziness, blisters, and burns on the skin. Due to the discomfort caused, people often damage their own eyes through excessive rubbing or scratching. 

In most cases, the effects of pepper spray go away within 30 minutes. Unless the person being sprayed was injured while the spray took effect, they are unlikely to have lasting damage or require medical assistance. However, those with underlying conditions, such as asthma, can experience more severe effects. 

focus on pepper spray pointing

Source: DDekk/

Pepper Spray Effectiveness Against Attackers

If pepper spray is applied accurately to an attacker’s eyes and face, it should render them incapacitated for at least a few minutes. This should give enough time to create distance between you and an attacker, to alert the police, or to run away. 

The main drawback of pepper spray is if the attack victim fails to spray accurately at the attacker. Pepper spray is a close-range weapon with maximum effectiveness between four and fifteen feet. While a pepper spray gun might be accurate at longer distances, some canisters are small and with lower pressure, meaning they are inaccurate over a few feet. 

Pepper spray owners should monitor the product’s condition and expiration date. The spray has a shelf life and can be affected in terms of pressure, chemical mixture, and exposure to heat or cold. It’s important to shake and test the effectiveness of your pepper spray to ensure it works correctly.

There are no legal training requirements for owning pepper spray. While this makes it readily available, it also means people are often less skilled in using it. Attack victims can fail to discharge their pepper spray correctly, ultimately rendering it useless. 

If mishandled, pepper spray users may also be affected by the chemicals, making it less effective as a personal protection device.

What’s the Difference Between Pepper Spray vs. Mace? Find Out in Our Guide!

What’s the Difference Between Pepper Spray and Mace?

People often ask which product is more effective: pepper spray vs. mace? The answer isn’t so simple, as mace has changed significantly over the years. 

The original mace was made using chloroacetophenone (CN) as the main active ingredient. CN is an irritant with a sharp odor, similar to tear gas. It causes burning pain, tear production, blinking, eye redness, coughing, sneezing, and general discomfort to those that come in contact with it. 

Mace containing CN is no longer produced because it contributed to workplace injuries to police and was ineffective on people under the influence of alcohol and narcotics. 

Mace is a brand that now makes several defense items, including pepper spray. However, the primary ingredient of their current pepper spray is oleoresin capsicum (OC). 

pair self defense training

Source: Iakov Filimonov/

Learn Effective Self-Defense

Pepper spray can be an effective tool against attackers. However, it has its limitations, particularly against multiple attackers at a distance. To practice good self-defense, education is important. Learn to use all types of safety equipment before relying on it. 

For pepper spray and other self-defense equipment, visit The Home Security Superstore. 



Is it legal to spray pepper spray?

Pepper spray is legal to carry and use for self-defense, but some states regulate the strength. 

Can someone die from pepper spray?

Pepper spray is generally non-lethal. However, for those with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, pepper spray exposure complications can contribute to death.

What pepper sprays do police use?

SABRE pepper spray is used by law enforcement.  

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