The Ultimate Pepper Spray Guide

A mans hand holding a can of pepper spray

The Ultimate Pepper Spray Guide

If you are looking for a readily available (in most areas) and effective form of self defense that doesn't require extensive training, look no further than Pepper Spray aka OC Spray (Oleoresin Capsicum spray).

(We are not discussing CS or CN Spray here, which is Tear Gas)

It's simple to use, inexpensive, and highly effective when used properly.

But before you run out and get some, there are a few things you should know about how to correctly use it, what exactly it does, and whether or not it is legal (or what sizes/formulations are) in your area.

VERY IMPORTANT: Pepper Spray is very painful and is NOT to be used lightly.

You should ONLY use it as a DEFENSIVE response against someone if you are in immediate physical harm from them.

If you use it in an OFFENSIVE way it can be construed as lethal force, and in some states it is seen as such. This could then legally allow someone to use deadly force against you.

BE VERY CAREFUL with pepper spray, It is a very serious and dangerous tool

Pepper Spray Effects

So what does pepper spray do to someone exactly?

Pepper Spray Effects on body

Image Source

Pepper spray inflames the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs within a few moments of contact with the affected area.

It causes immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, mucous, and coughing and intense, burning pain.

The duration and severity of its effects depends on the strength of the spray; the average full effect lasts from 20 to 90 minutes, but eye irritation and redness can last for up to 24 hours.

before and after being pepper sprayed

Before and after. The after here is several minutes later after washing, the eyes would remain closed while still covered in spray.

Pepper spray is non-lethal and has no lasting impact on the person who was sprayed.

How to use Pepper Spray

There are several steps for effective liquid or gel pepper spray delivery to your target.


Store your spray or gel where it is easily accessible, and quick to deploy. In a pocket, on a belt clip, at the top of your bag or purse.

If you are in a situation where you feel nervous, get it in your hand with a firm grip, get it ready should you need it.

Someone who is 20 feet away from you can close that gap in less than 2 seconds. You need to be ready.

There's nothing illegal with showing that you have the spray in your hand to deter a would-be assailant, but don't advertise it unless you need to.

Be mindful of wind, and try to minimize or avoid splash back onto you if you are downwind of an attacker.

If you are indoors you will likely be affected by the spray to some degree. Leave the area as quickly as possible.


If possible take a defensive stance like this: Empty arm forward, hand open.

Arm with the spray behind the extended hand, at head level and inline with your nose.

correct pepper spraying stance technique

This serves two purposes:

  1. You attacker will likely go for that arm first, giving you more time to deliver the spray.
  2. You will block some spray that might come back in your direction.

Move & Spray

If you are rushed by an attacker, move. Get off the "X" is the expression.

Step to the side or move at a 45 degree angle. Try to avoid stepping backwards, you could trip and fall over your feet or an unseen object.

To apply to your target, spray in an sweeping burst pattern across eyes and head, it will get around glasses if the target is wearing them. Spray into nose and mouth if possible.

Move again. Side step and apply again from another angle if possible, move offline at a 45 degree angle.

Don't just spritz them, soak them down until they drop.


Get away from your attacker quickly, it takes several moments for the spray to reach full impact on the target.

In that time they could still reach you and get a grip or a blow onto you.

Watch This Video

This is the best video I've found about the technique I've learned and advocate.

What he is using here is a cone spray to fill an area. Cone sprays are a little harder to find in the US, and the downside to them is they can contaminate you. They can fill a big space, but don't travel as far as the concentrated sprays.

If you want to get a cone type sprays: Sabre Red 2.0 oz Max Strength Pepper Spray, Cone Delivery or Pepper Enforcement PE510MF-FT Fogger Pepper Spray

Practice, Practice, Practice

That's a lot of steps outlined in the section above. It requires a little finesse during a stressful event, which means you need to train your physiological response beforehand, in order to build so-called "muscle memory" (a misnomer but we'll go with it for simplicity sake.)

You can purchase inert practice sprays. Do not practice with actual pepper spray, unless you want to risk getting it on you or someone else, not a smart idea.

You can print out targets like the one below, mount at person height, and practice.

Practice retrieving your spray from its storage spot on your person.

Move & Spray. RETREAT.

Do this every few months if you can, make the response reflexive. If you have to think about what you are doing, your response times will be much slower than they could be.

This video gives you an idea of this concept, although we disagree with the stance these women are taking by standing still with their arms extended.

This is a very bad technique.

Keeping your arm out and presenting the spray to an attacker is just asking for them to take it away from you.


Sabre Inert Practice Spray .54oz

Sabre Inert Practice Spray .54oz

Typical Price: $8

Practice canister allow users to increase familiarity, boost confidence and improve accuracy to use SABRE confidently in an emergency.

It has a spray pattern advantage that decreases wind blow-back and also has reinforced safety that prevents accidental discharge. It weighs 0. 54 ounces with approximately 25 bursts at 10 feet with a powerful stream spray pattern.


Printable pepper spray target

Download a printable target here.

Pepper Spray Delivery Systems

Pepper spray is an effective and concentrated inflammatory agent which is typically sprayed from a pressurized container.

There are other forms of pepper spray delivery systems, and we will discuss those in a moment, but we will start with the most readily available styles in the US: Stream and Gel

Stream: A liquid spray which easily penetrates the eyes, nose and lungs. Splatters to cover a wider area and can also affect space beyond the immediate spray area. Susceptible to strong wind and reverse contamination.

Gel: Can shoot further than spray in a tighter, more concentrated area. Less splatter than liquid but less likely to be absorbed into nose or lungs.

Man getting sprayed with stream pepper spray

Stream Spray delivery

There are other types of : Foam, Cone, Fog and Projectile.

Foam: Not as common as the other types. Less effective range than stream or gel. Greatest pain generation if attempted to wipe off.

Cone: Less effective than stream or gel, but highly effective on the respiratory system. Significant risk of self contamination in enclosed areas or environmental factors (wind) due to wide area of spray.

Fog: Not available for individual use, it is designed for correctional and riot control applications.

Projectile: These are pepper "bullets" if you will. They have the best range and as a result the lowest risk of self contamination. They cost more and the delivery systems are more complex than sprays. Limited number of projectiles in delivery system.

Yes, I've Been Pepper Sprayed

Just so you don't think I am shooting my mouth off here, yes I have been pepper sprayed in the face.

It was during a pepper spray course, and I volunteered to get sprayed with Saber Level II stream spray (0.5% capsaicinoids.)

The instructor pulled no punches on me, he got both eyes, my nose and mouth. Twice.

It wasn't too bad at first, and then he told me to open my eyes, and I almost fell over.

The biggest takeaways from that experience for me were:

  • It took about 15 seconds to have an impact on me and reach its full strength, enough time to grab a hold of the person who sprayed me if that were my intention
  • It was very hard to breathe once the stuff penetrated into my mouth and lungs, I wouldn't have been able to chase anyone or run very well after that
  • I couldn't open my eyes for at least 10 minutes, even after washing them thoroughly
  • It caused me to drool like crazy and have to mouth breathe
  • My face, neck and arms burned for an hour afterwards
  • I had to change my clothes to keep from reapplying the stuff to my skin

All this and what he used on me wasn't even the Level III stuff!

The main thing I learned: I was more or less totally incapacitated after 20 seconds.

Had this been a life or death situation for me, I would have been in a lot of trouble.

I could not see, could not breathe well, and was in a lot of pain - even after immediately washing up with solvent and soap.

Bottom line, getting sprayed not only sucks bad, but it can take you right out of a fight. You need to avoid it at all costs in a life or death situation.

The Best Pepper Sprays

Here is a list of our favorite choices, that we have personally tested and can recommend to you.

Sabre is the industry leader, but there are other good brands out there as well.

We prefer the flip top model over the twist and push, but they are larger and less easy to carry and conceal.

If you want a one-stop-shop for all your Pepper Spray needs, look no further than The Home Security Superstore.

home security superstore display ad

Some of Our Favorite Pepper Sprays

Sabre Red Compact Pepper Spray

Sabre Red Compact Pepper Spray

Typical Price: $9  Liquid Spray

This is my daily carry. It's small and fits into a pocket of anything I'm wearing.

Easy to deploy, highly effective, this is a no-brainer for everyone.

SABRE RED maximum strength red pepper formula is SABRE’s most popular and powerful formulation carried by law enforcement.

Impressive 10-foot (3 m) range; contains 35 bursts (up to 5x more than other brands) in a powerful stream delivery to reduce wind blowback.

UV marking dye aids in suspect identification.


This is one of my favorites. It's a little bit too bulky for a pocket in my opinion, but it's small enough to keep in a bag or belt pouch and gives you lots of power and sprays.

This type of flip top thumb button is my preferred trigger mechanism, it's one step and doesn't require fine motor skills to operate.

Use your thumb to operate. See the video above for explanation and demonstration why.

Sabre Red Crossfire Pepper Stream 1.5 OZ / 1.33% MC

Sabre Red Crossfire Pepper Stream 1.5 OZ / 1.33% MC

Typical Price: $14  Liquid Spray

Featuring SABRE Crossfire Technology, SABRE Red 1.33% MC 1.5-ounce MK-3 Crossfire Stream maximizes target acquisition by deploying from any angle or orientation.

The MK-3 Crossfire Stream deploys 10 full one-second bursts at a range of 15 to 20 feet (4.6 to 6 m) away.

This product includes UV marking dye to help identify and apprehend perpetrators.

Each SABRE RED Crossfire is tested for firing, accuracy and leakage prevention before it leaves the factory.


Pepper Enforcement Fogger Pepper Spray

Pepper Enforcement Fogger Pepper Spray

Typical Price: $15  Fogger Spray

If you prefer a fogger to a stream, because it sprays in a wider area, then this is a good choice.

Maximum strength law enforcement grade pepper spray for self defense in emergency situations - Powerful pepper spray formula with 10% OC, 2 Million SHUS, 1.33% Capsaicinoids will immediately incapacitate assailants.

Safety Flip Top + UV Dye

Cannot be shipped to the following states:  District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, New Jersey


Pepper Spray Laws By State

Source: Saber Labs

As of this writing, there are two states that ban shipping any human-formula pepper spray within their borders: Massachusetts and New York.

In Massachusetts, pepper spray for human attackers can only be purchased locally from a licensed firearms dealer, and buyers must have a firearms identification card.

Those within New York borders can buy it from a licensed firearms dealer or a pharmacy. Pepper sprays also cannot ship to Alaska, Hawaii or Washington, DC.

While some states don’t have specific shipping restrictions on self-defense spray, they do have overarching laws regarding canister size and content.

These regulations also apply to online orders within the state. Here are some of the current state restrictions on self-defense spray:

· Arkansas: Canisters cannot exceed 5 ounces.

· California: Canisters cannot exceed 2.5 ounces.

· Florida: Canisters cannot exceed 2 ounces.

· Hawaii: Canisters cannot exceed ½-ounce.

· Michigan: Canisters cannot exceed 1.2 ounces. They also cannot have a strength higher than 18% OC or 1.4% major capsaicinoids (MC).

· New Jersey: Canisters cannot exceed ¾-ounce.

· North Carolina: Human-formula canisters cannot exceed 5 ounces. (No restrictions on animal sprays.)

· Washington, DC: All pepper spray items must be registered at the local police station as soon as they are received

· Wisconsin: Canisters must have a safety feature and cannot exceed 2 ounces or have an OC concentration higher than 10%. Sprays must be pepper-only with no tear gas or UV dyes. The pepper spray also cannot be disguised as a common item such as a lipstick case or pen.

Some states also have laws regarding who can carry pepper spray and thus order it. In several states, for example, convicted felons cannot possess pepper spray.

Others require a concealed weapon license.

Some cities and municipalities may also have their own regulations, and state laws can change from time to time.

Whenever you’re in doubt, contact your local law enforcement agency to verify the pepper spray shipping and possession laws in the area.

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