Is Pepper Spray Effective for Self-Defense?

Pepper spray how to

There are many different opinions about what is best to carry to defend yourself from an attacker. There are too many different factors to list that would determine what is best for self-defense in every situation. However, I believe that pepper spray in general, is one of the best options available. I will explain some of the reasons that I believe that pepper spray is generally a good choice. Building upon my last blog: Lethal vs. Non-lethal Mindset, I will also explain why a pepper spray is still a good option even if you carry a firearm. These are some of the reasons that I believe that pepper spray is a good choice for self-defense:

  • It can be used at a distance
  • Doesn’t require size or strength from the person carrying it
  • Easy to carry and conceal
  • No lasting effects
  • Good addition to a firearm
  • Doesn’t require extensive training

What is Pepper Spray?

Before we dive into the advantages of pepper spray, let me briefly explain what it is and how it works. Pepper spray is the common name for “oleoresin capsicum”, this is why many law enforcement professionals refer to it as “oc spray” rather than pepper spray. Oleoresin capsicum (OC) is an oily extract of pepper plants of the genus Capsicum.

This derivative is put into a soluble solution and then pressurized to disperse from the pepper spray canister. There are many different canister sizes for pepper spray and even different disbursement methods such as cone, stream, gel or foam. Additionally, pepper sprays have different levels of “heat” or intensity levels measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The SHU’s for pepper sprays vary and it can be equally dangerous for it to be too hot or not hot enough. Shield Protection Products pepper spray is approximately 2 million SHU’s. We have found from experience that this number represents a “heat level” that is effective against an attacker without being excessively hot. You may think there is no such thing as too hot. However, there is always a chance that you may unintentionally expose yourself to some of the effects of your pepper spray in self-defense.

The Pepper Spray Balance

Some pepper sprays go up to 7 million SHU’s. If you were to use that pepper spray and accidentally even partially expose yourself to it, that hot it would severely impact you. I have seen law enforcement officers get exposed to pepper spray with similar SHU’s and it caused blisters and bleeding. There is such a thing as too hot, and most sprays with those levels of SHU’s are designated for law enforcement/military or other specialized groups with a specific need that dictates the pepper spray be that hot.

The problem of pepper spray is not hot enough and/or effective is by far the greatest problem that most people face. This problem can be summed up like this: cheaper isn’t always better. There are many times that bargain shopping is a good thing, but when it comes to your safety and security, quality counts!

Alright, now that I have given you a brief background on pepper spray “got on my soapbox” about SHU’s and the importance of quality, let’s dive into the bullets listed above.

Pepper Spray Can Be Used at a Distance

pepper spray at a distance
Pepper Spray Can be used from a distance

In a self-defense situation, distance is your friend! Pepper spray allows you to effectively stop an attacker while there is still distance between you and them. Distance allows you time to react and minimizes your risk of being injured. The maximum effective range will vary depending on the certain pepper spray you choose to carry. However, as a general rule, pepper spray has an effective range of 6-10 feet on the low end and 15-25 feet on the high end. The size of the pepper spray and method of disbursement will dictate the maximum effective range.

Pepper Spray Doesn’t Require Size and Strength

Size and strength can vary greatly from person to person. Many people do not have a great amount of size and/or strength that would allow them to physically fight off an attacker or use a self-defense product that requires a certain amount of strength. Even if you do feel that you have the physical prowess to fight of an attacker avoiding a physical confrontation should be your goal. One of the biggest advantages of pepper spray is that if you can point it and depress the actuator, it is equally effective no matter who deploys it. I am a fairly big guy at 6’5’’ and 325 lbs.

However, if a guy my same size sprays me with pepper spray or if it’s an elderly grandmother, the pepper spray will be just as effective.

Pepper Spray is Easy to Carry and Conceal


The most popular pepper spray we sell is the small key chain pepper spray. This size spray can’t spray numerous attackers and is on the lower end of the maximum effective distance. However, I am still a fan of this pepper spray. I like this pepper spray because it is always with you. Key chain pepper spray can attach to your key ring or easily fit in your pocket. A 2 oz. size pepper spray is also very popular and is approximately the same size that most police officers carry on their duty belts. This pepper spray has enough capacity to spray multiple attackers and has a greater effective maximum range than the smaller key chain pepper spray. This pepper spray can easily fit into your pocket or be carried in a purse or other small pouch. There are much larger pepper sprays available that can be used on a large crowd. Some are intended to be used as bear sprays. While these pepper sprays are much larger, they can still be easily carried in a backpack, stowed in a car, or carried on a hike.

Pepper Spray Has No Lasting Effects

Pepper Spray packs a very powerful and painful punch when used against an attacker. Common effects of pepper spray include the eyes involuntarily slamming shut. The eyes begin to water, and keeping them open is very painful and hard. There is a painful burning sensation on the skin. Involuntary coughing also occurs with a sensation that it is hard to breathe. People often become disoriented and lose awareness of their surroundings. These effects are good for you as they are very effective at stopping many attackers. Additionally, these effects generally subside in about 45 minutes, with no lasting effects, once the liquid is washed off. It’s always the case that if you use force against someone. Even in self-defense, you have to be concerned about legal ramifications.

Pepper Spray is a Good Addition to a Firearm

If a situation requires lethal force then that is the force with which you should respond. If I were being attacked by someone attempting to take my life, I would respond with lethal force without hesitation. However, while we may be able to ascertain that a threat or potential threat exists quickly, it is not always easy to determine the level of the threat.

For example, you may be walking down the street and see an individual walking your way but on the opposite side. As you get closer, he looks around to see who is nearby and immediately crosses the road while making a beeline straight for you. Now you may quickly be able to sense that the individual’s actions are out of the norm. However, at that point, is the individual a threat to you? Have they actually made an overt attack on you?

What are the legal ramifications of pulling a firearm only to find out they were going to ask you for a few dollars? Are there any legal ramifications to discreetly having pepper spray down at your side and at the ready? If the person launches an attack. Would it be beneficial to deploy pepper spray with your non-dominant hand and transition to a firearm with your dominant hand? I never choose whether to carry lethal or non-lethal self-defense. Instead, I choose what form of non-lethal self-defense I will carry alongside my firearm.

Pepper Spray Doesn’t Require Extensive Training

Many forms of self-defense can be effective but require extensive training. There are martial arts and other self-defense systems that are effective but take years to master. If you carry a firearm for self-defense, you may need to take classes to educate yourself, or you should at least go to a range regularly. Pepper spray requires no extensive training or knowledge. As with any form of self-defense, you need to understand some basic concepts such as situational awareness, reactionary gap etc. However, there isn’t a lot of training necessary. I think you should be familiar with pepper spray, which is why we sell training spray that you can practice with at home.

I also think there are some basic self-defense concepts that you should know. We provide these in a training video with our pepper spray. However, generally speaking, anyone can use pepper spray effectively with a little practice and knowledge.

Pepper Spray Summary

Pepper Spray is a very good choice for self-defense. As with any form of self-defense you should know the strengths and weaknesses of pepper spray as well as its limitations. In taking a multi-layered approach to self-defense pepper spray can be an effective part of your overall self-defense strategy. It isn’t a magic solution that guarantees your safety but neither is any other single item or product. Pepper spray can also be a good non-lethal counterbalance to carrying a firearm. It can provide you with a non-lethal option that is effective but has no lasting effects. As with any other aspect of your safety, educate yourself regarding the different styles of pepper spray. Also, keep an eye out for future blogs as we will discuss some of these differences. Stay Safe! Proverbs 28:1


  • John Hill

    John Hill is an active police officer with over 18 years of experience. He has served on road patrol, crime suppression team, and K-9. He is also the co-owner of Shield Protection Products.

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