March 26, 2009

Let’s Talk About…Pepper Spray

Posted in Safety tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:21 pm by ledefensetech

First off we need a few definitions.  There are three types of agents used in defensive sprays.  CS (orthoclorobenzalmalonitrile), CN (alphachloroacetaphenone); both of which are commonly known as tear as or Mace; and OC (Oleoresin Capsicum); commonly known as pepper spray.  All three work about the same, they irritate the lining of they eyes, nose and throat causing a person to tear up, begin coughing and forcing they body to try to flush the irritants from the body.  This is the basis of the stopping power or pepper spray. Now some things you should know about CS and CN spray.  They, like OC spray, irritate the membranes and cause pain as one of their effects.  Now pain can be an inducement to stop whatever it is a criminal is doing, but you don’t want to rely on that solely for protection.  People, after all, can block out pain, some people are also immune to CS and CN spray.  You don’t want to find that out after spraying someone who’s attacking you, only to discover that it doesn’t work. Another pitfall is the length for the spray to take place.  Not only have field tests by police officers documented the failure of CS and CN spray, especially when the target is drunk or high, but the effects can take anywhere from 5 seconds to 30 second to manifest themselves.  In a combat situation 5 seconds can seem 5 years and 30 seconds an eternity.

OC is different in many ways.  Rather than irritate, it inflames.  This is critical when you think about how a small man, woman or teen can protect themselves against a large man or woman.  Rather than use pain, OC disables a person by making it hard to see and breathe.  The swelling won’t completely close off they windpipe, so the attacker won’t suffocate from somebody using pepper spray on them. There are two pieces of information that you need to look for when deciding on a pepper spray to buy.  The first is the percentage of OC in the product, relative to gas, dyes, etc. and SHU or Scoville Heat Units.  To give you an example the SHU of a habenero pepper is about 200,000 to 300,000 SHU.

Now in my younger years I ate a habenero pepper whole.  Once.  The pain could be best described as if you had put a porcupine in your mouth and held it there for about 30 minutes.  It was excruciating.  Most pepper sprays have SHU up to 2,000,000 SHU, 9 to 10 times the heat of a habenero pepper.  The effects of pepper spray will wear off in about 30 minutes, much less time than CS or CN spray, which still gives you plenty of time to leave the area. That’s the most important safety tip I can give you.  After spraying your assailant, leave, run, yell and scream for help.  Call the police if you have a cell phone that works.  Many defense sprays come with a dye that shows up by UV light, making it easier for law enforcement to identify your attacker.

All any self defense tool does is give you time to summon help.  Pepper spray is no different. There are three methods of dispersal when you’re talking about pepper spray.  Stream, mist and fog.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.

A stream, for example is good for distance (5-20 feet) and you have less of a chance of blowback when you use it.  Some disadvantages are that you must spray directly into the mouth, nose and eyes of the attacker and, like all sprays, effectiveness can be muted by wind, rain, fans, etc.

Mist sprays shoot out cones of spray which is good for “area denial” applications, say down hallways, up staircases etc.  The mist is more immediate than the stream sprays, but more vulnerable to wind and rain conditions.  Fogs emit the spray kind of like a fire extinguisher, which is considered the most effective and immediate when stopping an attacker.  They are also less vulnerable to wind and are excellent in “area denial” applications.

Fogger type sprays have a range of 15-20 feet, making them a valuable “stand off” tool.  The only drawback to these types of sprays are the limited number of shots compared to other sprays.

So when deciding on a spray to use, you need to think about how and where you’re going to use it.  Will you be best served by a personal keychain spray that shoots a stream?  Perhaps you need a fogger type spray for home defense.  Keep the advantages and disadvantages in mind when choosing a pepper spray and you’ll have a tool that will serve you well against any criminal.



  1. Kellene said,

    I carry pepper spray on my person when I am out and about. Instead of holding is casually in my hands, I have my arm across my person with the side of my hand and elbow towards the direction I’m walking. This enables me to strike and strike powerfully if necessary. Personally, though, my best defense is a firearm. It has taken me a long time to come to that point, but here’s some thoguhts on why:

    • Those are some very good reasons, and if I may, I’d like to repost that.

      While I do agree that it’s not only a right, but a duty to bear arms responsibly, realistically it’s a right that’s we’re getting closer and closer to losing. Part of the reason is that is takes people a while to get to that point, in this day and age, and many never get there.

      Like I’ve said before, guns are rather final. Despite everything going on in the world today in terms of violence, I still believe that people can be taught the difference between right and wrong. Those lessons should be sharp ones, but sharp lessons don’t mean fatal lessons.

      Of course there are some people who will never learn. They are those who have terrorized those smaller and weaker than them that goes back to their childhoods. I don’t believe that these people seek redemption for their actions and they will reap what they have sown. That’s why personally, I’m always ready to apply lethal levels of force when defending myself. Most people, however, are not. Some few, faced with imminent extinction, might summon the resources needed to defend themselves, but many, if not most, will be “statues in the storm” as Ben English calls them.

      Thanks for the topic idea Kellene. I may have to talk about how and why people freeze when faced with violence in the future.

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