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How to Choose Pepper Spray

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FoxOC 2 inchPepper spray is also known as OC, short for its chemical name Oleoresin Capsicum. One of the best general-purpose self-defense tools ever developed, most police in the US carry it.  Decades of street-use by law enforcement have proven it safe and effective.

What does pepper spray do to someone?  It inflames the skin and mucus membranes of the eyes, nose, mouth and throat.  It causes intense pain.  It makes the person sprayed in the face close their eyes, cry cough as if chocking, and be unable to speak.  It makes them feel that they can’t breathe, though they really can.  The effects can last from about 15 minutes for breathlessness to over an hour for the skin sensation of burning.

There are dozens of different sprays on the market.  To find the right one for you, consider: OC concentration, Schoville rating, canister size, and spray delivery system.  Oh, yeah, and price.

Police pepper spray is usually in the 5-10% range. Higher percentage of OC might actually not be quite as good as the lower ones, because it is harder for the larger quantity of pepper to atomize in the spray.  Also, above about 10%, having more OC in the can doesn't make it work faster, and doesn't hurt the attacker more; it just makes the effects last longer than an hour.  Since you won't need nearly that much time to get away and call for help, a product in the 5-10% range is most appropriate, and less expensive.

Next consider the hotness rating, which is measured in SHUs (Schoville Heat Units).  Many brands don't make this measurement obvious, but you can find out by calling the company. The most desirable range is around 2 million or more.  Again, a lot higher is not better; sprays in the range of 15 million SHUs have been known to cause eye damage when sprayed at close range.

Another important consideration is the can size.  If you have a small one, designed to fit on a keychain (bottom diameter about dime size), it might not have enough oomph to adequately take care of your problem, especially if you are attacked by 2 or 3 people.  A 2 oz can (bottom about quarter size) is better.  It still fits easily in your hand and in most pockets, but it isn't so likely to fizzle out when you need it most.

Yet another OC choice is the nozzle spray pattern.  Most produce a fairly wide cone-shaped spray, like hair spray.  Some are foggers, which make even wider dispersion of the material - that might be less appropriate for use in a building.  Other options are a stream (which must be aimed more carefully than a spray, but doesn't contaminate the surrounding area as much) and foam (which sticks to the person it is sprayed on, and also minimizes contamination of the surroundings).

Be wary of products that mix OC with some other defensive chemical; those may cause eye damage.

Buy pepper spray at police supply stores, gun shops, and stores that specialize in safety products.  There are also a great many Internet sources. Cost is around $20, low enough to consider getting two or more, one to have in your coat pocket or purse, another to keep at home. 

Some of the major brands are American Defense, BodyGuard, Cap Stun, Fox, Guardian, Punch, Sabre Defense, Def-Tec, Pepper Gard.

Local laws vary, so ask a reliable source what laws you must obey.  For example, Massachusetts used to require a license, but as of January 2015, a license is no longer needed. Some states impose limits on the OC concentration, or age minimums on purchase.

Now that you have it, check out our blog on how to use it.

Comments

  • Chris Sunday, 19 May 2013

    I found your post online and found it interesting and thought maybe some of your readers might could view my blog and give me some topic ideas for me to research and write about. Feel free to visit, I'm sure some of my readers would find your post helpful also. Thanks, Chris

  • Brent Sunday, 23 June 2013

    Excellent article! Pepper Spray or OC Spray is an excellent option that can provide a significant advantage in a less than lethal encounter. While I have a ccw permit, I never leave home without my 2 ounce Fox Labs cone/fog pepper spray and the Persuader mini baton. I also like Counter Assault and Sabre Red DPS Cone. However, I believe the Fox 5.3 is the best because it uses a low % of oil (so the spray atomizes much better than a 10% aerosol), high SHU rating, and effective carrier that breaks the OC down into the smallest particulate matter. Fox Labs 5.3 remains one of the fastest acting and most intense sprays I have used. Also, solid advice on size selection. The 2 ounce and larger canisters provide a much larger pattern, output and offer significant advantages over the key chain units. Thank you for posting and stay safe!

  • Roger Tuesday, 25 June 2013

    Brent, thanks for the kind words. You're spot-on with your thoughts and usage. One should always have layered defense options so not everything gets treated as a "nail."
    Stay safe and pass on the word.
    Regards, Roger (AWARE instructor)

  • Belly Friday, 28 March 2014

    Fox labs 5.3 has a toxic carcinogenic carrier (TCE) in it. It's basically brake cleaner and it will hurt you when sprayed in your face. The capsaicinoid content is relatively poor making it a weak pepper spray especially compared to Sabre Red. Sabre Red is a much hotter (200,000 SHU yield versus fox 100,000 SHU yield) and much healthier spray. Not to mention it sprays very well and doesn't resort to playing with numbers, toxic components or nozzle size nonsense. Excellent when you have multiple attackers.

  • Brent Saturday, 29 March 2014

    Belly, this sounds like a manufacturer rep or add trying to promote Sabre Red. While I agree that Sabre Red like all legitimate OC aerosols are effective I want to touch on a few of your comments. Cancer causing? Let’s not forget that there are reports that claim Capsaicin is cancer causing. It’s junk science.

    1. When Fox Labs is used as directed it is safe. THIS IS A WEAPON USED IN DANGEROUS SITUATIONS! This product HAS TO WORK FAST! YOUT DON'T DRINK THIS STUFF OR SPRAY IT ON YOUR FOOD. You spray it directly in the face of an attacker. Everything is listed as carcinogenic today. Lead ammunition is also classified as a carcinogen. So am I going to quit going to the gun range? No! The carrier used in Fox Labs is what helps it work faster than other brands that use a water based solution with propylene glycol and ethanol. There are a couple of pepper spray reps that like to try to discredit or talk badly about Fox Labs with the hopes to increase sales of their product by saying it is carcinogenic. Gasoline, ammo, gun cleaner and several other products we use often are listed by the state of California as cancer causing. We can thank the great state of California for this. I have talked with the president at Fox and have found him to be very honest and helpful.

    2. A good OC spray only needs to have about 0.2% -0.7% Capsaicinoid content to be effective. In fact the Coast Guard and several branches of the US DOD use a spray rated at 0.18%. Fox Labs has about 0.7% and that is plenty. Many brands are using up to 15% oil in their formulas and this results in a thicker spray that does not atomize as well. Here is a quote from the NIJ on Pepper Sprays:

    "...percentages may be misleading, because it is the strength of the OC in the spray that determines its effectiveness, not its percent of volume. Moreover, strength is usually measured in Scoville Heat Units: the higher the SHU's, the greater the inflammatory capacity of the OC. Also, OC is an oil; to work, it must atomize into a fine spray. Because oily solutions do not break up as easily into a mist, solutions greater than 5 percent OC may not atomize as well."

    National Institute of Justice Technology Assessment Program

    3. A few years ago a popular defense spray company started a marketing campaign that all OC sprays should have 1.33 % Capsaicinoid content or they or otherwise inferior. Nothing can be further from the truth. In our LE OC training course I was sprayed with a product called First Defense with 0.18% Capsaicin content and only about 300,000 SHU. All 30 of us were in agony and were desperate to reach the decon station.

    If you go on Galls, Police link or YouTube you can see how effective Fox Labs is from the comments from officers who have used it on the street. I don't care what the lab numbers show I care about street reputation. When I have several people who have been sprayed with Fox and other brands tell me the Fox Labs hurt worse than the other brands you kind of take their word for it.

    To be clear, Sabre Red, Fox Labs, Defense Technology, Punch II, Cap Stun, Vexor and all of the brands used by LE are good decent OC sprays that will work on the street. I would trust what the instructors at AWARE have to say vs what a manufacturer rep says. Students should pick the brand that they feel will work best for them. All of the brands aware listed are SAFE and EFFECTIVE.

  • Ryan Sunday, 13 April 2014

    Does anyone have experience with, Defense Technology's oc/cs (gray band)? Their msds says it's 10%oc and 2%cs... The rep I talked to said it also contains 1.3% capsaicinoids! It sounds like Sabre Red but with added cs.

  • Belly Monday, 31 March 2014

    Most PDs and agencies use Sabre Red. That's a fact. They have plenty of business.

    What a bunch of hype. Fox does not work faster than Sabre Red. I've read Galls and lots of other sites as well as police and military sites. From what I can see and read, if anything the opposite is true. I've seen a video or 2 where fox took 10 seconds or more to take effect on youtube. That is way too long. And that was with a cone spray which gave next to know respiratory effect. And I've read reviews of Fox failures as well. Haven't read anything about Sabre red 1.33% failing.

    I remember an old thread where a few pepper sprays were compared in real time by instructors and police personnel. Not people talking nonsense online. Real people. Fox was one of the least impressive pepper sprays. And that was against the weaker version of sabre red. Here it is actually:

    http://forums.securityinfowatch.com/showthread.php?1115-O-C-Review

    The first defense you describe has a lot of complaints against it and is considered one of the weakest pepper sprays ever. You seems ill informed, no offense.

    MC is what matters as far as heat and pain goes. This is well accepted fact and doesn't need you to care about it to be a fact or not. The argument of SHU versus MC was lost a long time ago and the winner was science (and Sabre red). And for your info, sprays in the MC range you state have the most failure rates. You want your spray to be above .8% mc. I'll let you look up the reference.

    You think TCE (brake cleaner) is hype? Not everything is carcinogenic and even among things that are there are levels of risk. Do you remember the movie a civil action? That was about TCE. This stuff is associated with a 9 times increase of parkinson disease and lots of illness as well as cancer. Check out wikipedia and see below:

    http://www.laweekly.com/2012-02-23/news/pepper-spray-toxin-tce/

  • Brent Monday, 31 March 2014

    Our agency uses Sabre Red and has had failures with the 1.33 formula model # 52H2010. Nothing is 100% effective and I'll leave it at that it's not a panacea . I'm not going to get into a pepper spray caliber war but you keep promoting only one brand of OC and I can't help but think you are a Sabre employee, rep or instructor. Sabre Red is a decent spray and so is Fox. Even more agencies issue Defense Technology brand. As I said before, there are several quality brands that work and Fox is one of several very effective sprays. I'm not worried about the carrier used in Fox as it is safe when used as directed. I know Aware instructors have used Fox 5.3 with no injuries or issues. Same is true with other users. I'll stick with my Fox and you stick with Sabre :)

  • Brent Tuesday, 01 April 2014

    Also, Belly answer this question, If sprays with lower than 0.8% capsaicinoids are responsible for most failures, why is every new civilian model introduced by Sabre over the past 6 years formulated with 0.67% Capsaicinoids (Sabre red gel, blue face, spitfire, stop strap, du-athlete, campus safety pepper gel) in the Sabre red usa formula? Why does California DOC use Sabre 5.0 With 0.67%? So Sabre is knowing king selling inferior sprays to consumers? I don't think so. 0.67% is plenty hot enough.

  • belly Tuesday, 01 April 2014

    Well for one, because of NY laws. There likely wouldn't be a "legal in all 50 states" .67 MC version if NY didn't cap "caps" at .7 MC. They have to work within that law. The Sabre 5.0 is definitely weaker, and this may have its place depending on situation and context. They also make a .33 spray and I remember an even weaker one. On a different note, there used to be a commonly available sabre red 2% OC version as well (Fox would probably market it has having 5 million shu) but this was done away with when Michigan changed their laws and now only 10% OC is available.

    I can't believe that you seem to be arguing that .7 is as effective as 1.33 MC. It's not and you must know that. Hotter MC equals more effectiveness. Even at this moment far away places are updating their .18% spray with Sabres 1.33 MC and noticing a marked improvement in effectiveness in their trials. All things being equal, lower MC equals less inflammation and pain.

    There are other great sprays. UDAP and Cold steel for example also make excellent products.

  • Steve Tuesday, 12 August 2014

    Coming from someone who works in a jail, I can tell you sabre red works well and we don't use their 3 in 1 formula so I can only imagine what that can do. In the few years we have been using it I never saw anyone not comply after being sprayed. However I never used Fox so I cant anything about it.

  • Brent Tuesday, 12 August 2014

    Hi Steve, Sabre Red is a very effective OC spray. I particularly like their cone fog delivery. I have carried Sabre Red, Fox Labs and Def Tech. In my experience the formula wars between brands is simply marketing. Any of the brands mentioned by AWARE are a good choice. I do like Fox labs though because their LE units are available for purchased by consumers on their website. I would recommend sticking with a 2 ounce or larger canister that deploys a cone or fog delivery. I don't recommend the tiny key chain cans because they use cumbersome actuation procedures and they don't have enough contents for serious self defense use. I like the Persuader Mini Baton for key chain carry.

  • Ryan Monday, 15 September 2014

    I have tested both Fox Labs and Sabre Red DPS. Defense Technologies OC/CS Gray Band far exceeds both! It has the 2mill shu/10% oc yielding 1.3% mc, and 2% cs. It hurt so bad I couldn't even put water on my eyes. Very very nasty stuff. The fumes alone will irritate your eyes. Each brand mentioned has it's positives; like Sabre DPS can be fired in any direction 0.5 sec bursts. When in a fight you can't beat that. I've found that the Sabre Red Crossfire reacted much faster and harder than all of them! The Fox and Sabre DPS use 100 psi, but the Crossfire uses 140 psi with a 360 degree valve. It shoots the fastest I've ever seen. To top it off the Vexor full axis 1.45mc reacted even faster/harder than the Crossfire. It was instant hell! After all my testing, Sabre Red DPS was the best all around cone, and the Vexor 1.45mc full axis was the best stream.

  • CHUCK Sunday, 02 November 2014

    I like FOX 5.3 because it stops the attacker fast! Last Friday morning I was walking our dog early that morning before I went to work. I noticed out of the corner of my eye a man standing there with his hood up on his hoodie. I was not alarmed because though I noticed I did not think it had anything to do with me. As I got closer he threw back his hood and charged at me, so I pulled my 4oz can of FOX 5.3 and told him to back off or I will shoot you in the face! He did not take my advice but threw a kick at me, I quickly took a step back and he missed me which gave me a perfect shot to his face with the FOX 5.3. That "immediately" solved the problem. He shook his head back and forth while fleeing the scene. I called police because I knew the building he lived in. One of the arriving officers knew of him and told me that he was schizophrenic and they would go talk with him. I seen him this morning coming down the sidewalk and when he saw me he got off the sidewalk into the street and would not look at me. I did notice half his face was black and blue so he might of taken a fall while trying to get to his apartment. Oh well! THANK YOU FOX 5.3! :)

  • TonyDimattes Monday, 06 June 2016

    Great Post....

    We need real exclusive weapons that are of course non-lethal...

    Pepper spray is counted one of the best self defense tools, you posted this post in the year 2013, in last 3 years... lot of changes have been done to make the self defense tools better and impactful. I also recently bought one for my wife from http://www.guarddog-security.com/pepper-sprays stores.

    Via your post many people will get aware of the fact that pepper sprays can be used for self protection and there are lots of flavors available in it.

  • guxgun Friday, 09 September 2016

    Hi' i have read your article about pepper spary for self defence. is so interesting.thanks

  • John Friday, 27 January 2017

    Anyone try to use the A Purse Pepper Spray ? How it's work, good or not?

  • Ravel Tuesday, 07 February 2017

    And what about CR gas sprays? They're available in Europe. Some say it is stronger even than the OC.
    http://www.afg-defense.eu/defense-spray/defense-spray-cr-extrem-power-50-ml/

  • jess Thursday, 01 June 2017

    Arming yourself with non lethal self defense weapon like pepper spray is a good choice. I mean, the world is becoming crazier by the minute and the last thing you want is become a victim of an attack.
    Here is a good read:
    http://goodsoundz.com/arming-non-lethal-self-defense-weapons/

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