Despite being somewhat ineffective, pepper spray is one of the most popular less-than-lethal safety tools out there. While it won’t save your life, it can create an opportunity to escape or even to prepare a stronger defense. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how to use it properly, and not understanding the correct way to use something is almost as bad as not having it in the first place. Just like with a firearm, knife, or other self-defense tool, you need to know how to use pepper spray the right way if you want any chance to escape from an attacker.
What Is Pepper Spray?
When people talk about pepper spray, what they’re actually referring to is oleoresin capsicum spray, or OC spray. OC is the component in certain peppers that makes them hot or spicy, and it’s this active ingredient that gives pepper spray its trademark burning effect. But not all pepper sprays are the same, and there’s more behind their intensity than simply the amount of oleoresin capsicum found in them. There are different kinds of pepper spray (pepper foam, gel, spray, and stream), although none are really recommended as lifesaving defense weapons. If you do decide to carry some form of pepper spray, you’ll need to research the brand and specific spray you’re considering for the best understanding of its strength.
Pepper Gel Spray
A newer tool on the self-defense market is pepper gel spray. Pepper gel uses the same ingredients as normal pepper sprays, but in a sticky gel formula instead of a liquid stream or spray (imagine if syrup were in a spray can). Pepper gel has a few benefits over a spray—it sticks better to your target and is less likely to be affected by wind—but ultimately requires an even closer range than pepper spray. Pepper gel spray and standard pepper spray have similar canisters, so they’re used in almost the same way.
Smart Pepper Spray
A recent innovation in the OC spray world is the smart pepper spray. This is just regular pepper spray in a Bluetooth® canister that can connect to your smartphone with an app. Specific features depend on the brand, but most allow for location sharing and notifications to emergency contacts when you’ve used the spray. Some even have the capability to initiate emergency phone calls.
How To Use Pepper Spray In 5 Steps
Step 1: Grip
Unfortunately, many people hold their pepper spray the wrong way. You should NOT hold it like you would a can of spray paint or hairspray, with your pointer finger on the actuator (spray button or trigger). The correctway to hold pepper spray is to hold it upright in the palm of your dominant hand and form a firm fist around it, with your thumb pressing the actuator when using the spray. Having a strong grip like this makes it harder for an attacker to grab or knock the spray canister out of your hand. It also helps you maintain accuracy while spraying during high-stress situations like self-defense.
Depending on your exact pepper spray canister, you may have to “unlock” the actuator before you can spray. Many popular pepper sprays from brands like SABRE® and DPS use “twist tops,” which require you to turn the actuator before being able to press it down and spray. Brands like MACE® and Fox Labs almost exclusively use “flip tops” on their pepper spray products, which require you to lift a cap to access the actuator before pressing it down to spray. If you grip your pepper spray correctly, both models should be relatively easy to make ready for self-defense. However, flip-top canisters are better if you carry pepper spray in your bag or pocket, as it’s harder for accidental discharges to occur.
Step 2: Aim
Obviously, you want to position the canister so that you spray your attacker and not yourself. But you’d be surprised how often people accidentally spray themselves! Make sure you’re aware of where the nozzle is on your pepper spray so you can always aim it in the right direction.
Secondly, you want to aim for your attacker’s face, if possible. Coming in any sort of contact with pepper spray will still leave them with a burning irritation, but if you want to delay their attack and create an opportunity to escape or ready a real defense, you should aim for the face. Otherwise, all you’ve done is make them angry.
Step 3: Warn
One of the most important elements of a lawful self-defense is a verbal warning, IF SAFELY POSSIBLE. Telling an attacker that you will use pepper spray to defend yourself if they continue has a few benefits; it:
- lets the attacker know you’re not that easy of a target;
- alerts anyone nearby of the situation (potentially getting their help); and
- shows authorities you tried to avoid an altercation, but the attacker didn’t care.
Of course, every self-defense situation is unique. So, you should give a warning only if you can do so safely, and only after you’ve prepared to defend yourself. You should also note, warning an attacker that you’ll use pepper spray on them is not likely to stop them the same way warning them about using a firearm would.