Best Pepper Spray: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Self-Defense Tool has been live since September 2011, we specialise in both expert prepper guides, and a daily curated feed of the best prepper content online.

In today’s world, personal safety is a top priority for many people. One popular and effective self-defense tool is pepper spray. With a wide range of products on the market, it can be challenging to determine which pepper spray is the best fit for you. In this article, we will discuss the top pepper spray options available and the factors to consider when choosing the right one for your personal safety needs.

Why Use Pepper Spray?

Using pepper spray can be an effective and affordable way to protect yourself when you are out and about without the need to carry or use a gun. It is considered one of the safest and most legally acceptable forms of self-defense and can quickly end a potentially dangerous situation with minimal harm.

Pepper spray can be a valuable less-lethal alternative for self-defense, even if you carry a firearm. In situations where you’re confronted by someone who is unarmed but poses a threat, using pepper spray can help you end the encounter without causing serious harm. Relying solely on a firearm in such situations could lead to severe legal and social consequences, such as lawsuits, negative publicity, social ostracism, or even incarceration, even if your actions were lawful and ethical.

In addition, pepper spray is a more versatile self-defense tool that can be carried and used in places where guns are prohibited. Its presence is generally more socially acceptable than that of firearms, as people are unlikely to become alarmed or call the authorities if they see someone carrying pepper spray in a public area or if a canister is visible in someone’s pocket.

Types of Pepper Spray

The most effective pepper sprays are those made with pure oleoresin capsicum (OC) and a high major capsaicinoid content percentage of up to 1.4%, with no chemical additives. It’s important to purchase a pepper spray with a publicly available major capsaicinoid content (MCC) and a published safety data sheet (SDS) or material safety data sheet (MSDS). Opt for a canister with a flip-top safety, such as the popular MK-6 model, which is appropriately sized and equipped with a dependable safety feature that won’t accidentally go off or fail in a crisis. You can also buy an inert canister for training purposes.

OC can also be effective in deterring animal attacks, although it is recommended to use a weaker formulation for dogs and special formulas for bears. UDAP bear spray is a popular choice for bear defense, as the company was founded by someone who survived a bear attack thanks to bear spray. Additionally, UDAP sprays come with a holster, which is essential in bear country as you want to have your spray readily accessible.

Our Top Picks

1. SABRE Red Pepper Gel

SABRE is a trusted name in the world of self-defense products, and their Red Pepper Gel is among the best pepper spray options on the market. The gel formulation reduces airborne particles, making it safer to use in confined spaces or windy conditions. It has an impressive range of up to 18 feet, giving you the ability to maintain distance from a potential attacker. This product also includes a UV marking dye for suspect identification, as well as a flip-top safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge.

Check out this product on Amazon

2. Mace Brand Triple Action Pepper Spray

Mace Brand is another reputable name in personal safety, and their Triple Action Pepper Spray offers a unique blend of protection. This product combines OC pepper, tear gas, and UV marking dye, providing multiple layers of defense. The compact canister contains enough spray for up to 20 bursts, and its range is approximately 12 feet. The flip-top safety cap and finger grip design make it easy to use and minimize the risk of self-contamination.

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3. Guard Dog Security Pepper Spray Keychain

Convenience and accessibility are essential when it comes to personal safety, and the Guard Dog Security Pepper Spray Keychain delivers on both fronts. The compact design attaches easily to your keychain, ensuring that it’s always within reach when you need it most. This pepper spray offers a range of up to 16 feet and contains enough for 25 bursts. It also features a twist-top safety mechanism to prevent accidental discharge and includes a built-in LED flashlight for added utility.

Check out this product on Amazon

4. POM Pepper Spray

POM is known for its innovative and user-friendly design, making it a top contender in the pepper spray market. The compact canister features a patented snap-ring for easy attachment to keychains, bags, or belts. POM’s unique flip-top safety mechanism is designed to minimize the risk of accidental discharge while still allowing for quick and easy use. With a range of 10 feet and up to 25 bursts, this pepper spray offers reliable protection in a sleek and stylish package.

Check out this product on Amazon

Other Choices

Although they are not among our top picks, if you are looking for more options when shopping for pepper spray for self-defense, the following models are worth considering: Fox Labs Flip Top, Fox Labs FX156 MGS Mean-Green, FREEZE + P NF, UDAP Mugger Fogger, and Vexor Self Defense Pepper Spray.

For bear or wildlife defense, the following pepper sprays are also worth considering: Bear Guard Alaska Bear Pepper Spray 9 oz, Counter Assault Bear Deterrent 10.2 oz, Frontiersman 7.9 oz with 30 ft range, Frontiersman 9 oz with 35 ft range, and UDAP 18HP Super Magnum Bear Spray 13.4 oz.

Factors to Consider When Choosing the Best Pepper Spray

  1. Range: Consider the distance the pepper spray can reach. A longer range allows you to maintain a safe distance from a potential attacker.
  2. Number of bursts: The more bursts a canister contains, the more opportunities you have to defend yourself in case of multiple threats or missed shots.
  3. Safety features: Look for products with safety mechanisms that minimize the risk of accidental discharge.
  4. Formulation: Gel-based sprays tend to have less risk of blowback and self-contamination compared to traditional aerosol sprays.
  5. Size and portability: Choose a pepper spray that is easy to carry and access, so it’s readily available when you need it most.


What is defensive spray made from?

Defensive sprays are often called by informal names, with “pepper spray” and “Mace” being the most common. It should be noted that Mace is a brand name that has become a common term for defensive sprays, similar to how Xerox is used to refer to copiers or Google to refer to internet search.

When it comes to defensive sprays, there are three chemicals that are commonly used. 

  1. The first one is Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), which is commonly known as pepper spray and is derived from chili peppers. This chemical causes a burning sensation in the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. 
  2. The second chemical is 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CS), which is a powder that is often referred to as “tear gas” and is used for riot control. Although it can cause similar effects to OC, such as eye irritation and vomiting, it works much more slowly. 
  3. The third chemical is Phenacyl chloride (CN), which is an older chemical that is used in defensive sprays and tear gas. However, it has become less popular due to being more dangerous than OC and CS and less effective against people with a high tolerance for pain.

Less-common chemicals such as chloropicrin (PS), bromobenzylcyanide (CA), and dibenzoxazepine (CR) are also used in some defensive sprays.

The main focus will be on the two most commonly used defensive sprays, which are OC and CS. Although both are usually combined to provide the best of both worlds, OC is the preferred option due to its effectiveness and availability. However, CS takes longer to take effect than OC and dilutes the effectiveness of the latter.

OC is measured in various ways, including Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which are used to measure the spiciness of foods and other substances. For instance, a cayenne pepper has up to 50,000 SHU, while a habanero can have up to 350,000 SHU, and a ghost pepper contains around 1,000,000 SHU. Pepper sprays intended for use against humans are much spicier than these peppers, ranging from 2 to 5 million SHU or even more.

Another way to measure OC is through total percentage, although a more effective way is to consider the percentage of Major Capsaicinoid Content (MCC). Pepper sprays designed for human use usually have a major capsaicinoid content ranging from 0.18% to 1.4%. While the total percentage indicates how much pepper is in the can, the capsaicinoid percentage indicates the hotness of the pepper. It is advisable to purchase the strongest strength available.

According to defense trainer Chuck Haggard, it is crucial to purchase pepper spray products from manufacturers who provide MSDS/SDS safety sheets on their website and to only select products with the MCC listed.

In addition to the chemical irritant, the additives in the spray are also important. A propellant is required for every defensive spray, and while most now use an inert gas, some still use butane, which is flammable. Some sprays also contain alcohol or other flammable solvents.

Pepper sprays usually have either oil or water as a base. Since capsaicin is an oil, it serves as a more effective carrier. There is no risk of the capsaicin separating from an oil base, and as oil spreads, it effectively delivers the capsaicin, lasts longer, and is harder to wash off. However, oil can also be flammable.

It is advisable to opt for a non-flammable spray to prevent accidental fires, especially if the spray comes into contact with a stun gun or TASER.

Certain sprays contain bright chemical dyes that can mark an attacker, while others include UV dyes that remain invisible until exposed to ultraviolet light. However, the use of these dyes may be restricted by law in your area. If you choose to use a colored dye, it is best to avoid red, as it can be mistaken for blood and cause an unnecessary escalation of the situation.

What are the ways pepper spray can be delivered?

In addition to the chemical composition, the spray pattern is another significant differentiating factor of defensive sprays, and each pattern has its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Aerosol sprays, also known as cone or fog sprays, create a cloud that disperses up to eight feet, making it highly effective as it can be inhaled, used against multiple targets, and sprayed to create a defensive barrier. However, there is a risk of blowback in your direction or affecting innocent bystanders.
  • Stream sprays shoot a concentrated stream up to 20 feet away, making them ideal for long-range attacks. They have a lower risk of contamination or blowback, but in confined spaces, there is a possibility of the spray splashing back on the user. Since streams require more accuracy, they may not be as effective if the user is panicking.
  • Foam sprays are designed for close distances of up to eight feet. They have a lower chance of contamination, as they cover the attacker, causing severe pain with minimal respiratory effects.
  • Gel sprays are a newer delivery method that reduces the risk of contamination and blowback, as the gel sticks to the attacker. However, gels can travel up to 25 feet and take up to two minutes to take effect.

Choosing the best spray pattern for you is a personal decision, and experts suggest experimenting with inert practice canisters to find the most suitable option. While gels are less likely to contaminate and stick to an attacker, they are often considered less effective due to their slower acting time. Streamers are often recommended by experts for their long-range effectiveness and reduced risk of contamination when compared to aerosol sprays. Some questionable reports suggest that attackers have scraped off gels and foams and thrown them back, so it’s important to consider the environment where the spray will be used. For example, gels may be more appropriate for confined spaces such as hospitals.

Although some defensive sprays advertise maximum distances, their effectiveness decreases at greater distances. To achieve optimal results, it is recommended to use them within a range of 5-8 feet, specifically for humans. However, when it comes to bears, the recommended distance may be different. Another delivery method for pepper spray is through the use of pepper balls, which are propelled by a gun or another type of projectile device. Although they have their benefits, such as greater accuracy and range, they are more expensive and can be confused for firearms, making them less practical for most people.

How long does pepper spray last?

OC spray can cause disorientation, nausea, and panic, which can be dangerous if someone is operating a vehicle or machinery when they are sprayed. It can also trigger asthma attacks or other respiratory conditions in individuals who are particularly sensitive. While these effects are generally temporary and should resolve within a few hours, in rare cases, individuals can have a more severe reaction or an allergic response.

It is important to note that while pepper spray is generally safe, it can still cause harm if not used properly. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and to practice using the spray before you need it in a real-life situation. Additionally, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and make sure there are no innocent bystanders in the area before using it.

If you do use pepper spray, it’s important to follow up with medical attention if necessary and to report the incident to the police.

Can I use bug spray instead?

It is never a good idea to use hornet spray as a substitute for pepper spray. Hornet spray is not designed to be used on humans and contains toxic chemicals that could cause serious harm or even death. Pepper spray, on the other hand, is specifically formulated for self-defense and is non-toxic. It is always best to use the appropriate tool for the job.

Does pepper spray expire?

Pepper spray does have an expiration date, as the propellants lose their effectiveness over time. It is important to replace your canister before the expiration date and test the spray outdoors on a non-windy day a few times per year to ensure it is still effective. It is also recommended to shake the canister regularly to keep the contents mixed.

To ensure the effectiveness of your pepper spray, it is essential to store it at room temperature and avoid leaving it in a hot car where it may leak or explode. On the other hand, cold temperatures can also affect the spray’s ability to function properly. To prevent accidents, keep pepper spray out of reach of children and animals.

It is important to verify the laws of your state and local jurisdiction regarding OC, but it is legal in all 50 states of the US. Nevertheless, there are a few state restrictions worth noting. Vendors of pepper spray usually do not deliver to Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, or Washington DC due to legal limitations in these regions. Other limitations to be aware of include:

  • In California, defense spray containers must not exceed 2.5 ounces.
  • Michigan law restricts pepper spray from having more than 18% capsaicin content.
  • In New York, pepper spray is not allowed to have a capsaicin content of more than 0.67%.
  • In New Jersey, pepper spray is restricted to three-quarters of one ounce of active ingredient.
  • In Virginia, accidental or negligent discharges of noxious gasses can be charged as a felony.
  • In Wisconsin, pepper spray can have a maximum concentration of 10% and a maximum weight of 15-60 grams. Canisters must have a safety mechanism and cannot be disguised as other objects like lipstick or a pen. Additionally, formulations with CN and CS are prohibited.

In most states, pepper spray is restricted to those who are 18 years old or older. It is important to know and understand the laws in your area. A local gun store can be a helpful resource for information on self-defense laws and their enforcement.

Using pepper spray, even in self-defense, could result in legal action, whether civil or criminal. Before using any weapon, it is important to consider the potential consequences and determine if it is worth the risk. While the use of pepper spray can have consequences, they are generally less severe than those associated with a firearm.

How do I prevent accidental discharges?

Use a pepper spray canister that has safeties. 

When selecting a pepper spray canister, it is important to choose one with a safety mechanism and avoid storing it in hot cars. However, some safety mechanisms, such as flip-to-side, can be complicated and may be difficult to use under stress or can accidentally disengage in a pocket or purse. To address this issue, experts suggest using MK-6 dispensers, which come with a reliable and easy-to-use flip-top safety. While it is not necessary for your pepper spray canister to be an MK-6, it should feature a flip-top safety.

The POM pepper spray canisters are also highly recommended by many defense experts. These canisters are smaller compared to the MK-6 design but still have a flip-top safety feature.

What do I do if someone uses pepper spray on me?

To avoid spreading the pepper oils, refrain from touching your face except to remove contact lenses, which should be done immediately. Rubbing your eyes may cause corneal damage, so blink repeatedly and rinse your eyes and skin with water. Although some suggest using milk, milk of magnesia, or baby shampoo, water is just as effective. To prevent breathing difficulties, blow your nose frequently and remove any clothing or jewelry that might impede breathing. Applying oils, creams, or salves is not recommended, as they could trap the pepper.

It’s important to keep a calm demeanor and avoid panicking in the event of pepper spray exposure. Although the experience may be extremely painful, remember that it is temporary and there should not be any long-term effects.

Do I need to practice using pepper spray?

Yes, it is important to practice using pepper spray just as you would with a firearm or martial art. To do this, top manufacturers sell inert practice canisters that spray a non-irritating solution. Here are some tips for practicing with pepper spray:

  • Aim at the face, using a target dummy for practice
  • Use short, controlled bursts
  • Practice a defensive stance by backing up, bending your knees, and lowering your center of gravity
  • Consider taking a pepper spray class with a skilled instructor, which can be invaluable in learning proper technique and how to use it effectively in real-life situations

Can I use pepper spray on animals?

It is possible to use pepper spray on animals, but it is important to be aware of some considerations. Dogs, in particular, are highly sensitive to pepper spray. If you frequently encounter aggressive dogs, you may want to consider using a dog-specific pepper spray, which is formulated to be less potent than human pepper spray but still effective. Unlike human pepper spray, which is largely unregulated, dog pepper sprays are subject to regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, these sprays cannot contain more than 1% MCC.

Pepper spray can be effective in deterring bears, but it is important to use a specially formulated bear spray that has a farther range and a fog pattern. This is because a stream pattern will not be effective in deterring a bear.

Even if you are a hunter or someone who owns firearms, it is important to note that guns are not useful against bears in defense situations, as studies have shown. In fact, bear spray has been proven to be 92-98% effective in preventing bear attacks, making it a much better option for self-defense against these animals.

Choose a bear spray that has more than 7.9 ounces of spray and that can spray in a wide fog. The best gauge is up to 30 feet for seven seconds or more. When you go hiking, make sure that you keep the can readily available, and before using it, practice with an inert can. In the event that you encounter a bear, keep in mind that it moves faster than you. Therefore, use the spray quickly before it gets close to you. 

Take note that some national or state parks prohibit bear spray, so check the regulations before you bring your spray with you.

Can I use bear spray against people?

Bear spray is not as effective as pepper spray, so it probably will not work as well on a human attacker.


When it comes to personal safety, having the best pepper spray in your arsenal can provide added peace of mind. The top options discussed in this article offer a range of features, from compact and easy-to-carry designs to effective formulations and safety mechanisms. Consider your specific needs and preferences when choosing the right pepper spray for you, and remember to always prioritize your safety and well-being.