Top 5 Best Pepper Sprays for Self-Defense: Reviews and Tips for Use

best pepper sprayI’ve written in the past about my preference for carrying pepper spray because I like to be able to walk wherever I want, whenever I want. Pepper spray is cheap, discreet, and easy to carry. It won’t cause long-term damage to the other person, and using it doesn’t require me to make physical contact with a person who may attack me. It’s the perfect tool to carry every day if you’re lacking combat training—which, let’s be honest, is most of us.

I wanted to learn more about the thing I’m carrying in my purse every day, so like the good student I am, I compiled everything I know about pepper spray along with five recommendations for the best products out there.

Forms of pepper spray

First things first, there are a few different pepper spray styles. So what’s the difference and which one is right for you?

  • Traditional pepper spray comes in a liquid form and sprays in a stream, cone, or fogger style. A stream is ideal for stopping an individual assailant because it’s more precise, but it may take a little practice to get your aim right. Cone and fogger styles spray a wider area, so you’re more likely to affect your attacker (or attackers), but you also risk breathing it in—particularly if you’re spraying it indoors. With any kind of liquid pepper spray, you risk it getting caught in the wind and blowing away from your targets or even back on to you.
  • Pepper gel is a newer development ideal for most individual attacker situations. Because it’s heavier than liquid, it can travel farther, reducing your risk of physical contact with the assailant, and it is less likely to be blown away by the wind.
  • Pepper foam works with a precision similar to that of gel, but it usually has a shorter range. With a consistency similar to shaving cream, it shoots out in a gel-like stream and expands into a foam once it hits its target, quickly covering a large surface area. Like pepper gel, it’s good for indoor use because it doesn’t fill the room with pepper particles and can be cleaned up more easily, but you’ll have to get closer to your target in order to use it.
Our ranking#1#2#3#4#5
Product nameSABRE Red Pepper Gel SprayFox Labs Mean Green Pepper SprayMace Magnum 3 Pepper Gel SprayDefense Technology Red Band Pepper SprayUDAP Jogger Fogger
Product image
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Price$12.99$25.99$19.99$18.30$22.99
Type of sprayGel streamLiquid streamGel streamLiquid streamFogger stream
Bursts3532–3610–2012–148
Spray range12 feet15–18 feet18 feet10–12 feet10 feet
Shelf life4 years3 years4 years4 years3 years
Marking dyeUVGreenUVNoneNone
Our ranking #1
Product name
SABRE Red Pepper Gel Spray
Product image
View product
Price
$12.99
Type of spray
Gel stream
Bursts
35
Spray range
12 feet
Shelf life
4 years
Marking dye
UV
Our ranking #2
Product name
Fox Labs Mean Green Pepper Spray
Product image
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Price
$25.99
Type of spray
Liquid stream
Bursts
32–36
Spray range
15–18 feet
Shelf life
3 years
Marking dye
Green
Our ranking #3
Product name
Mace Magnum 3 Pepper Gel Spray
Product image
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Price
$19.99
Type of spray
Gel stream
Bursts
10–20
Spray range
18 feet
Shelf life
4 years
Marking dye
UV
Our ranking #4
Product name
Defense Technology Red Band Pepper Spray
Product image
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Price
$18.30
Type of spray
Liquid stream
Bursts
12–14
Spray range
10–12 feet
Shelf life
4 years
Marking dye
None
Our ranking #5
Product name
UDAP Jogger Fogger
Product image
View product
Price
$22.99
Type of spray
Fogger stream
Bursts
8
Spray range
10 feet
Shelf life
3 years
Marking dye
None

1. SABRE Red Pepper Gel Spray

SABRE RED Pepper Gel Spray - Police Strength - Runner with Adjustable Hand Strap (Max Protection - 35 bursts, up to 5x's More)SABRE is a trusted and highly rated brand in the self-defense and law enforcement communities. This particular pepper gel is compact for easy and discreet carry with an adjustable Velcro strap so it can be attached to your hand, ankle, bag, or tank top while you’re on the go. The gel formula is more accurate than a liquid spray, has a longer range, and is ideal for outdoor runners because it won’t blow back on you in the wind. SABRE products tend to have more bursts in them (35, compared to the usual 8–20) and contain a UV dye to mark an assailant for easier identification later.

This is an Amazon favorite, with 4.5 out of 5 stars, over 1,800 reviews, and many users mentioning successful deployment against a human or dog attacker.

Pricing and tech specs

  • Price: $12.99
  • Major capsaicinoids: 1.33%
  • Bursts: 35
  • Spray range: 12 feet
  • Shelf life: 4 years
  • Volume: 1.8 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4 inches high x 0.75 inch wide

Pros

  • Gel spray for greater efficacy in windy conditions
  • Adjustable strap for wrist, ankle, tank top, etc.
  • UV marking dye for easier suspect identification
  • 4-year shelf life

Cons

  • Gel formula that is not as easily inhaled, so the victim’s breathing is less likely to be impaired

2. Fox Labs Mean Green H2OC Pepper Spray

Fox Labs Mean-Green 1.5 Ounce (42 Grams) 6% H2OC Stream Pepper SprayFor its Mean Green line, Fox Labs uses a unique water-based “H2OC” formula that allows for the addition of a green dye that will mark assailants for identification later. A lot of products have just UV dye on them, but I like the green dye because it makes it harder for perpetrators to hide. Fox Labs also claims that its products release a greater volume of spray per burst, increasing your chances of hitting your target where it counts. With a liquid stream formula, you do have some risk of blowback from the wind, but not as much as you would with a fogger-style substance release.

My one complaint is that Fox Labs products are some of the more expensive out there. The formula’s high level of purity makes it plenty effective, but be aware this particular product doesn’t come with any kind of carrying keychain, holster, strap, or clip. If you want these features, you’ll have to buy them separately, which makes the Mean Green even more expensive in the long run.

Pricing and tech specs

  • Price: $25.99
  • Oleoresin capsicum: 6%
  • Bursts: 32–36
  • Spray range: 15–18 feet
  • Shelf life: 3 years
  • Volume: 3 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4 inches high x 1.4 inches wide

Pros

  • Green dye for more visible marking
  • More liquid per burst

Cons

  • Higher price point
  • No carrying mechanism included

3. Mace Magnum 3 Pepper Gel Spray

Mace Brand Self Defense Police Strength Pepper Spray Magnum Pepper GelThis Mace brand pepper gel has up to an impressive 18-foot range, meaning you can spray your attacker well before they can anywhere near you and reducing your risk of getting hurt in the process. Like the similar SABRE gel, this formula includes UV marking dye for easier law enforcement identification. Instead of the Velcro band, the Mace comes with a sturdy plastic clip so the spray can be attached to a belt, pocket, or purse and you can always find it when you need it. Despite its longer spray range, a handful of customers have complained that their canister was leaking when it arrived. They were either refunded or sent a replacement, but it’s still frustrating.

Pricing and tech specs

  • Price: $19.99
  • Major capsaicinoids: 1.4%
  • Bursts: 10–20
  • Spray range: 18 feet
  • Shelf life: 4 years
  • Volume: 1.59 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.25 inches high x 1.5 inches wide

Pros

  • 18-foot spray range
  • Gel spray for greater effectiveness in windy conditions
  • Belt clip for easy carry

Cons

  • Gel formula that is not as easily inhaled, so the victim’s breathing is less likely to be impaired
  • Some complaints of leaky cans upon delivery

4. Defense Technology Red Band Pepper Spray

Defense Technologies First Defense OC Stream MK-4 1.3% Solution Red Band Pepper Spray (3.0-Ounce)Like the Mace product, this Defense Technology brand pepper spray comes with a clip so it’s easier to find in your purse or in your pocket. It delivers a liquid stream, does not have UV marking dye, and has only enough for 12–14 bursts. Hopefully you won’t need to use it more than once or twice in its four-year shelf life, but be aware that you’ll get a little less out of it than most brands.

Pricing and tech specs

  • Price: $18.30
  • Major capsaicinoids: 1.33%
  • Bursts: 12–14
  • Spray range: 10–12 feet
  • Shelf life: 4 years
  • Volume: 1.9 ounces
  • Dimensions: 4.5 inches high x 1.5 inches wide

Pros

  • Clip for easy carry
  • Liquid stream spray pattern for greater accuracy

Cons

  • Fewer bursts per unit
  • No marking dye

5. UDAP Jogger Fogger

UDAP 3pwh 2oz. 55g Jogger Fogger W/UDAP is well known for its bear spray, but it makes a pretty mean human pepper spray as well. At 1.34% MC, this is the strongest pepper spray on the list, if only by a hair. The fogger spray pattern is unique from the other recommended products, which is good for affecting a larger number of people, but you also risk spraying yourself in the process. It’s also only good for about eight bursts, which leaves only five or six if you want to try a couple test shots—in the event of a single attack, you may want all of those, if not more. If strength is your top priority, this is your pepper spray, but you can get more use out of one of the lower-priced items listed above.

Pricing and tech specs

  • Price: $22.99
  • Major capsaicinoids: 1.34%
  • Bursts: 8
  • Spray range: 10 feet
  • Shelf life: 3 years
  • Volume: 1.9 ounces
  • Dimensions: 5 inches high x 1.5 inches wide

Pros

  • Highest pepper heat with 1.34% MC
  • Wrist band to keep it attached to your body while exercising

Cons

  • Few bursts per unit
  • No marking dye
  • Fogger spray pattern that may affect you as well as attackers
  • Highest price of any product on our list

How pepper spray works

pepper sprayHave you ever accidentally touched your eye after chopping chili peppers? Now imagine the same burning juice being sprayed directly into your eyes.

The active ingredient in pepper spray—capsaicin—comes from the same chili peppers that you eat. To make the spray, capsaicin is extracted from the peppers in a form called oleoresin capsicum (OC), combined with an emulsifier, and pressurized in a container to make it an aerosol you can spray.

When sprayed in a person’s face, the capsaicin causes inflammation and capillary expansion in their eyes, nose, throat and lungs. This produces a burning sensation, coughing, difficulty breathing, teary eyes, and temporary semi-blindness. Pepper spray is considered nonlethal but is designed to seriously impair a person for a period of time, making it nearly impossible for them to continue their attack. In some cases, and especially when exposed to a high dosage or large quantity of pepper spray, a person may also experience nausea, fear, and disorientation.

Aerosol products lose pressure over time, so that can of pepper spray that’s been rattling around in the bottom of your purse for the last five years might not be effective in your time of need. There should be a manufacture date printed on your canister—if not, ask for a refund or replacement. Most pepper sprays lose pressure two to four years after their manufacture date, so you’ll want to replace it every couple of years, even if you’ve never used it.

How pepper spray heat is measured

You’ll see manufacturers advertising pepper spray heat in a few different ways: by Scoville heat units (SHU), by oleoresin capsicum (OC) percentage, or by major capsaicinoids (MC) percentage.

The Scoville scale is somewhat antiquated now, devised in the early 20th century as method for measuring heat in the chili peppers we eat. The scale ranges from zero to 16,000,000,000 SHU, with pepper sprays hovering between 2,000,000 and 5,300,000. Because it depends on subjective human palates, the Scoville scale is considered less accurate than other methods. Some companies still use SHUs to advertise their pepper sprays, so it’s worth knowing what it means, even if it’s not an accurate indicator of strength.

You’ll also see OC percentages on pepper sprays, which indicates only the percentage of oleoresin capsicum in the formula, not the pungency of the OC. It’s also not considered the most accurate indicator of effectiveness of the spray.

The best indicator of pepper spray pungency is a percentage of major capsaicinoids (MC), sometimes referred to as capsaicin related capsaicinoids (CRC). OC is made of several types of capsaicinoids, but capsaicin is the most pungent. By measuring what percentage of the total capsaicinoid is capsaicin, you get a more accurate read on how hot one pepper spray is compared to another.

How to use pepper spray

Effectively using pepper spray for self-defense doesn’t require any rigorous training, but you’ll want to take a little time to watch some technique videos and practice the motions you’ll need to spray effectively. This video below offers some helpful tips:

  • Familiarize yourself with the feeling of the spray in your hand. Be careful to keep the safety intact and the nozzle pointed away from you (and anyone else).
  • Grip the canister with all four fingers wrapped around the front with your thumb on top to release the spray, rather than holding it like a spray paint can with your index finger on the spray button. This thumb-release hand position ensures the strongest grip, lessening the chance that it’ll be knocked out of your hand.
  • Practice presenting the pepper spray with confidence and authority. Keep your opposite arm outstretched to help stop the assailant if they keep moving forward. Remember, pepper spray affects breathing and vision, not mobility, so a person could keep running at you for several seconds after being sprayed.
  • If your arm isn’t enough to stop them, step to the side rather than backwards.
  • Know the most effective spray pattern for your type of pepper spray and practice that arm motion.
    • Cone or fogger: up/down across the center of the face
    • Gel or stream: across the eyes, from ear to ear
    • Foam: circular motion, toward the center of the face

Again, while you’re practicing with your pepper spray, be sure to keep the safety mechanism on and the nozzle pointed away from any person’s face.

Safety

self defense pepper sprayUnless you’re actively using your pepper spray to hold off an assailant, you’ll want to keep the safety mechanism on at all times. This usually comes in the form of a flip top or a piece of plastic over the press-top “trigger” that can be clicked in and out of place using your thumb. With a quality brand pepper spray, that safety shouldn’t move even if the canister is jumbled around in your bag, but any time you’re handling it, you should always make sure it’s in the safety position. It’s also a good rule of thumb to avoid pointing the spray nozzle toward your own or anyone else’s eyes (unless they’re attacking you), just in case.

Pepper spray should not be stored in environments below 32° F or above 120° F. It may seem logical to keep a can of pepper spray in the car at all times, but cars can reach extreme temperatures on particularly cold or hot days which may cause the aerosol can to depressurize or explode. Keep your spray in your purse, on your keys, or in your pocket.

Health effects of pepper spray

Although pepper spray is considered nonlethal, it can have some lasting health effects, especially with repeated exposure. Regardless of whether you ever have to use your spray in self-defense, you should be informed of the full potential of your device.

Research indicates that pepper spray can have more negative respiratory effects on those with asthma and other respiratory conditions. Repeated exposure to pepper spray can have long-term effects on vision, including permanent damage to the cornea.

Again, most individual citizens who carry pepper spray for self-defense will never or only rarely have to use it, but it’s important to see the complete picture of the product you’re carrying.

What to do if you’re sprayed with pepper spray

If you accidentally discharge your pepper spray and it gets on you or someone else, you’ll want to avoid rubbing it into your skin (so try not to rub your eyes) because doing so will prolong the burning effects. Washing the affected area with water won’t work, since capsaicin is not water soluble (just like drinking water doesn’t alleviate the burn when you eat spicy foods). Instead, if it gets in your eyes, blink rapidly to generate tears, which will help flush the chemicals out of your eyes. In addition to decontamination wipes, baby shampoo is a favorite for pepper spray removal among emergency personnel because it will help wash away the spray without further irritating the eyes or skin. You’ll probably still feel a burning sensation in your respiratory system for a while, but you should recover your vision within 7 to 15 minutes.

Is pepper spray legal in the United States?

Yes, for the most part. Pepper spray is legal to purchase and carry for individuals 18 and older in all 50 states, but many states have local conditions and restrictions on the quantity of pepper spray that an individual can carry, where it can be carried, and where it can be purchased. Pepper Spray Store provides an overview of state pepper spray laws, but if you’re planning on carrying pepper spray, be sure to familiarize yourself with the most up-to-date information on your local state, county, or city laws.

If you live in a state with restrictions on purchasing self-defense items online, you may need to go to a physical store to purchase pepper spray. Many sporting goods, firearm, military supply, hardware, drug, and discount department stores carry it.

Remember, pepper spray is meant to be used for self-defense only, so you should never use it unless you feel threatened.

Can I bring pepper spray on an airplane?

self defense without a gunFor flights within the United States, the TSA prohibits pepper spray in carry-on bags, but it allows it to be transported in checked bags. If you plan on taking pepper spray with you when you travel by plane, you’ll want to make sure it’s no more than four fluid ounces (118 ml) and has a safety mechanism to keep it from accidentally discharging in your carry-on bag (all the sprays on this list do). It would also be a good idea to let the agent checking your bag know that you’re stowing it, just in case there’s a problem later. Most pepper sprays are under $30, so if it is confiscated, it shouldn’t be too much of a burden to purchase a new canister once you arrive at your new destination.

For international flights, you’ll want to check with your destination country’s customs or security office for its policy on pepper spray.

Pepper spray lets you go wherever, whenever

There are so many reasons pepper spray is the ideal mechanism for self-defense for many people, including me:

  • It’s fairly inexpensive.
  • It’s non-lethal.
  • It requires no physical contact.
  • It’s easily transportable.

Whether you’re walking across a deserted campus in the early morning or you’re working the late shift at a rowdy bar, you can go about your business a little easier knowing you have a small but mighty tool to take down anyone who may threaten you.

Have you used any of these pepper spray brands? Which is your favorite?