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By January 2, 2014 Read More →

Does Bear Spray or Wasp Spay work for Self-Defense?

Self defense sprays

There are positives and negatives to all tools of self-defense, if there was the perfect self-defense tool available where all you had to do was push a button and the attacker would vanish into thin air and materialize inside a jail cell,  it STILL would not do you any good if an attacker has snuck up on you and the button is tangled up in a mass of objects in the bottom of your purse or lost in a coat pocket.

Therefore, I submit to you that the absolute best form of self-defense is a constant awareness of one’s surroundings combined with intelligent thought and decisive action. No matter what weapon you have if it’s not readily available, and you’re not aware of your surroundings, you will have neither the time nor the ability to defend yourself effectively.

Make no mistake – pepper spray is a weapon. If you don’t believe that, you most likely have never been sprayed with it. While pepper spray is not an absolute alternative to a gun, it is another available option to carry in addition to a firearm, in cases where firearms may not be permitted, and it may be an option for those who opt not to carry firearms. It certainly is better than nothing at all. Once the subject of defense spray is brought up, there are two common questions. “Can I use wasp spray?” And “Is bear spray better?” I am going to break these two subjects down below and answer each.

Using Wasp Spray for Self Defense

Raid vs pepper

I constantly receive email forwards from friends and family about using wasp spray for self-defense and have to admit for a period of time I just accepted the information at face value. I mean it made sense, it kills wasps at the drop of a hat and has a long range – who would want a face full of it? Then they’d have to see a doctor right? However as time went on and I sought out professional self-defense instruction, everyone I asked said the same thing – don’t use it. There are two very good reasons for not counting on wasp spray for self-defense.

Wasp Spray doesn’t work like pepper spray does.
Police departments worldwide use pepper spray (not wasp spray) because the inflammatory effects of ‘capsaicin’ (exact chemical that provides heat) affects those who cannot feel pain or are in state of mind that prevents them from reacting to pain (copious amounts of adrenaline and illegal drugs can prevent people from feeling pain).  The involuntarily inflammatory effects of pepper spray on the human body causes eyes to close, water profusely and produces a ‘loss of breath sensation’ which results in coughing and gaging. Pepper spray has statically been proven effective on deterring and incapacitating aggressive, combative, intoxicated individuals for over 20 years. (Source)

Alternatively someone in a condition where they aren’t feeling pain may be able to fight through the effects of wasp spray which is a neurotoxin and ranges from a minor to mild annoyance. Wasp spray is indeed toxic but vision loss does not occur instantly and usually results from a long exposure without treatment. While some people have had immediate adverse reactions to accidentally being exposed to wasp spray, most ERs report that patients are willing and able to transport themselves to receive medical care and only experience mild irritation. (Source)


Photo Credit: Kiro News 7 Seattle

Click here to read a recent news story about a couple who attempted to use wasp spray in self-defense during a home invasion.

Using Wasp Spray for anything other than its intended purpose is illegal.
Wasp spray is also not recommended for self-defense because it is illegal to use it in such a manner, leaving a person open to lawsuits not only from the attacker, but also from the  law enforcement involved if they too were exposed to the spray and required medical care as a result. While I do not think that such a lawsuit would be ‘right,’ it is none the less a possibility. That being said, in cases of self-defense I tend to side with this famous quote, “It’s better to be tried by 12 than carried by six.”

Now that we know there is no advantage in keeping wasp spray over pepper spray – if you are going to drop $5 on a can of wasp spray why not just drop $5 on a can of personal defense pepper spray? It’s far easier to conceal and if you spend just a little bit more money you can even get spray with a 25 ft range. The inexpensive canisters of pepper spray can be found at Walmart and other big box stores in most states. In some states it may have to be purchased from a gun a dealer (as they are usually licensed to sell it in those over regulated areas) – but the price is still negligible. The lesser expensive cans may not have the range or the potency of one of the nicer cans (like the the ones linked below) – but they will still work far better than wasp spray. 

To my knowledge pepper spray is legal in all 50 states (see source link below), however a number of cities and states do have restrictions on sizes, strengths, where one can purchase it and where one can carry personal defense spray. If you have a question, it is wise to contact your local police department for more information. Defense sprays should only be purchased by those 18 years of age or older. (Source)

Here is a video of a group of people being sprayed with wasp spray. Please note: while they are concerned they are not in any pain.


Here is a video of US Marines being sprayed with pepper spray. Please note: They are in a lot of pain and most are incapacitated as a result, which is why the training is required.


Using Bear Spray for Self Defense 


Photo by Stephanie Dayle (c) 2013

Another frequent internet suggestion is to use Bear Spray for self-defense. Bear spray (pepper spray designed and marketed to repel bears) runs about $35-40 for a small can and more for a larger can, making it more expensive than most personal defense pepper sprays. I carry it with me when I hike in bear country along with my side arm, but there is something about bear spray you may want to know before you think it’s the answer to your personal defense needs. While it may work to repel a human, bear spray is NOT always more potent than the human version of pepper spray. In alot cases they are the same, in some cases bear spray is actually less potent.

Bear spray is specifically developed and designed to repel bears, not people. I own several cans of it and take it with me when I hike in bear country, and as a result I have done more than a little research on it. One cannot make the leap to assume that because it will repel a bear then it will, therefore, do an even better job on humans.


Bear Spray Label
Photo by Stephanie Dayle (c) 2013

CRC ratings of bear spray. How potent is it?
To be approved by the EPA and thereby allowed for use National Parks as a humane bear repellant, the spray has to have a  ‘Capsaicin and Related Capsaicinoids’ (CRC – shown to the left) percentage between 1%-2%. This CRC rating is a measurement of the strength of the deterrent and is listed on most human pepper spray canisters as well.  A CRC rating of 1%-2% is a common rating even for pepper sprays designed for people. Since CRC ratings are governed by the EPA they tend to be accurate.

What about the OC percentage?
A CRC rating is different from an ‘Oleoresin Capsaicin’ (OC – shown below in the red square) percentage. While this will often be listed on the packaging of pepper spray as a form of marketing is it not an a accurate gauge of a spray’s potency (how hot it is).  These percentages simply tell you the amount of OC proportional to the volume of the canister, and if the OC (pepper oil) is of poor quality even a high percentage of it would only have a minimal effect. (Source)

spray can copy

Personal Defense Spray Label
Photo by Stephanie Dayle (c) 2013

Scoville Heat Unit ratings of bear spray. How hot is it??
Another way to gauge the potency of a pepper spray is to examine the ‘Scoville Heat Units’ (SHU – shown to the right in the blue circle) rating. The SHU measures the amount of capsaicin  which is the exact chemical that provides heat. Most personal defense pepper sprays boast a SHU rating of 2-5 million. The highest SHU rating I have seen on bear spay (and there are currently only 4 approved brands of bear spray on the market) is 3 million which is higher than some of the cheapo brands of human spray but really not by much and it certainly is not the hottest spray available. (Source), (Source)

bear spray

Fogger style spray pattern.
Image credit:

Spray patterns. Are you spraying an animal with fur, or a person?
Bear spray disperses in a ‘fogger’ pattern which works great for a big bodied bear who will catch the pepper spray in its coat, but it may not be so ideal in a human to human confrontation where aim is really important and other factors are in play. Fogger pattern sprays are also more susceptible to wind blow-back.

For bears, a fogger pattern is ideal, as the bear moves more pepper spray will be released from it’s thick coat – further irritating the animal and reinforcing it’s “negative experience” with humans as it retreats encouraging the bear to avoid people in the future. For humans, many defense experts recommend ‘stream’ or ‘broken stream’ sprays for personal self-defense as they give you greater distance and better aim. They are also the least affected by wind or rain.

What spray should I get then?

Plain and simple, if you are going to purchase a spray to defend yourself against humans – purchase the best pepper spray you can afford meant for HUMANS, not bugs, not bears – people. Ignore the OC percentage, read the labels carefully and purchase the pepper spray with the highest CRC rating AND the highest SHU rating you can afford with a range that suits your situation.

Fox Labs makes one of the best selling and most well rated sprays on the market. To read the details and reviews on it click here.

Sabre makes one of the highest rated home defense foggers on the market, if rain and wind is not a concern (which they usually aren’t inside a home). While a little more on the spendy side. It comes with a mounting bracket that you can mount on the wall like a fire extinguisher. Click here to read the details and review on it.  

home defense spray

So, the next time you see the “wasp spray” email come your way, do yourself and everyone else a favor and  hit the “delete button” and do not forward the dang thing.

Please note: There are many articles on the internet about pepper spray any similarities are merely coincidental. Nothing stated in this is article is opinion other than the assertion that counting on wasp spray to have any effect on an attacker at all could put your life in grave danger. The sources of information for this article are cited in blue and linked to their sources. 


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About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front and was featured in Marie Claire UK in the October 2012 issue that featured women preppers. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" released in August 2014 and available on "I write articles based on my own experience with emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle I do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts meshed with personal experience. My alter egos are as an full time mom, amateur photographer, and backpacker." Stephanie's past APN articles are featured below on several pages. To connect with her --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

21 Comments on "Does Bear Spray or Wasp Spay work for Self-Defense?"

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  1. Brian says:

    Pepper spray is not allowed in most classrooms but wasp spray is. It may not be the greatest but any weapon is better than none.

    • Not only is wasp spray nearly completely ineffective you would run the risk of poisoning the ALL the children in the room. You would literally have a better chance at hitting an intruder in the face with an eraser and blinding him with chalk dust than wasp spray having any life saving effect – and you’d be lucky if the intruder didn’t then turn around and start hurting people in return for the dose of spray.

      If you made it out alive after you tried the wasp spray you could then look forward to being sued by the intruder, and the families of any kids that needed medical treatment as a result of the wasp spray. That is horrible advice.

  2. David says:

    Why do people defend wasp spray? there is zero proof that it will have any effect on human beings. meanwhile police officers around the globe carry pepper spray and not a single police officer carries wasp spray. Wasp spray is NOT a good option, period!

    • David it has something to do with an email that started circulating in late 2006. It was one of those ones that is a myth but sounds very legit – and urges people to keep forwarding the dang thing. It’s been snoped, it’s been busted over and over and I still hear people recommending it. The benefits claimed by the email are that wasp spray is cheaper (it’s actual about the same cost wise) and that it shoots further than pepper spray (you can easily find pepper spray that shoots 8-25 ft). Most recorded cases of people having adverse reactions to wasp spray were due to pre-existing medical conditions like asthma or an allergy to a specific ingredient of the spray.

      I understand that wasp spray may be legal where pepper spray is not but is it still ILLEGAL to use it in such a manner so they are breaking the law either way.

      I have no idea why people continue to defend this myth and cannot agree with you more.

  3. Ken says:

    The answer to “why people continue to defend this myth” is simple. You can find wasp/bug spray in more homes, schools, and businesses, than pepper spray. In a dire emergency, where every second counts, taking the risk with a can of bug spray, or hair spray, or any foreign spray that may pose a health hazard to an assailant is better than “boy, I sure wish I had some pepper spray right now”.

    While I am not promoting it over pepper spray, in a life or death situation, if the wasp spray is closer or just plain more accessible, I gotta go with what I can get my hands on. As for using an eraser with chalk dust that is great in a classroom that still uses chalkboards (I have four kids, no chalkboards in any of their classrooms). That also works if you actually hit the assailant. Have you thrown an eraser lately? Not the most accurate of weapons. As for cost, you recommend two products at the end of your article, that both have very good range, but are not $5 – 6, like wasp spray. Again, I am not promoting it, but you can’t ask “if you are going to drop $5 on a can of wasp spray why not just drop $5 on a can of personal defense pepper spray?” when the clear answer is, for $5 in wasp spray, I get a few seconds and a few feet to make a getaway or a stand. If the average person cannot afford $22 for a decent can of pepper spray (by decent, I mean up to 20 feet stream length) they are going to take their chances with 25 – 30 feet of $5 dollar wasp/bug spray. Effectiveness taken out of the equation, legality still stands, but most will agree with the quote you posted, “It’s better to be tried by 12 than carried by six.”
    To put it in perspective, look at super glue. Great invention, fixes a ton of things. Biggest pain about it, it bonds your skin instantly. However, I keep a tube in my prep bags, why? If I am out and sustain an injury severe enough to require medical attention, but cannot readily get it, I will use super glue. Is it recommended, no. Do they sell something similar, for actual medical use, yes. However, I can use superglue, for more than just a first aid situation, it is cheaper than the medical substitute and in a pinch or life threatening pinch, I will take the risk of the chemicals in my bloodstream over losing consciousness and possible life from blood loss.
    I think, in the end, any chance to survive will be taken. So while we prep, and buy the right things for SHTF, sometimes, you have to improvise. So suggest pepper spray as the best defense, but in a dire situation, use what you have. Because most teachers and business professionals in a situation where a gun or pepper spray could save lives, are not allowed to have them on the premises. And as I know from family and friends, none of them are willing to lose their jobs by bringing either to the job, even as an EDC item. I’d have to look into it, but I have not heard stories of people using wasp spray as a deterrent anyways.

    • Ken,

      Thanks for the comment – to clarify:

      I recommended two highly effective and highly rated products. MANY canisters of pepper spray (ALL of which will be more effective than wasp spray) are available for purchase in the $4-$10 price range which is more than comparable to the cost of wasp spray. One only needs to look at Walmart to find them, making that argument invalid. The cheap canisters may not have the range that wasp spray does but they are in fact just as affordable and a heck of alot more effective.

      As a matter of principle after going into detail on determining a spray’s effectiveness – I gave two examples of the market’s best. I am sure you understand – I couldn’t then direct folks to the lesser quality stuff.

      Erasers? No – that was sarcasm to illustrate that wasp spray was an equally bad idea. I am sorry so many people missed that.

      Nothing that I have presented in this article is opinion – everything I have stated is backed up by multiple sources if you choose not to believe it and reach for a can of wasp spray anyways that is your right.

      • Psalm91 says:

        I don’t think ken is suggesting that the availability of wasp spray (FOR PURCHASE) is more widely available than OC, I think what he’s saying is that, when you find yourself in a situation where wasp spray is available and OC is not, then use the wasp spray. Me personally, if I’m in the shed (where my wasp spray is at) and I feel threatened, I’m more likely to pick up my round point shovel than my wasp spray, but his point remains true: wasp spray is better than nothing if there is no other choice.

    • Brian says:

      Might as well use Hairspray or some other spray; any aerosol MAY be an eye irritant. Wasp Spray simply DOESN’T work — unless you’re being attacked by wasps.

  4. TexasScout says:

    You said it yourself, “the best weapon is the one you have in your hand”.

    If you can’t have mace/OC spray, you can’t have a gun or a knife in your class room, where does that leave you? Erasers? please….

    If you can’t have ANY Weapons, lethal or otherwise, I’ll take a can of Wasp Spray any day.

    So you can get sued huh? How many parents will thank you for stopping some thug with a gun or knife from maiming or worse there little child? I’ll take the jury.


    • How many parents would like to see you spend the rest of your life in jail for using wasp spray and turning a bad situation into a worse situation and getting their child killed? Erasers? No – that was sarcasm to illustrate that wasp spray was an equally bad idea. In the theoretical situation you have put forth – unless you could get all the students out of harms way in the 3 or 4 seconds it would take for an intruder to wipe the spray from his/her face, wasp spray will not help anything, and may make things much worse.

      If you are willing to take your chances with a jury on a can wasp spray then why not take your chances with the jury on having a forbidden can of pepper spray? At least pepper spray has a good chance at working. The problem I have with the situation and attitude you just put forth is that it seems that you think that it’s OK for teachers risk students lives on wasp spray but heaven forbid they risk their careers on having a forbidden can of pepper spray.

      Nothing that I have presented in this article is opinion – everything I have stated is backed up by multiple sources if you choose not to believe it and reach for a can of wasp spray anyways that is your right.

  5. Carl says:

    The countless laws and potential law suite that would stem from using hair spray, wasp spray or 409 was a method of self defense are obvious. BUT, it is our (husband / father) responsibility to protect our family and to teach our family how to defend themselves using any means necessary. IF we are cornered, however unlikely, we must use any weapon(s) we can acquire to defend ourselves.

    I keep 2 lighters an 2 cans of WD-40 in every single cabinet in my home because nothing says FU like a face full of flaming goo!

    Remember, in self defense all bets are off.

  6. Yep, total internet rumor / BS for the wasp spray idea….illegal, get sued, etc. Now, if you’re really crazy, I suppose you could light the stream with your Bic lighter….but that would get you into three times as much legal peril as the spray by itself. Then, you’ll have a flaming bad guy running around, bumping into things, the over-spray may be igniting your curtains or the grass…could still be a nice ‘one-two punch’…light him up then hose him down with your kitchen fire extinguisher. I would imagine he might be deterred at about that point, if not, whack him with it.

  7. Lazerus2000 says:

    I have lived in Jasper National Park and worked wayyyy up North for the BC Ministry of Forests. While in that job I took a mandatory BEAR AWARE course provided by the MOF. I have also been face to face with Grizzly and Black bears a few times

    This was a very good article in that right at the start it emphasised situational awareness over ANY weapon.
    However, one thing that was learned from real world after action reports of actual field work with pepper spray used on wilderness bears is that while, IF PROPERLY APPLIED, it may be quite effective in repelling bears THE FIRST TIME, IN A SIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE OF REPORTED INCIDENTS SOME BEARS CAME BACK AND THE PEPPER SPRAY WAS NOT AS EFFECTIVE FOR REPEAT ENCOUNTERS.

    The advice given was to spray and LEAVE.

  8. Frdmftr says:

    “Click here to read a recent news story about a couple who attempted to use wasp spray in self-defense during a home invasion.”

    Nothing in the linked article references anything about wasp spray.

  9. Lazerus2000 says:

    PS: In the course I took and also on the course my wife took with the BC WILDLIFE women’s only WILD weekend, which was located at Prince George, BC Canada ( where we do have a lot of bears), the term “PROPERLY APPLIED” was critical to the effective use of the bear spray. PRACTICE WITH THE SPRAY is a very good idea before telying on it in a real world bear encounter.

    Many bear encounters will start with a “FALSE CHARGE”, where the bear may come as close as 10′ and turn. Having a clear mind, and reading bear body language at a time like this may be critical
    … and I have to admit, even after a few such episodes I still wouldn’t say I am “clear minded” during such events. Fortunately for me I usually hike or bike with a big courageous dog, and so far the bear has turned away from the dog every time. But the last time I ran into a bear ( Big Black bear on a mountain bike trail) I was alone. And the bear spray was tucked away in my pack. Not immediately accessible.

    Since then the bear spray rides in a holster ducy taped to my handke bars. Haven’t used it on bears since then but can personally attest that it stopped a massive Rottweiller who came at my bicycle almost instantly.

    Like any weapon, practice is required, and carry optipns should be considered.

  10. KJQ says:

    You can’t rely on things like wasp spray, pepper spray, OC spray to disable an attacker. If you don’t believe me, watch what happened when a cop thought so, and lost his life because of that assumption:

    It might work to distract or slow down an attacker, but only long enough for you to take other action to disable the attacker, or possibly to flee.

  11. John R says:

    I have worked with pesticides all my life. Bugs with wings, including wasp, are very susceptible to any type of oil. It dissolves their wings, for a quick knock down, and then the outer shell of their body dissolves. Why do you think you always add a little cooking oil to your home made bug killers. A little oil in the eyes of a criminal is not going to slow him down. Get serious. Something with a little lead in it is the best defense for criminals.

  12. Psalm91 says:

    What about “Liquid Bullets” or mixed Tear Gas OC sprays. They may not be legal in all states, but in the states where they are they are a better option for personal defense as well as small riot control agents. I have been subjected to both pepper spray AND tear gas. I’d take pepper spray over Tear Gas in a heart beat, and the effects wear off a little cleaner, so if you accidentally get some on yourself, once it off gasses it’s gone. Look for a mixture for the best combination as some are immune to one or the other, but very few are immune to both.