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
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)
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
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.