Pepper Spray

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Pepper spray is an effective yet harmless personal safety device. Here's how to find the best type for you.

One late evening in the usually quiet Fremont CA suburbs, Maria Esperanza Hernandez was walking to work with her teenage daughter who didn't want her to walk alone at night. They became uneasy and called a cousin by cellphone to ask for a ride. As she got near, she called to find their exact whereabouts, but heard only screams as a man clubbed them to death.

Pepper spray can't be guaranteed to prevent a crime – but will likely give you better survival odds - especially if it's used with a Personal Security Alarm (noisemaker or screamer) and the safety tips in Outdoor Safety Overview.

Always walk into a parking lot prepared for action. Hold your key-chain with spray and a noisemaker alarm raised and ready, in full view – as a deterrent for predators looking for easy prey. (See Survival Options - Kidnapping for dealing with a predator with a gun.)


Pepper (Oleoresin Capsicum – OC) spray takes 3-60 seconds to fully affect one's mucous membranes, though usually quickly. It causes choking and tearing for 30-45 minutes – and will probably allow your escape.

Sprays may be disguised as anything from ballpoint pens and pagers to jogger’s hand-weights, and come in various spray patterns:

Mist (also known as forced cone): good, but even a mild breeze can cause blow-back and contaminate you.

Fog: good against multiple attackers but a strong wind can cause blow-back on you.

Foam: even strong winds cause very little blow-back on you.

Stream (also known as broken stream): All around, this is probably the best pepper spray type. It's good against multiple attackers and not affected by breezes and winds as much as mist and fog sprays are.

Strengths range from 2-17 percent OC formula. But more important to potency are the Scoville Heat Units (SHUs) – the higher the better – up to 2 million units.

When walking through a parking lot, hold your spray raised and ready, in full view of any predator looking for easy prey. Also have a personal security alarm (noisemaker) ready to deter a predator. Keep a back-up foam spray in easy reach in your car. Keep stream spray at home near your bed.

Dog Attack - spray (see above) provides safe, effective, and humane protection against canine attack. Ideal protection for walkers, joggers, cyclists or delivery people.

Bear Spray helps protect outdoor enthusiasts.

WARNING! Check with your local police before carrying any personal safety devices. Also check the laws where you plan to visit. Sprays are outlawed altogether in some areas while others allow anywhere from 2-17 percent OC strength. Also, airports, some public facilities and sports arenas prohibit all personal safety devices. Check before you go.


Deter a predator by holding your spray & noisemaker in plain sight while you remain obviously alert and aware of all your surroundings. That alone will likely deter predators because they prefer prey who're distracted and unaware of an approaching threat. BUT, if a threat is approaching you anyway:

1. yell, STOP! STAY AWAY FROM ME! If he keeps coming toward you;

2. activate your noisemaker. If that shrieking alarm doesn't deter the threat; then

3. use your spray. Try to keep some distance away from your attacker (to avoid getting the spray on you). Aim at his eyes with a short burst then move away. Watch him to see if you need to spray him again. After he’s incapacitated, run to a populated area and call the police.

Also see Security Products - Personal Devices.

Of course, NO security products are guaranteed to prevent any crime - but might serve you well if combined with the guidance in Home Security Overview and Outdoor Safety Overview.

Crime-Safety-Security > Security Products Overview > Pepper Spray

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