Your top 10 questions about pepper spray answered

Pepper spray is a very powerful self-defence tool. It’s versatile, easy to use, and non-lethal. It can be useful for home, business, or personal defence and is 100% legal to buy, carry, and use (if directed against a genuine threat).

In this post, we answer 10 of the most common questions that we get from our fellow South Africans. If you missed our post “everything you need to know about pepper spray“, be sure to check that one out first! There’s a ton of valuable information including a discussion on legal consideration of using these self-defence tools as well as important usage directions first aid steps.

  1. Is there a difference between pepper gel and pepper spray?

The main difference between the gel and spray is the consistency with gel being thicker and generally “hitting” a smaller area. Spray will cover a wider area – so there’s less chance of missing your target but you could suffer from blowback (especially outdoors).

The stream pattern is narrow and allows you to focus specifically on the eyes of your attacker. Think of it as a concentrated aerosol spray. Traditional pepper spray uses an OC base mixed with water or alcohol. The consistency of this product is watery. Before using this form of pepper spray, you need to check the direction of the wind. Blowback is more likely with the stream and cone patterns.

Pepper gel also sprays in a stream pattern, allowing for a focussed and accurate aim. The consistency of gel is denser and sticky. It clings to the skin of your attacker’s face and is more difficult to remove. Pepper gel covers more distance than its misty counterpart. It’s perfect for outdoor use as it’s less prone to blowback.

The five types of pepper sprays include:

  • Stream
  • Gel
  • Cone
  • Foam
  • Fog

  1. When will pepper fog and foam be most effective?

Pepper foam has the same consistency as shaving foam. The benefit of this product is that when sprayed into the face of an attacker, it clings. If your attacker tries to wipe it away, the effect will only worsen. When using foam, you need to spray it at your target in a circular motion, spiraling in towards the nose. Take into account that foam has a much shorter range than gel, and an attacker might throw it back at you. This product is best when used outdoors as it doesn’t blow back.

Fog is as its name implies—a fine spray with a wide spray pattern. The best use of this product is for home defence. It comes in large canisters with a wall mount. It’s excellent for use on multiple attackers and doesn’t require accuracy as it spreads out. When used against a single attacker, it’s best to spray from forehead to chin. Spray fog from side to side to cover each of your attackers.

  1. Who should carry pepper spray?

A person carrying pepper spray should have respect for the product and use it responsibly. Civilians may legally carry it in South Africa. But if you spray someone with it and they aren’t trying to hurt you, you may have to face assault charges. If you can’t keep it out of the hands of children, you shouldn’t carry it. These products can cause death in children.

Keep your pepper spray on you if you:

  • Work in a high crime area
  • Drive through areas known for hijacking
  • Run in the streets for exercise
  • Work at night and interact with the public
  • Walk through parks or secluded areas to get home
  • Use public transport such as a bus, taxi, or train
  • Go out frequently at night

You should carry it as the first line of defense. Both men and women can keep one on their person. Your goal is to distract an attacker long enough for you to get away and not to hurt or injure them.

  1. Does using pepper spray require training?

Yes, you should get some basic training before carrying and using pepper spray. You should be trained to use pepper spray in stressful situations.  You don’t know how you will react to an attack until it happens so you should use a practice canister to get used to the feel of your product.

Familiarise yourself with the canister and how it feels until you’re confident that you could pull it out of a pocket or bag without having to fumble. Learning to assess the danger and reaching for your first line of defence automatically will be part of the training.

The training offered is meant to prepare you physically as well as mentally to defend yourself.  Pepper spray can only help you if you don’t freeze up or forget it in the car. Good quality products include training with the purchase (there’s usually a link to the relevant training video). Put in the time to learn how to use your product effectively, it may save your life.

  1. What should I look for when buying pepper spray?

Strength and ease of use are essential. The quality of the product should also be taken into account. The spray you buy from a vendor at a traffic light is almost guaranteed to fail or leak which is why I always advise people to stay away from cheap pepper spray.

Use the following as a guideline:

  • Date of manufacture (never use an expired pepper spray)
  • Strength (make sure it’s a quality product that packs a punch)
  • How many bursts the product allows
  • The maximum distance at which you need to be to hit your target
  • The spray pattern (is it a spray or a gel?)
  • Twist or flip safety mechanism (and make sure you know which one it is and how to use it)
  • The size of the canister (smaller canisters are easier to carry and conceal but they won’t offer you as many bursts)

A lipstick shaped spray that contains 10 bursts and gives you a range of 3 meters is the perfect accessory on a night out. But joggers may prefer a pepper gel that allows 35 bursts and reaches a distance of 4 meters with ease. Buy the product that suits your security needs and lifestyle.

  1. Does pepper spray/gel work on people with a high pain threshold?

While pepper spray does cause a significant amount of pain, that isn’t what makes it useful. It is formulated to cause respiratory distress, force the eyes closed, and irritate the mucous membranes.

By temporarily blinding your assailant, you have the opportunity to move away from the position in which he last saw you. His throat will swell from inhaling the spray, making it difficult to breathe. Good quality sprays also include a UV dye that could help the police find identify and arrest assailants.

That’s what makes pepper spray effective against attackers who are drunk or under the influence of drugs. It is one of the few self-defence tools that don’t rely on an assailant being able to “feel” and be disabled as a result of pain. This also makes it an effective tool for police and secuirty when lethal force isn’t necessary.

  1. What is the true indicator of strength in pepper spray?

Oleoresin Capsicum is the base ingredient for pepper spray(oc). This substance comes from hot peppers and is that reason that pepper spray is so effective. There are 3 measurements used to indicate the strength or heat of pepper spray, these are:

  • OC percentage: This indicates how much pepper is used in the pepper spray’s formula
  • Scoville heat units (SHU): This measurement indicates the strength of the pepper used in the formula but isn’t an indication of the power of the spray.
  • Major Capsaicinoids: This is the measurement of the strength of Capsaicin. The substance is responsible for the pain and inflammation caused by pepper spray.

Choose a pepper spray with a high major capsacinoids percentage. It’s the true measure of how powerful your pepper spray is. Most commercial pepper sprays contain 0.7% MC. This may not be strong enough to deter a determined attacker. Good manufacturers like Sabre produce products that contain 1.33% MC, which is the same strength as the ones police and security officers use.

  1. Why do I need to replace my pepper spray/gel?

Pepper spray should be replaced every 2-4 years from the date of manufacture, depending on the brand and the expiration date. You need to replace it regardless of whether you’ve used it or not. The strength of pepper spray diminishes over time. Your spray won’t be harmless, but it will not pack the same punch.

Your expired canister can still be useful as a practice unit. For safety, make sure you do this away from family, friends, and pets. Take steps to keep yourself safe. Keep it off your clothes and hands. It may not be strong enough to disable, but it’ll still hurt if you get it in your eyes or mouth.

  1. Is a quick-release keyring better than a hand strap for pepper spray?

This depends on how and when you’ll be using it. The quick-release keyring is convenient because you’ll never leave your house or car without your keys. Keeping your keys in your front pocket or a compartment in your handbag gives you easy access to your pepper spray. The quick-release keychain allows you to detach your pepper spray from your keys quickly. It’s useful while driving or trying to open your door. A quick movement and your pepper spray are in your dominant hand and ready to use.

The adjustable hand strap may be more comfortable to carry while running, walking, or during any activity where a bag or bunch of keys would be an encumbrance. You can strap the canister around your wrist or the palm of your hand. Your spray would be loosely held in your hand and ready to use in seconds. Your pepper spray may also have a clip that can attach to the waistband of your pants or your belt. No matter how you choose to secure it, make sure you can get to it when you need it.

  1. At what point should you drop your pepper spray and fight?

Pepper spray is a non-lethal self-defence tool you can use from a distance.  The aim is to stop an attacker before they get close enough to hurt you.  The moment an attacker is in close proximity to you, pepper spray becomes a danger to you as well as the other person.

If you end up in that situation, you may need to physically fight back – something which is done with much more efficiency if you’ve had self-defence training. Knowing how to effectively put down an attacker as quickly as possible will dramatically improve your odds.

For more information about pepper spray and other self-defence tools, visit our blog and make use of the range of articles we’ve posted on the topic.

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