How Pepper Spray Works

Buying Pepper Spray: What You Should Know

If you're thinking about buying or using pepper spray, there are a few things you will need to know. First, you should be aware of your local laws regarding its possession and use. For instance, some U.S. states have laws limiting where you can purchase pepper spray, the legal age of the person carrying it, the amount you can carry, the percentage of active ingredient contained in the spray, and even the types of containers in which the spray is concealed. Contact your local law enforcement office for more information about these laws, or visit your state government's Web site to find information about pepper spray laws. If you live outside the U.S., you'll need to research your national and local laws about pepper spray. For example, in Canada and Belgium it's illegal for private citizens to carry pepper spray, whereas in Hong Kong you need a permit to carry it.

You'll also want to consider the type of pepper spray you want to purchase, including its strength and the container it comes in. Do you want something that doesn't look like pepper spray -- a pen or lipstick, for instance? Do you want it to have a safety feature that makes it more difficult to accidentally spray it? How big of a container do you want to carry? Do you want a liquid, gel or foam formula? The answers to these questions depend upon your needs, and you should research more information to make sure you are getting the kind that works best for you.


If you do decide to purchase pepper spray, be sure to read and follow the instructions and pay attention to all warnings and advisories on the packaging. Aerosol canisters, for example, have temperature minimums and maximums. If the canister gets too hot or too cold, it can leak or rupture. You'll also want to pay attention to the expiration date -- most pepper spray solutions maintain their potency for about three years, but this varies by brand.

Another factor to consider is cost. Pepper spray can range in price from $10 to $50 for small, portable dispensers, though the majority cost less than $20. The range of prices takes into account a variety of factors, especially the size and type of dispenser, the number of "bursts" that can be dispensed from it, and the spray pattern it uses.

For lots more information on pepper spray and other related topics, see the links below.

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More Great Links

  • Zarc International: Oleoresin Capsicum
  • American Institute of Cancer Research


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  • Archuleta, Melecita M. "Oleorecin Capsicum: Toxicology Evaluation and Hazard Review." U.S. Department of Energy. Oct. 1995. (Aug. 31, 2009)
  • Czarnecki, Fabrice, MD. "Chemical Hazards in Law Enforcement." Clinics in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp. 443-456. Aug. 2003.
  • Department of Justice, Canada. "Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted." Aug. 27, 2009. (Sept. 9, 2009)
  • Frostburg State University, Department of Chemistry. "Fire and Spice: The Molecular Basis for Flavor." July 31, 2007. (Sept. 9, 2009)
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