How Effective Is Pepper Spray? Pros and Cons

Pepper spray is probably the most popular non-lethal self defense product in the world. Is that status really justified, or is the product over-hyped? When it comes down to it, pepper spray self-defense is just one tool in your toolbox. While it can be effective in certain situations, it’s not a magical solution that will solve every self-defense scenario and should not be relied upon as such. Here are some of the pros and cons of pepper spray based on my more than 23 years of experience in law enforcement.

Pepper Spray

Effectiveness of Pepper Spray: Pros and Cons

Pros of Pepper Spray Self-Defense

  • Pepper spray is portable and can easily be carried on your person or in a woman’s handbag. It’s also easy to conceal.
  • Pepper spray is generally non-lethal and doesn’t have any long-lasting effects. It can end an attack without the use of physical force or violent action.
  • Pepper spray is relatively easy to use and does not take years of training to effectively deploy it.
  • Pepper spray is easily available for purchase.

Cons of Pepper Spray Self-Defense

  • Pepper spray doesn’t work on everyone. I have personally fought with people who were not affected by it whatsoever. This can be due to mental illness, altered states of mind due to the use of narcotics, or pain tolerance as seen in toughened criminals. Many people can also just fight through the effects of pepper spray (law enforcement is trained to do so).
  • Pepper spray can be difficult to deploy in stressful and violent situations. The target area is small (mainly the eyes), and the attacker may be wearing glasses or a mask that will interfere with or negate the effects of pepper spray.
  • Pepper spray may not be practical for real-life situations. Related to the point above, trying to stop an attacker from far away with pepper spray may not be feasible, as most assaults actually start much closer.
  • Pepper spray runs a huge risk for misuse. Under stress, people who are not trained tend to empty the canister when they deploy it. They generally do not use it in the directed fashion of a small controlled targeted burst. This means that everyone in the area suffers the effects. It may even incapacitate the person who deploys it.
  • Pepper spray could accidentally blow back onto you and into your eyes if it’s windy or rainy. Note that some pepper spray gels have minimized this issue.
  • Deploying pepper spray has legal ramifications. Keep in mind that you may be called upon to justify your actions.

How Effective Is Pepper Spray?

So, just how effective is pepper spray? While it can be highly effective in certain situations, it’s not the versatile self-defense product it’s touted to be.

Pepper spray brands like to boast of the product’s long-range capability and intensive stopping power, but in reality pepper spray isn’t as practical to deploy as one might think. For instance, it’s hard to anticipate whether someone from far away could potentially be an attacker. If you’re certain they are, you’d better have your pepper spray in your hand and ready to go, with the safety switch off and your finger on the spray trigger. Otherwise, it’s unlikely you would be able to get your pepper spray out, spray the attacker accurately in the face and eyes, and stop the person before you are harmed.

Keep in mind that criminals won’t make it easy for you. What if you’re surprised and grabbed from an angle or direction other than the front? Grabbing someone tightly from behind over the arms is a common predatory attack. In a close-range struggle with an attacker, will you really be able to use your pepper spray effectively and incapacitate the attacker — and not yourself?

Is Pepper Spray Good for Self-Defense?

With the limitations stated above, you may be wondering if pepper spray is even worth carrying. Pepper spray has its place in the world, but like anything else, you should approach self-defense reasonably and not count on pepper spray as the magic solution.

Presenting these considerations is certainly not an attempt to discredit pepper spray. Rather, I want to help you evaluate what the best self-defense solution is for you.

A self-defense tool that I highly recommend for your toolbox is the MUNIO. It is small, unobtrusive, and has a non-threatening appearance. It passes through security checkpoints without any issues. It fits in a woman’s handbag or your pocket, so it can always be with you. The MUNIO also gives you an advantage over empty hand techniques in that it can be used as a flail or a force multiplier. The cost is very reasonable for the benefit it provides. All in all, it’s a very versatile and effective tool that you should not be without.

In fact, the process of thoroughly evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of other self-defense tools was critical to the development of the MUNIO Self Defense Keychain. This means you get more defensive versatility than pepper spray, stun guns, monkey fists, tactical pens, and personal alarms. Also, some self-defense products are not legal in certain states, whereas MUNIO is legal in all 50 states and can even be taken on a plane.

About the Author

Greg Borlan

Greg Borlan is a 5th degree Black Belt Master Instructor in Combat Hapkido, a practical, real-life self defense system, and has been studying martial arts for over 13 years. He is the founder of New Jersey Combat Hapkido and P.I.N.K.S. Self Defense for Women (Preventive Information Necessary Knowledge of Self Defense) structured to teach women the skills, abilities and winning mindset to survive a violent encounter. Greg is also a Police Captain, with over 23 years of law enforcement experience, and a certified instructor for the MUNIO Self Defense Workshops.

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