Mace, Pepper Spray, and Tear Gas
All about Pepper Spray, Mace and Tear Gas
There are four major chemicals used as self-defense chemical
The first two are CS and CN, short for orthochlorobenzalmalononitrile
and chloroacetophenone, respectively. They are the most common by far.
A third, code named CR (dibenz(b,f)-1,4-oxazepin), has not come into
civilian use. At standard temperature and pressure, these are actually
white crystals with fairly low vapor pressures, not gasses, and
they're not very soluble in water. In order to disperse them, they are
suspended in a liquid carrier and aerosolized. You have probably heard
of Mace, which is one of many brands of
CN tear gas and is a well recognized trade name by both civilian and
law enforcement tear gas users.
The fourth is pepper spray, which is the
oleoresin capsicum extracted from chili peppers. It's the chemical
that gives them their hot quality. OC is a reddish-orange, oily
liquid, insoluble in water. This agent is also dispersed by aerosol.
Tear gas has been credited with saving lives when police are faced
with barricade situations and combative suspects. Its use is a
standard tactic which usually facilitates an arrest without the need
for lethal force. It has also been used by the military in Vietnam,
amid international controversy. Many considered its use in warfare to
be a violation of the Geneva Protocols. One infamous use of tear gas
occurred at Kent State University in Ohio in 1970. Although National
Guard troops shooting students, killing four, was at the heart of the
tragedy, the tear gas deployment on campus is well remembered.
Pepper spray is generally regarded
to be the most distressing to experience, but it must be sprayed in
the eyes or inhaled directly to be effective. CS and CN, on the other
hand, vaporize to some extent despite their low vapor pressures and
may have some effect on a person who is hit less accurately due to the
vapors being inhaled or drifting into the eyes. CS and CN may have
some effect on a person sprayed in the groin area. Because of the
different advantages of each, some formulations are being manufactured
which contain blends of OC and either CS or CN. Also, despite the
absence of vapors from oleoresin capsicum, aerosolized particles can
remain airborne for a long time, especially indoors. Their
concentrations can be high enough to irritate many people who were not
even sprayed directly. One type of OC product attempts to eliminate
aerosolized pepper spray entirely by propelling the agent in a
While pepper spray is legal for use against
bears in most states, the use of mace and tear gas is not.
The effects of exposure to tear gas can include tearing and
involuntary closure of the eyes, with severe burning sensations on the
nerve endings of the skin. Coughing, inflammation, mucous secretion,
headache, dizziness, a tight feeling in the chest or excessive
salivation may result.
Pepper spray can cause a significant enough inflammatory
response in the eyes to severely degrade the vision of even a PCP-
intoxicated person who can't feel pain. If you are using tear gas
defensively, target the face. A person properly sprayed with tear gas
may experience panic, especially if you achieve an element of
Pepper spray's effects may last up to 40 minutes after the
agent has been completely irrigated from skin surfaces, with some
minor irritation persisting up to a few hours after exposure.
CR, on the other hand irritate when there is a sufficient
concentration in contact with the skin and the 15-30 minutes of
residual irritation degrades rapidly.
CS is hydrolyzed (put into water-soluble form) in water, especially
in basic solution; at pH 9, its half-life is about 1 minute. Your tear
gas should come with a package insert that includes first aid
instructions. If you accidentally spray yourself with tear gas, you
will probably not be able to find these instructions, let alone read
them--so read them before you need them.
If you become exposed to any of these types of non lethal
self-defense chemical sprays, large amounts of cool water should
begin to provide relief and rinse away the tear gas contamination.
Warm water may intensify the burning and inflammation, though. Fresh
air helps, and washing twice with soap is recommended. A natural
reaction is to rub, Try not to rub! Don't use a soap that
contains a lot of oils, and don't apply oily lotions--they will carry
tear gas particles deeper into your skin and prolong your discomfort.
Remove any contact lenses if you get tear gas into your eyes--but not
with fingers that have additional tear gas contamination. Don't touch
your face before washing your hands after contacting tear gas. Remove
any contaminated clothing, as you may re-contaminate yourself , and CN
or CS- soaked clothing will continue to give off noxious vapors. Pain
may be reduced by taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug,
In addition, an over-the-counter antihistamine may alleviate some
of the effects of pepper spray. Unfortunately, the time it takes for
your body to deliver the drug in a pill to the sites of irritation
make them of little use until the effects are already wearing off.
They will be most effective if taken before exposure, like the
antidotes to some chemical warfare agents, making them rarely useful.
Infants are very sensitive to tear gas and should be taken to a doctor
immediately if exposed to it. Tear gas as a weapon of self defense can
be an excellent distraction, allowing the victim time to get away.
However, unlike a firearm, it has little “stopping power,” little
ability to actually stop an attacker from causing you injury. Tear gas
does not paralyze. A person sprayed with it may still grab you, hit
you, stab you or shoot you. Also, tear gas may not affect the insane,
addicts, intoxicated or hysterical persons.
A person threatening you with a lethal weapon can injure you
mortally in less time than it takes you to draw and aim a
self-defense chemical weapon. An assailant may be able to
take your canister away from you and use it against you. If this is
happening, try to throw the spray away out of reach. Your spray could
backfire at you in wind. Both wind and rain may reduce its range and
CS, CN and CR tear gasses are usually not very effective against
animals. In fact, law enforcement uses horses and dogs in areas they
have deployed tear gas. OC has been proven effective against many
animals, and has been available to the California public in an aerosol
form for this purpose even before its use against humans became
Most canisters sold for self-defense against humans, however, are
marked “Not tested on animals.” If you are attacked, use plenty of
spray in the assailants face and run away immediately.
- Tell law enforcement about the incident right away.
- Remember a description of the assailant and the location of the
incident and tell them to law enforcement in order to make an arrest
- The best safety measure is to avoid unnecessary risks whenever
Have a security plan:
- Make a habit of walking with others and stick to paths with good
lighting, in public view whenever possible.
- Avoid areas known to be dangerous--never go with tear gas where
you wouldn't go without.
Although the Materials Safety Data Sheet for OC does not list any
known specific lethal dose or lethal concentration, pepper spray has
been implicated in the deaths of some people who were sprayed with it.
These people suffered anaphylaxis, a violent allergic reaction that
can be life threatening. Symptoms can include airways obstructed by
swelling, fainting, and shock. Asthmatics are at higher risk of having
an adverse reaction to pepper spray. Another bizarre risk factor that
was recently reported is a history of violent behavior and
confrontations with law enforcement; this statistic may be an artifact
of these people having a higher probability of exposure in the first
place, or having a higher probability to multiple exposures which
might cause allergic sensitization in some individuals. For the reason
of additional risk to asthmatics, such people who wish to carry tear
gas for self defense but worry about possible wind-blowback may wish
to consider a formulation which does not contain oleoresin capsicum,
or at least a foam type pepper spray which reduces the risk from
airborne particles of the OC agent. This risk of a bad reaction,
however, is not going to be reduced for the user of a foam in a
situation where an assailant takes the weapon away and uses it against
the victim. Also, the possibility of this reaction emphasizes the
importance of using pepper spray only in defense of people, not
property. It also adds potential liability in these litigious times.
Canisters may have a shelf life of three to six years. They are
usually conservatively dated to expire in one year.
Shake the canister about once a month to keep the ingredients mixed.
Canisters have the active ingredient mixed in a liquid, and a
pressurized gas propellant.
The inside of a tear gas canister is like a squirt bottle under
pressure. An intake tube extends to the bottom of the canister, into
the liquid mixture. For this reason, the canister must remain fairly
upright. If it's held upside down while spraying, only the propellant
may escape. If the canister is sprayed upside down, it will loose
pressure and may not be able to spray when you need it, even though
you may be able to hear and feel the liquid sloshing around and you
believe the can is full.
Other canister failures are possible. The nozzle may become clogged
with lint or dirt. The trigger may break off. If left in a car on a
hot day, a canister may be exposed to temperatures over 140 degrees F.
Even if the it doesn't explode (which it might), this adverse
condition may cause a leak or a loss of the pressure needed to fire
the device. It could also shorten the life of the active ingredients.
If you wish to test your canister for pressure, make your spray burst
only a fraction of a second and don't do this often, as there may be
as little as four seconds or less worth of spray in some models.
The label or instructions of a good brand should tell you how many
seconds of spray it has. Although floating the device in water to
determine the quantity of ingredients left has been recommended in the
past, be aware that this may cause the label to fall off or dissolve,
and the device will no longer comply with the law unlabelled.
Keep it away from children! You are responsible for the use of
It is vital that you give some thought in advance to how you will
carry your self-defense chemical spray canister.
A purse can be a poor location, as it is likely to end up at the
bottom and you will have to dig for it in an emergency. A purse with
an accessible, open pocket where the spray can't get lost may be
better than keeping it loose in the bag, but the first indication that
you need your spray may be when an assailant is already tugging on
your purse. Consider carrying the device in the same place whenever
possible. That way, you won't have to think, "where is it today?" in
the heat of the moment.
Try various carrying methods and practice drawing the weapon. Make
sure you can draw it quickly from wherever you're keeping it. Good,
accessible locations include inside a pants pocket, especially for the
models with a clip. If it's clipped onto the outside of a pocket or
belt, it may be dislodged accidentally or grabbed by an attacker. At
the very least, it may be noticed before you use it, removing the
element of surprise which adds to the effectiveness of tear gas.
Most clip models have the clip on the left side of the canister, which
leaves the majority of the canister concealed if it's kept in the left
pocket with the clip out. If you are comfortable drawing the weapon
with your left hand, this is a good configuration. If this type of
canister were kept in the right pocket, it would be backwards when it
is pulled out. Another good location may be a loose outer pocket of a
jacket. Belt holsters are available for some models. Although these
are visible, the canister may be less recognizable to an attacker in a
holster than it would be bare.
The importance of accessibility can not be over stressed.
- How much warning might you have in a typical assault?
- How long does it takes you to draw your weapon?
- Does the way you carry your canister allow you to draw it in
time to hinder an assault?
Keep in mind that most canisters are effective up to about a ten
foot range. You should have your tear gas with you whenever possible.
Hopefully, you will never need it. But if you do, you are unlikely to
know when until the very moment you need to grab for it.
Always remember that you assume all risk and liability for owning
and using self-defense chemical sprays, including
pepper spray. Even if you use it
correctly, there is no guarantee that it will always be effective at
hindering an attack, and there is always the possibility that it may
be used against you instead. We hope this document has given you a
better understanding of how Pepper Spray, Tear Gas and Mace can
be used as a weapon for self defense and help you make an informed
Please be careful and safe!
The above is by no means legal advice. Consult the laws of
your state or local agency