A Practical Guide to Pepper Spray

One thing that my 26 year Law Enforcement career has taught me is that real life-threatening events are never like you see on TV. Things happen very quickly and can take you by surprise. Dangerous situations are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. You never wake up in the morning and say, “Today I or my loved ones are going to be assaulted, robbed, or raped.”


But, you can significantly increase your chances of avoiding crime or surviving an attack by following a simple concept.  You have to Plan, Prepare and Practice. You must involve your entire family. You must make self-defense part of your life.


Does this concept sound paranoid? Maybe it does, however, think about the deer in the wild. Does this animal leave the cover of the woods only to enter the meadow without first making sure that it is safe to do so? It first checks the environment to make sure that there are no immediate threats waiting to harm him. What do they call the mountain lion that is waiting to kill the deer? They call it the “Predator.” What do they call the criminal that seeks out people to exploit? They also call him the “Predator.” When we are out, we need to be aware, we need to keep our guard up and be alert. Predators are out there. They are real. No matter how big your town is, no matter where you live, crime can happen to you.


It is my passion to help arm honest, law abiding citizens with the knowledge and tools available to protect themselves and their families. If I can help one person successfully protect themselves or their family and sleep safely at night, I know I have done my job. I truly care about the safety of others and preventing these “Predators” from having their next victim.


Stay Safe,
Scott Fowler
NW Self Defense Products

  • Chapter One

    The Pepper Spray Lie

    The first thing that you need to know is that all self-defense sprays are not created equal. Some self-defense sprays are great, some don’t work at all or take considerable time to begin to work.

    The Self-Defense market is filled with a lot of misinformation. There are con-artists and self-proclaimed experts selling products to good people that might get them hurt or killed. How do we know if the contents of the self-defense spray is good or bad? What do we look for in a product? What do we want to stay away from?

    What is Pepper Resin?

    What the pepper spray retailer will tell you is that his pepper spray is of high percentage. He will talk about the 10% to 18% pepper content in his container. What you will not hear is how impure that pepper resin is, which is why they need to put so much pepper in the can. An impure pepper resin translates into a slower acting and less effective product.

    What is Scoville Heat Units (SHU)?

    What you will not hear is how hot his product actually is. In the market, we judge the heat of a pepper spray two ways. The first is called the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). The SHU is a measure of heat perceived from the burning sensation from peppers. For instance, a jalapeno pepper has a SHU of 5,000. A good pepper spray should have a SHU of at least 2,000,000. Most law enforcement agencies use a 2,000,000 to 5,300,000 SHU.

    What is Capsaicin?

    The second way to judge the heat of a pepper spray is the capsaicin content of the pepper used in the spray. Most self-defense spray companies do not disclose this information. However, a good pepper spray will have a major capsaicinoid content of .67% to 1.40%. A major capsaicinoid content of .67% translates into a 5% pepper resin at a 2,000,000 SHU.

    Reputable American Companies?

    There are many pepper spray products made overseas, but the best products are made in the United States of America. There are some very reputable American companies that produce great products. Here are four of the best pepper spray producers:

    • Redd
    • Aerko International
    • Fox Labs International
    • Sabre

    Cayenne Peppers?

    Now that we have an understanding of the heat (SHU) of a self-defense spray, let’s discuss the pepper that is used to make the spray so debilitating. The Cayenne Pepper is responsible for this process. Companies refer to pepper spray as Oleoresin Capsicum (OC). This term means the oils and resins from the Cayenne Pepper. ‘OC’ is the official term used to describe pepper spray.

    What Else Is in There?

    So, what else is in the can with the OC? There is a form of industrial solvent to keep the OC suspended evenly. The two types of dilutions are either water or vegetable oil. The amount of solvent used is determined whether the OC was diluted by water or oil. The OC also needs a propellant to deliver it from the can to the desired target. Companies will use nitrogen, compressed air, pharmaceutical grade Freon or Solstice.

    Does Pepper Spray Expire?

    With every aerosol container comes an expiration date. Most OC spray will expire within two years to three years. This has nothing to do with the OC. It does, however, have everything to do with the propellant. Throughout time, the propellant will migrate out of the container leaving you without enough pressure to deliver the OC out of the can. Always pay close attention to the expiration date of your spray.

    Are there other things that companies add to a self-defense spray to enhance it? Yes; some add ultraviolet dye. The dye will penetrate the attacker’s skin. It can remain in his skin for an approximate period of 24 hours. Even if the attacker washes his skin, the dye will remain in place, and Law Enforcement can identify the attacker with a black light. Most dyes will appear to be green in color on the skin.

    Another popular enhancement that companies add to OC spray is Tear Gas. Tear Gas is commonly referred to as CS. Unlike OC, which is derived from a pepper, CS is a man-made chemical. CS alone is good, but when added to an OC spray is very effective. This is referred to as a blend spray. OC and CS effects the human body in different ways. Both will be discussed.

    Understand that not all companies provide a blend or even add a marking dye. You have to do your research. Read the label and know what is in the container you are about to purchase. Always stay away from any spray that is made outside of the United States, as this is an unregulated market. Don’t trust your family’s safety on a cheap truck stop OC spray, you will get what you pay for.

    Questions to Ask OC Retailers:

    • Where is your brand of OC spray produced (what country)?
    • What is the percentage and the Scoville heat unit of your brand?
    • What is the capsaicin content percentage of your brand?
    • What police agencies are using your brand of products (the retailer should know)?
    • How does the product function (safety mechanism, spray distance, holster)?
    • How fresh is the product (expiration date)?
  • Chapter Two

    Effects On The Human Body

    OC effects the attacker both physiologically and psychologically. OC is an inflammatory that causes localized heat, redness and swelling. OC will cause the eyes to close involuntarily and create intense pain. It will also create a burning sensation within the upper respiratory tract. This will give the attacker the sensation of a shortness of breath. They will perceive this as being suffocated.

    How Long Do I Have?

    As humans, we rely on the information that we receive from the things we see. When sprayed with OC, the attacker’s eyes will be closed and burning for a period of at least ½ an hour. They depend on their sight to continue the attack. Their breathing can return to normal within a five-minute period.

    What Effect Does OC Have on the Body?

    The degree of psychological effect can vary from one person to another. However, the ideal result of OC will be fear and panic. One of man’s most basic fears is the inability to breathe. Couple that with the loss of eyesight and you have created a lonely feeling in the mind of your attacker, which will result in a very debilitating effect, thus ending the attack. Panic can soon set in and the attacker will actually believe that they may die. CAUTION: One thing to understand is that people who have been sprayed previously will know that they will not die from being exposed to OC, therefore, the psychological effect will not be as intense. Their eyesight and breathing will be distressed the same as before, but they know that it did not kill them last time exposed.

    What Does the Addition of CS Do?

    CS, when added with OC in a blended spray can enhance the effectiveness of a pepper spray product. CS is categorized as an irritant. CS irritates the mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and throat. CS causes more tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. OC itself does not affect the breathing pattern as much as CS does. Psychologically, CS/OC blend creates fear, panic and anxiety on a scale much higher than OC alone. Note: The effects of CS do not last as long as OC alone. CS dissipates as the attacker breathes, whereas OC is absorbed by the body, internally and externally. CS effects will last approximately 5 minutes, where OC is about ½ an hour. Remember though, 5 minutes is long enough to get away and call authorities.

    Can I Use on Animals?

    OC is very effective on animals. A good quality OC spray will work for dog applications. CS has little or no effect on animals. If you are buying a spray to use against dogs, a spray containing only CS will not be a good choice. Do not use a normal OC spray for bear applications. Most OC canisters will spray between 10 to 15 feet. Bear spray will spray 30 feet and is produced with higher capsaicin content. Most good bear spray products will have a formula that produces 1% to 2% major capsaicinoid content.

  • Chapter Three

    Spray Patterns and Container Sizes

    Now that we know what is in our can, let’s talk about spray patterns, also known as delivery systems. OC manufacturers primarily produce four types of delivery systems:

    Fog– Delivers large amounts of OC in a cloud burst. Primarily used by law enforcement for crowd control and riot situations.

    Cone– Delivers a concentrated cone shape spray. Good civilian application if less precise aim is necessary. However, the possibility of unintentional blowback can occur in windy situations. Based on brand, cone systems will spray 8-14 feet.

    Stream– Delivers a direct amiable flow. Must be shot directly into the attacker’s eye, nose and mouth. The OC partials will hold together better in a windy situation with less blowback probability. Based on brand, stream systems will spray 10-17 feet.

    Foam– Delivers a foaming surfactant that does not allow the OC to become airborne itself. Primarily for use in climate-controlled areas such as Hospitals, Courtrooms and Jails. Most foam systems will spray 6-8 feet.

    OC containers come in a wide range of sizes and all have some kind of safety mechanism. The containers can be as small as a ball point pen or as large as a fire extinguisher, each one having a much different application purpose.

    For the civilian:

    • ½ oz.
    • ¾ oz.
    • 2 oz.
    • 3 oz.
    • 4 oz.

    The size of the can does not change how the product works when used on the attacker. Most civilians choose the size of can that is most convenient for them to carry. With OC, bigger is not always better. As long as you effectively deliver OC onto the face of the attacker it will work. When the effects set in, spraying the attacker with more OC will not make it hotter or more debilitating.

    Where Do I Keep It?

    Always remember, no matter what size you choose, it will do you no good if it is kept in a location that does not allow quick deployment such as thebottom of a purse or backpack. You must carry your spray in a place that is easily accessible at all times, and there are a lot of good holster options available to help with this. The most popular option is the key chain holster. Other options include hand, wrist or arm holsters (for runners) and belt holsters. The belt holster can also be placed on the strap of a backpack or on the outside of a purse. This allows quick access to the spray. Another suggestion is to keep one in your bedroom and by the front door for quick deployment as well.

  • Chapter Four

    How to Effectively Use OC

    The speed of deployment is imperative in a dangerous situation. I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your OC in a location that is easily accessible. For instance, if you wear a belt holster and place your spray on the right side of your body, do not make changes to that location. In a dangerous, stressful situation you will go directly to that location every time.

    However, if you switch locations often, you will hinder yourself tactically and loose precious time needed to deploy. The attacker will not allow you time to prepare. It will all come down to previous training on your part. You will not have time to think about what to do, you will only have time to react to the assault.

    Muscle Memory?

    So, let’s talk about how to properly train and the importance of building good muscle memory. Muscle memory has been used synonymously with motor learning, which is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.

    How does Law Enforcement Train?

    They start slow, learning the mechanics of how they will deploy their spray. They practice the draw from the holster over and over to create that muscle memory. They practice how to hold the spray. They practice how to effectively spray the OC. They practice how to move after they deploy the spray onto the threat. Then after mastering the basic tasks, they graduate to demonstrating all the steps under stress.

    Training even as a citizen means going through all the steps and body mechanics of how you will deploy your spray. A citizen can train like Law Enforcement, nothing says that building good muscle memory is only for them. You will need to start slow. Even if you practice drawing your spray a few times, you have built muscle memory for that task. You will already have an edge on your attacker, who many times operates in ‘spur of the moment’

    1 Wikipedia Muscle Memory………

    When you train you must isolate each task cleanly and properly. Train with these five steps:

    1. Stance
    2. Draw (from the key chain, holster etc.)
    3. Deployment
    4. Movement
    5. Escape
    1. Stance-

    A good stance is important and is initiated during the Draw. However, first and foremost you need to practice how you will stand as a separate task. Your stance should have a strong base, with your body bladed towards your attacker (strong leg slightly back). You will need a strong stance in case you are pushed or struck. It is important to stay on your feet; you do not want to get into an on-the-ground fight. If you fall, it makes it more difficult to deploy spray with your attacker on top of you. So, a good stance is imperative.

    1. The Draw-

    A good draw is as important as your Stance. First, in a real situation you will need to keep your eyes on your attacker as you draw your spray. As you begin to practice your draw, you may do it in a mirror if you want. However, get in a habit of drawing without looking at your holster or key chain. You need to keep an eye on what is coming at you.

    If you are drawing from a holster, place your spray in the holster the same way every time so that it is pointing forward as you draw it out. Your spray will not do you any good if it is pointing back at you when you draw it. Try to practice using only your strong hand to draw and manipulate your spray. Use your support hand in a defensive posture to protect your face from any incoming blows from your attacker while you draw your spray. As you draw, do not stick your spray out toward your attacker at a full arm’s distance. Doing this will help him to take it from you. Keep your spray close to your body so that you can retain it. A good rule of thumb is to keep your spray closer to your body than the distance of your support hand. Your support hand can help block the attacker from an attempt to take your spray from you. Don’t be afraid if you get some spray on your hand. It beats the alternative if he gets your can.

    1. Deployment-

    How you spray your attacker depends on your delivery system. No matter what system you have, hold your spray with your strong hand in a C-clamp (fist-hold) with your fingers, and use your thumb to actuate the spray button (not your index finger). This is a strong hold and allows you the option of using your strong hand to strike or punch your attacker if needed. If you use your index finger to actuate the spray button it slants the can in a downward position and is a much weaker way to hold the container.

    If you have a stream delivery system, you will need to spray your attacker ear to ear making sure you target the eyes, nose and mouth. Spray in a back and forth or figure eight motion.

    If you have a cone delivery system you will need to spray the attacker with a good blast, making sure that you target the face. Your objective is to get product into the eyes, nose and mouth. With a cone, there will be a lot of OC particulate in the immediate area, the chance is great that they will also breathe the OC into their upper respiratory tract and lungs.

    If you have a foam delivery system, your distance will be reduced and there is a chance that your attacker can dodge or even wipe the product off their face and throw it back at you. However, if you are using foam you will need to spray as much OC on the attacker as possible.

    1. Movement-

    Once you spray your attacker you need to move. It doesn’t matter how good your spray is, no spray works instantly. Even the very best spray takes 2 to 3 seconds to work, the attacker has to blink the spray into their eyes. This gives them time to move towards you and attempt to grab you before the spray sets in. To keep from their reach, you need to move backward two to three steps to create distance, then two to three steps offline to either your left or right. Moving left or right is a great tactic. When the attacker’s eyes close, they will not be able to see you any longer and may continue to lunge toward the last place you were. However, you have successfully moved away by the lateral steps you took.

    1. Escape-

    Once you have drawn, sprayed and moved, you need to escape by running as fast as you can to a safe location. Don’t hesitate, don’t freeze, don’t stay and watch. You need to run!… And run fast! Also, don’t drop your spray when you run. Keep it with you in case you need it to spray your attacker again or if there is more than one attacker.

    How Do I Practice?

    I know this is a lot of information. However, by knowing and practicing everything in the comfort of a safe environment, will build the muscle memory you or your loved ones need to survive a dangerous situation in an unsafe environment.

    You can purchase inert training sprays that contain no active ingredients to practice with. If you do, make sure the container you purchase has the same safety and delivery system as the real pepper spray product you use. It is also a good idea to practice with your real spray. It is ok to spray your real can a couple of times. Doing this will show you that the spray functions properly and the distance your individual can sprays. If you practice with your real can, do it outside and up wind. Pick a target like a tree and give it a couple quick sprays (about ½ second each). That is all you need to do. Then practice all the other steps; stance, draw and movement, without actually spraying your spray.

    Can You Do It?

    Now you have all the tools to effectively use OC. Everything written in this document, Law Enforcement knows, practices, and uses in their OC training and deployment. Unfortunately, it is a bad world out there and there are bad people that want to hurt you, your loved ones, or take away what you have worked for. Always stay one step ahead of them by thinking ahead and always stay in the fight. Never give up! Stay safe!