Pepper Spray as Means for Home Defense—a Less Lethal Alternative

Pepper Spray as Means for Home Defense—a Less Lethal Alternative

Imagine you are sitting on the couch watching television. Your program is interrupted by the sound of a window screen being cut and glass shattering. It takes a second to comprehend the situation but soon you realize someone is trying to get inside your home. You have seconds to react before the intruder is staring you in the face. What do you do? There is not enough time to call the police and the burglar’s point of entry is near your exit. Having a medium for home defense in a situation like this can give you enough time to escape to safety and contact the authorities.

There are two options for home defense: lethal and non lethal. What follows is a presentation of a less lethal option, specifically, pepper spray and ultimately bear spray*.

Pepper Spray (General) 

Pepper spray or Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) is a hand held canister that has the capacity of ejecting a chemical, made up of a combination of peppers (1) that can cause temporary blindness, trouble in breathing, and skin irritation in areas which the spray makes contact. In Oleoresin Capsicum, Oleoresin refers to the removal of oil in peppers and Capsicum describes the peppers used to make the spray.

Common types of spray applications are stream, cone, foam, and fog (1). First, stream applications are advantages for long distance shooting (up to 10 feet) and being unaffected by outdoor elements; although, they produce a thin spray pattern and are best used on one opponent. Second, cones are large spray patterns, with a width up to two feet and a reach of eight feet. This style is more susceptible to outdoor elements and the shooter runs the risk of blow back if the winds are blowing opposite the spray pattern. Third, foam sprayers produce a thick stream completely covering a target, being very effective on someone wearing eye protection. The downside is, with an average working distance of six feet, the sprayer is forced to come within a close proximity to their target. Lastly, fog applications are powerful blasts, creating a large overall shield between the shooter and the target. These canisters can reach distances of 25+ feet and work best on animals and multiple targets. On the other hand, similar to the cone application, a fog sprayer’s contents can be susceptible to outdoor elements and the shooter facing blow back (1).

A pepper sprays rating can be based on OC, Scoville Heat Units (SHU), and Major Casaicinoids (MC) (1). Ratings based on OC are determined by the amount of OC in the device and the devices size. SHU ratings regard a devices heat signature. For example, the higher the SHU, the hotter the formula used to make that particular spray. Lastly, MC ratings derive from the heat-bearing chemicals in peppers. Ratings can range from 0.18% to 1.33% (see figure 1) (1). This style of rating is thought to be more accurate than the previous two.

Flame image

Figure 1(2)

                 When choosing a device it is important to consider some fundamental questions, such as; where will you be using it? What type of elements would you face? How many objects would you encounter? How far away would you want to be from the subject being sprayed? How much spray would you need?  In the case of home defense, elements potentially interfering with the spray pattern are not applicable, leaving quantity of spray, potential targets, spray width and length, and rating as primary concerns. With that said, bear spray is one example of a less lethal option, that fulfills the aforementioned criteria.

Bear Spray

            Bear spray was developed in the 1980’s as a less lethal alternative to firearms, which were widely used to deter (and sometimes fail to) bear attacks (3). Research shows, “Bear spray, especially at close range where most attacks occur, is more reliable than a speeding bullet and extremely effective in thwarting a grizzly charging at 35 miles (56 kilometers) an hour…;” furthermore, “Between 1985 and 2006, scientists found that bear spray was 92 percent effective in deterring attacks from the three species of North American bear in Alaska. In the study, 98 percent of people carrying bear spray who got into close encounters with bears were uninjured” (3). Bears can weigh over 1,000 pounds, be taller than any human, run faster on all four legs, and kill someone with ease, making them a great case study on pepper spray effectiveness.

These types of canisters are larger than personal pepper sprays, giving you more product to use on a target and with a working distance up to 30+ feet, you can leave a comfortable distance between yourself and the adversary. In addition, fog spray patterns allow for less accurate aiming due to an overall larger width and height. Outdoor elements interfering with the spray is a non issue due to the enclosed area from which you will be spraying. Lastly, ratings on these products are highest compared to other sprays, ensuring the content will incapacitate your target.

Demonstration Videos 

            On YouTube, in two separate videos titled, Man VS Bear Pepper Spray by BearmanMT(4) and Pharmacist sprays robber in face with pepper spray… meant for GRIZZLY BEARS (5) by Larry Kane, the viewer can clearly see the effectiveness and overwhelming power that bear spray has on a threat. First, in Man VS Bear Pepper Spray, to demonstrate a specific bear spray product, an adult male is seen running full speed toward what could be a victim. The aggressor is quickly overcome with a fog application of OC spray that takes him to his knees, ending any threat that once existed (see image 1).

In Pharmacist sprays robber in face with pepper spray… meant for GRIZZLY BEARS, a women working at a pharmacy became fed up with being a victim and took steps toward defending herself by purchasing bear spray. The video clip shows a man, who previously robbed the pharmacy, telling the protagonist he has a gun and the product he wants. The women pretends to go along with the would be thief’s demands but at an opportune moment she grabs her pepper spray and coats the mans face (see image 2), causing him to quickly turn for the door without putting up a fight.

man being sprayed




Image 1(4)


robber image






Image 2(5)

Things to Consider

             Before the purchase of any home defense product, time must be spent thinking of all the pros and cons. Even though bear spray offers a lot of positives (large canisters with more product, large spray pattern, long reach, high ratings, and less lethality), there are still negatives. For example, even without wind or rain to affect the spray pattern, blow back is still possible. In areas that are small, the quantity of spray being dispersed will quickly overcome both the threat and the sprayer. Afterwords, the spray may be hard to clean up and the debilitating effects may remain in a space for an undetermined amount of time.

Furthermore, persons contemplating purchasing bear spray or any other forms of pepper spray should look up local laws for owning and using said product, practice spraying their device for familiarization of spray pattern and duration of its contents, and consider being sprayed themselves in order to better understand the effects that OC can have.


Works Cited

  1. Choose the Right Pepper Spray for You. Best Pepper Spray. Retrieved on 2016-02-26. Source:
  2. Major Capsaicinoids (MC) chart. Retreived on 2016-02-26. Source: content/uploads/2014/03/thermometer-chart.jpg
  3. How a Potent Pepper Spray Became the Best Bear Repellent. Written by Todd Wilkinson, National Geogrpahic on 2015-09-25. Retrieved on 2016-02-26. Source:
  4. Man VS Bear Pepper Spray. Posted by BearmanMT. Retreived on 2016-02-26. Source:
  5. Pharmacist sprays robber in face with pepper spray… meant for GRIZZLY BEARS. Posted by Larry Kane. Retreived on 2016-02-26. Source:
  6. Barron, Mike. Pepper Spray Treatment for Fast Relief. Best Pepper Spray. Retrieved on 2016-02-28. Source:


*Before using any medium as personal or home defense, research must be conducted on the laws surrounding a particular product in the location that that object may be used in.

Corey is a reader and contributor to He can be contacted directly via email at: