Pepper spray is one of the best general-purpose self-defense tools ever. A previous blog discussed the various types of pepper spray products.   Here we will discuss how to use what you have purchased.

An extremely powerful tool for many situations, it pays to have your hand already on it, unobtrusively in your purse or pocket, whenever you are around someone who makes you uneasy, or whenever you are going to or from your car or home.

Quick review of the effects of pepper spray:  It inflames the skin and mucus membranes, causing much pain.  It forces eyes closed, makes one cry cough uncontrollably, and be unable to speak.  The effects can last from about 15 minutes to over an hour.  Effects more than four hours might need medical attention.

When properly used it does no permanent damage.  So, what’s proper?

For starters, you might not want to carry pepper spray if you have asthma, or use on someone you know to have asthma. Although many asthmatics have been sprayed without ill effect, a few cases have been serious enough to risk death.   Also, the safety of using pepper spray around very young children has not been established….

Pepper spray works on many animals. Postal delivery folk often carry pepper spray to ward off bad dogs, so the spray you carry to foil a mugger should also work well against many dogs.

It is not magic!  It does not work instantly, and it does not have the same effect on everyone.

It works best against attackers who are trying to carry out an attack that takes some time  carjacking, rape, robbery, …).  It is less likely to be effective against someone who is in the middle of a crime that they can complete in a few seconds (an attack with a club, knife, or gun).   Read that last sentence again – it is important!

It should be sprayed directly in the face of your assailant – you want to get it in the eyes, nose, and mouth, and onto the sensitive skin of the face.  Don’t worry if he has glasses or a beard; it will still be effective.

Some people think they can just spray once, and the person is instantly incapacitated.  Not true! You might have to spray several times – short bursts are better than a single long spray.  Then move away quickly, while it takes effect..

OC usually works best at a range of 4-6 feet for a spray; farther away for a burst or stream, so don’t’ plan to use it on someone in a car with you, or someone who is already within arm’s reach (unless you have no other defensive options, of course).

Consider the places you are likely to have to use the spray, and ask yourself where you could get to safety after you use the spray.  If you have to spray someone in your home or office, can you move backward into another part of the building, closing a door to keep the spray in the room with the person you just sprayed?  Or will you have to go around your some furniture, through the area of the room where the air is now heavy with the spray you just released, in order to get into a safe area of the building?  (If the latter, you should try to hold your breath and get through it as quickly as possible, or you might want to consider getting a stream or foam product instead of a spray in the first place.)

If you do get some spray on yourself, don’t worry; it will be unpleasant but not dangerous.  Don’t rub your eyes.   Flood the affected areas with lots of cool water and sit in front of a fan or another source of fresh, moving air.  (Don’t apply soap or anything oily, but non-greasy products like baby shampoo are OK.)  If you aren’t better in 45 minutes to an hour, you might want to get medical attention.

Of course, if you do have to spray anyone, you should report the incident to the police.  Hopefully, they can respond quickly and take custody of the person you sprayed before he recovers.