The 5 Best Pepper Sprays for Self Defense

We researched the best pepper sprays to find their pros and cons. We also answer common questions and break down the legal restrictions in each state so you know what to expect.
Best overall
Best for runners
Budget pick
Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray
  • Icon Pros  Light
    10-foot spray range
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Quick-release keychain
Best marking dye
Fox Labs Mean Green
Fox Labs Mean Green
  • Icon Pros  Light
    15-foot spray range
  • Icon Pros  Light
    Bright green dye to mark attackers
Best for pockets
Mace Brand Triple Action
  • Icon Pros  Light
    15-foot spray range
  • Icon Pros  Light
    UV dye to mark attackers

When it comes to non-lethal self defense, pepper spray is hard to beat. And try as we might to discover otherwise, there’s no denying that Sabre is the king of pepper sprays.

The company doesn’t stray from the traditional design of a pepper spray canister, which helps its products dominate the market. Sabre is also affordable with many of its best products in a sweet spot between $10 and $20 that won’t stretch your budget. Even our top pick, the Sabre Red Pepper Gel, costs around $20.



Compare the best pepper sprays for self defense

Product
Price
Carry method
Volume
Bursts
Range
Learn more
Read review
Best overall
Sabre brand pepper gel spraySabre Red Pepper Gel
Clip-on holster 1.8 oz.18Up to 18 ft.
Best for runners
Sabre Red Pepper Gel Spray for RunnersSabre Red Pepper Gel for Runners
Palm strap 0.67 oz.35 Up to 12 ft.
Budget pick
Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray
Quick-release keychain0.5 oz.25 Up to 10 ft.
Best marking dye
Fox Labs Mean GreenFox Labs Mean Green
Pocket or purse 1.5 oz.18 Up to 15 ft.
Best for pockets
Mace Brand Triple Action
Pocket or purse 1.5 oz.18 Up to 15 ft.

*Amazon.com list price as of 08/24/2021 at 12:30 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

Notepad
What makes pepper spray effective for self defense?

Pepper spray is a powerful substance containing capsaicin—or Oleoresin Capsicum (OC)—a derivative of cayenne pepper. It causes temporary blindness and an excruciating burning sensation in the eyes and mouth that incapacitates attackers—allowing for a safe getaway.

Bell
Pepper spray legality

It’s important to note that pepper spray is legal in all 50 states (as a self-defense weapon), but some states have strict regulations.

Pepper spray reviews

While we hope you never need to use them, here’s a rundown of the best pepper sprays.

1. Sabre Red Pepper Gel: Best overall

Best overall

*Amazon.com list price as of 08/24/2021 at 12:30 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

The Sabre Red Pepper Gel spray (around $20) costs twice as much as Sabre’s cheaper sprays, but it’s still one of the most popular pepper sprays on the market. Part of its success comes down to a recent innovation in self-defense sprays: gel.

Gel-based sprays are a liquid-based option that’s heavier than traditional aerosol sprays. This gives gels a huge advantage because they’re less likely to drift back into your eyes as you spray at an attacker. This reduction in blowback makes gels safer to use. Gels are also easier to aim because the spray comes out in a stream you can point at an attacker’s face.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Gel spray (safer than aerosol)
Pro Bullet Affordable
Pro Bullet 18-foot spray range
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet No practice canister
Con Bullet Possible dripping issues

Sabre Red Pepper Gel has one of the longest ranges on the market at 18 feet. The long range means you can protect yourself long before an assailant gets close. This self-defense weapon has a high OC concentration of 10%, which is the highest you can get in many states.

Some pepper sprays include a practice canister so you can get used to firing your pepper spray without using the actual product, but Sabre sells these separately from most of its products. While the canister doesn’t have a clip or keychain option, we like that it includes a holster.

Some users report that their canisters dripped after the first use—a common complaint with many pepper sprays. Keeping the canister in the holster can help with this.

2. Sabre Red Pepper Gel Spray for Runners: Best for runners

*Amazon.com list price as of 08/24/2021 at 12:30 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

The Sabre Red Pepper Gel Spray for Runners (around $13) combines the accuracy of gel-based sprays with a small package that’s easy to take on your daily run. It comes with a convenient palm strap that keeps it at the ready so that you can respond quickly to threats.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet 12-foot spray range
Pro Bullet Palm strap for faster deploy
Pro Bullet Lots of bursts
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Potentially awkward to hold on long runs

With 35 bursts per canister, the Sabre Red Pepper Gel Spray for Runners has the most bursts available on the market. While the number of bursts doesn’t make it much better than other products, it’s nice to have more flexibility. You can afford a couple of practice sprays before making it your running buddy.

Many people prefer gel because it has less blowback, and it’s more accurate—and we think these attributes are ideal for runners. The gel also has a range of 12 feet to help you keep your distance if an aggressive animal comes your way.

Because the palm strap keeps the spray in your hand, it could be slightly awkward to hold if you’re on a particularly long jog. You can rotate the canister to the back of your hand (or put it on your wrist) if you want to keep your hands free. While it’s less accessible in these spots, you still have better access than a spray you carry in a pocket or holster.

3. Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray: Budget pick

*Amazon.com list price as of 08/24/2021 at 12:30 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

The Sabre 3-in-1 Pepper Spray (around $15 including practice spray) is a traditional aerosol spray. This multipurpose defense spray includes not only a conventional capsaicin-based pepper spray but also CS tear gas that causes extra irritation and an invisible UV dye to mark attackers.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Lots of short bursts
Pro Bullet Super affordable
Pro Bullet Quick-release keychain
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Higher chance of blowback than gel sprays

Despite its small size, this canister holds up to 25 bursts and has a decent 10-foot range to keep you farther from approaching attackers. We like the small size because you can throw it on a keychain for easy access using the quick-release clip.

Because this pepper spray costs around $10, it’s easy on the wallet and easy to replace when the expiration date rolls around. Sabre suggests replacing the unit every three years for maximum effectiveness, even though it has a rated shelf life of four years.

As an aerosol spray, the Sabre 3-in-1 is a bit more vulnerable to blowback than gel sprays, but you can always buy a practice spray to familiarize yourself. There’s a safety switch on top of the canister that you twist before use, so the unit doesn’t accidentally go off in your purse or backpack.

Notepad
What is CS Tear Gas?

Chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile—also called CS tear gas—is the most common type of tear gas. Law enforcement agencies use it as a riot-control agent, but you can also find it in some defensive sprays.

4. Fox Labs Mean Green: Best marking dye

Best marking dye

*Amazon.com list price as of 08/24/2021 at 12:30 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

Fox Labs is another well-known brand in the pepper spray world. The Fox Labs Mean Green (around $26) defensive spray gets its name from the bright green dye it sprays on attackers. Unlike other brands that use UV dyes, the green coloring doesn’t require a blacklight to show up on clothing and skin. It takes a lot of effort to wash the green color off, which gives the police a leg up in making a positive ID.

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Bright green dye marks attackers for easy ID
Pro Bullet Gel spray range of 15 feet
Pro Bullet Flip-top design fits well in backpacks and purses
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet No easy way to carry on a belt or keychain
Con Bullet Lower OC content than most brands

Mean Green’s flip-top safety is a basic, high-quality option for a non-lethal weapon. It’s great for pockets and purses because there’s no exposed trigger. It’s a little more intuitive than the sliding safety on Sabre’s products. Still, you shouldn’t have problems using either brand in an emergency.

As a gel-based spray, Mean Green’s easy to aim and has an effective range of up to 15 feet. While Fox Labs doesn’t spray as far as the Sabre Red Pepper Gel, it’s still quite capable of helping you maintain a safe distance to stay out of reach and cut down on blowback.

The biggest drawback is that this canister does not come with any carrying options—no clip, holster, or keychain attachment. You’ll have to buy one separately.

Oddly enough, Fox Labs has a lower OC concentration than most brands at 6%, but the company claims it’s still useful for incapacitating an assailant. Lower concentrations can also be a safer option if you have a dog with you on a walk. If you want something stronger, consider a brand with more potency.

5. Mace Brand Triple Action: Best for pockets

Best for pockets

*Amazon.com list price as of 08/24/2021 at 12:30 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

Mace is synonymous with pepper spray for many people, but it’s actually the name of one of the oldest pepper spray manufacturers. While the company doesn’t have nearly the same popularity as Sabre, it makes some small but effective pepper sprays of note like the Mace Brand Triple Action (around $20 for the pocket size).

Pro Heading
Pros
Pro Bullet Compact flip-top design fits well in pockets
Pro Bullet UV dye to mark attackers
Pro Bullet Tear gas provides extra protection
Con Heading
Cons
Con Bullet Fewer bursts than our other picks
Con Bullet CN tear gas is potentially toxic

This is the smallest pepper spray on our list in both physical size and volume of spray. It has a flip-top design that keeps it secure in pockets and backpacks. We also like that it has a small keychain so you can put it on your car keys. The small size comes with fewer bursts than our other top picks, but it’s not unexpected.

Like the 3-in-1 from Sabre, this triple-action defensive spray also includes UV dyes for tagging attackers and tear gas to add more discomfort so you can escape. One reservation we have is that it uses CN tear gas, which is more toxic than CS gas.1 You don’t want to breathe the blowback from this stuff if you can help it.

Notepad
Chemical Mace

The Mace brand gets its name from the “chemical mace” in many of its products—also called chloroacetophenone (CN) tear gas.

More products we considered

ASP Key Defender

The ASP Key Defender is one of the sleekest pepper sprays, and it comes in a lot of fun colors. It looks like a penlight but doesn’t weigh down your keyring. With an OC rating of 10%, it’s one of the more potent sprays on the market. It doesn’t easily detach from your keys, so you need to pull the key out of the lock or car ignition first during a potential attack. It also has only six bursts, so you probably want extra defensive spray inserts or test inserts before you start practicing.

Kimber Pepper Blaster

The Kimber Pepper Blaster discards a traditional canister in favor of a design that fires like a small handgun. Not only is it easier to aim, but it’s also more intimidating to attackers. Many users say there’s less blowback and scatter with a pepper spray gun. But this is only a single-use gun that fires two bursts of 10% OC pepper spray, but after that, you’ll need a new one. They’re also pricey—retailing for around $50.

Plegium Smart Pepper Spray 5-in-1

The Plegium Smart Pepper Spray 5-in-1 connects to a smartphone app and automatically calls up to five emergency contacts when discharged. It also sends them a text with your GPS coordinates on Google maps. You'll be able to spray perpetrators with pepper spray, red dye, and UV dye in a continuous stream for 10 to 15 seconds. The Plegium has a 10-foot range, a flashing LED light, and 130-decibel siren. At around $40, the Plegium Smart Pepper Spray 5-in-1 is one of the most expensive pepper sprays on the market.

Mace Brand KeyGuard

The Mace Brand KeyGuard is absolutely tiny—one of the smallest pepper sprays we found. This keychain pepper spray is only three inches long, not much larger than a stick of lip balm. Unfortunately, it has a short five-foot range and a limited capacity of six bursts, which is a little less than we’d like. Still, it’s a good option for a compact pepper spray.

Wrist Saver

Another wrist-strap option we considered was the Wrist Saver. While we initially liked that you have quick access to a canister with a 12-foot range, we couldn’t find any information about the number of bursts or the OC rating of the spray itself. Some reviewers also point out that the canister can slip out of the wristband during particularly vigorous runs.

Final word

Pepper spray is an affordable option for personal protection that’s easy to carry in a pocket, backpack, or purse. Even though it’s a painful sensation for attackers, it’s also an excellent non-lethal alternative to carrying a firearm.

While there are many defensive spray brands, we think that Sabre stands above the competition for its wide variety of products, including our pick for the best pepper spray: Sabre Red Pepper Gel. We like the gel-based solution because it sprays farther and has less blowback than aerosol sprays. Because it’s easy to aim, you have a lot of breathing room to take action during an attack.

As useful as pepper spray is, it’s only a small part of your self-defense strategy. You can also improve your safety by being aware of your surroundings while outside, especially in unfamiliar parts of town. Or consider taking a self-defense class at your local community center. While we hope you never need to defend yourself, we also hope you’ll be ready for whatever life throws at you.

How we reviewed the best pepper sprays

Whether you need to fend off an assailant or frighten an animal, we researched the best pepper spray brands so you can buy and carry with confidence.

To find the best pepper spray, we talked with people who were in the market for pepper spray and read multiple online forums and reviews. We also looked at technical specifications and recommendations for pepper sprays.

For more information on our research practices, see our methodology.

FAQ

Pepper spray is legal in all 50 states, but some states have regulations about types of sprays, strength of sprays, and the size of canisters.

If you’re uncertain about the pepper spray laws in your state, contact your local police department.

Blowback is a big concern with pepper spray, even when you’re just practicing with it (don’t practice indoors). Here are some steps you can take after exposure:
  • Get outside. If you’re indoors, head outside to fresh air as soon as possible. Wait at least 15 minutes before going back inside. Open some windows for an hour to increase ventilation after going back in.
  • Blink and rinse. Blink rapidly to flush the irritant out of your eyes using tears. To be safe, flush your eyes with water for a few minutes (it can take up to 15 minutes).
  • Wash up. If it touches only your skin, washing with soap and water is your best bet. Don’t touch your eyes after using pepper spray or getting it on your hands—it can leave an irritating residue.
While most health effects of pepper spray fade within a day or so, seek medical attention if you continue to have problems. In instances of extreme contamination, immediately dispose of clothing and contact lenses before washing yourself.

While pepper spray gel usually carries higher concentrations of OC than traditional sprays, pepper spray is almost always non-lethal—no matter the type. Deaths from pepper spray are extremely rare and often involve other compounding factors (like asthma or use within small confined spaces).2

Bell
Call 911

Always call 911 after you use pepper spray for self defense. You can help the police catch dangerous individuals and also help prevent serious health issues for your attacker—in case non-lethal measures take a turn for the worse (with accompanying legal liabilities).

In most states, you need to be at least 18 years old to purchase pepper spray. Some states restrict possession by people with felonies.

Bear spray is a popular answer to questions about effective self defense and non-lethal weapons. Bear spray is similar to pepper spray but is usually more potent and comes in a bigger canister—most bear sprays are the size of a spraypaint can or small fire extinguisher.

Bear spray is useful for outdoor enthusiasts and folks in areas with large animals like bears or coyotes. However, bear spray isn’t practical for personal protection because it’s too big to carry.

OC stands for Oleoresin Capsicum, the oil that makes up the inflammatory compound in chili peppers. Yes, the same element that makes a chili spicy is also what makes pepper spray dangerous. OC percentage is one way that manufacturers rate the intensity of pepper spray.

SHU stands for Scoville Heat Units, and it’s how pepper growers rank spiciness. A low SHU means a pepper is not spicy at all—bell peppers come in at zero SHU. Jalapeños come in at around 3,500 SHU, but most growers consider them “less spicy” peppers.

A high SHU of around 1,000,000 means it’s extremely spicy—like a ghost pepper. Some pepper spray companies use this scale to highlight the stinging and irritating abilities of their spray—pepper spray usually comes in above 2,000,000 SHU.

State-by-state pepper spray laws

All 50 states legally permit the use of pepper spray for self defense. However, some states have restrictions on how you can use it, how much you can carry, and the minimum age when you can use it.

On a federal level, you can’t put pepper spray in carry-on luggage when you fly (checked luggage is fine, with some restrictions), or you could face a $25,000 fine. It’s also a good idea to leave your pepper spray at home before entering a federal building.

Not all of the products we recommend fit every state’s guidelines, so it’s good to know what to expect. Take a look at state pepper spray laws below to learn the requirements in your state.

States with pepper spray restrictions

State
Pepper spray restrictions
AlaskaMust be 18 or older,
Must be 21 or older to possess in schools
ArkansasCan’t carry more than 150cc (5.07 oz.)
CaliforniaMust be 16 or older,
Can’t carry more than 2.5 oz.
DelawareMust be 18 or older
District of ColumbiaMust be 18 or older,
Can’t contain CN tear gas
FloridaCan’t carry more than 2 oz.
HawaiiMust have a license,
Must be 18 or older,
Can’t carry more than 0.5 oz.,
Can’t contain CN tear gas,
No purchases via internet or mail
IllinoisMust be 18 or older,
Illegal in Chicago
IndianaNo purchases via internet or mail
MassachusettsMust buy from licensed firearm dealers,
Must be a non-felon,
No purchases via internet or mail
MichiganNo concentrations above 18% Oleoresin Capsicum (OC),3
Can’t carry more than 1.2 oz.,
No purchases via internet or mail
NevadaMust be 18 or older,
Can’t carry more than 2 oz.
New JerseyMust be 18 or older,
Must be a non-felon,
Can’t carry more than 0.75 oz.,
No purchases via internet or mail
New YorkMust be 18 or older,
Can’t carry more than 0.75 oz.,4
No capsaicin content above 0.67%,
No camouflaged canisters,
No purchases via internet or mail
North CarolinaCan’t carry more than 150cc (5.07 oz.)
PennsylvaniaNo purchases via internet or mail
Rhode IslandMust be 18 or older,
No purchases via internet or mail
South CarolinaCan’t carry more than 50cc (1.69 oz.)
WashingtonMust be 18 or older (Ages 14 to 17 with parent permission)
WisconsinMust be 18 or older,
Requires a safety feature to prevent accidental discharge,
Can’t contain UV dyes,
Can’t contain CN tear gas,
No concentrations above 10% Oleoresin Capsicum (OC),
No camouflaged canisters,
No purchases via internet or mail

States with no pepper spray restrictions

States with no pepper spray restrictionsAlabama
Arizona
Colorado
Connecticut
Georgia
Idaho
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
New Hampshire
New Mexico
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
West Virginia
Wyoming

Related articles on SafeWise


Sources

  1. Leo J. Schep, RJ Slaughter, DI McBride, BMJ Military Health 2015, “Riot control agents: the tear gases CN, CS and OC—a medical review,” May 2015. Accessed August 24, 2021.
  2. National Criminal Justice Reference Service, “The Effectiveness and Safety of Pepper Spray,” April 2003. Accessed August 24, 2021.
  3. Mark Bullion, ABC 12 WJRT, “Pepper Spray Gets More Potent in Michigan,” April 2018. Accessed August 24, 2021.
  4. New York State Department of Health, “Requirements For Self-Defense Spray Devices,” May 1997. Accessed August 24, 2021.

Disclaimers

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

John Carlsen
Written by
John Carlsen
John is a technology journalist specializing in smart home devices, security cameras, and home security systems. He has over eight years of experience researching, testing, and reviewing the latest tech—he was the Smart Home Editor for Top Ten Reviews and wrote for ASecureLife before joining SafeWise as a Staff Writer in 2020. John holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications, Journalism emphasis from Utah Valley University. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, photography, cooking, and starting countless DIY projects he has yet to complete.

Recent Articles

couple sitting on floor with moving boxes and a dog
Best Home Security Systems for Renters
These renter-friendly home security systems keep your house or apartment safe and require less commitment...
Large craftsman style house at twilight with lights on
Best Home Security Systems of 2021
After hundreds of hours of tests and research, plus a combined 50+ years of experience,...
security system being installed on wall
Best DIY Home Security Systems of 2021
DIY install home security systems are cost-efficient, effective, and easy to install. See which DIY...
Neighbourhood homes in the United Kingdom
The Best Home Alarm Systems in the UK
Find the right alarm system to protect your UK home. SafeWise recommends security systems for...