The best pepper spray

Michael Pollick

Laws concerning possession and discharge of pepper spray can vary widely from state to state. Consumers should check with local law enforcement agencies before any purchase.

Personal protection is serious business, but finding the best product for your needs and comfort level can be challenging. A handgun certainly has stopping power, but carrying one in a purse requires legal registration, training, and a willingness to own a lethal weapon. A stun gun or Taser is easier to obtain and is nonlethal, but requires close range contact with an assailant and stopping power is variable.

This is why many people seek out pepper spray for self-defense purposes. Pepper spray has the nonlethal stopping power users seek, but can be used at a distance with very little training. Most states do not require legal registration for less than four ounces of pepper spray, and the canisters are easy to conceal and produce when necessary.

Our list of pepper spray dispensers are those we believe do the job when it comes to personal protection. Our top pick, SABRE RED Police-Strength Pepper Gel Spray, features a convenient hand strap for runners along with all the stopping power of police-grade pepper spray.

Considerations when choosing pepper sprays

Heat units

Not all pepper spray canisters are created equal. Manufacturers use different chemical formulas derived from different varieties of hot peppers. The strength of a pepper spray is generally measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU), which should provide useful information on overall stopping power. A jalapeño pepper, for example, may only have 5,000 Scoville units, while a ghost pepper or Scotch bonnet may have 2,000,000 units or more.

The SHU rating is an important consideration because the higher the rating, the more incapacitating the spray is. Most models marketed to the public for self-protection are rated in the 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 SHU range. Riot control pepper sprays used by professional law enforcement or game wardens can run up to 5,000,000 SHU or more.


Another consideration is accuracy. The spray usually comes out of the nozzle as a wind-resistant stream, not an aerosol mist. The user doesn't have to be precise, but they should be able to produce the canister, point the nozzle at the assailant's face, and dispense the spray under control. Some pepper spray canisters make this action easier than others, including pistol grips or ergonomically designed caps.



Most pepper spray canisters have a trigger that is very intuitive to use. There may or may not be a safety lock to discourage accidental discharge. The trigger should help orient users while aiming the spray stream at the assailant.


Some pepper spray guns deliver a steady and continuous stream until the entire supply is exhausted. This allows the user to maintain contact with the assailant until incapacitation. Other spray dispensers deliver short bursts of spray in a directed stream, which discourages assailants from a distance or stops aggressive animals in their tracks.


Many pepper spray guns designed for personal protection also feature clips or straps that help users maintain a steady grip during usage. This can be especially useful for runners, campers, or other outdoor enthusiasts who want to have their pepper spray available for use at all times.

Pepper spray prices

A personal size canister of pepper spray, easily concealed in a purse or clipped to clothing, can cost as little as $10 to $15. Larger canisters of police-grade pepper spray can cost anywhere from $45 to $60, but legality does become a factor.


Q. How does pepper spray actually stop an attacker?

A. Pepper spray is designed to incapacitate an attacker in two ways: direct contact with the eyes results in temporary blindness, and contact with the skin causes painful nerve irritation and a powerful burning sensation.

Q. How can I neutralize pepper spray after accidental contact?

A. There is no fast way to completely neutralize the effects of pepper spray, but rinsing the affected area with water should reduce the level of pain. Applying oil-free lotion to affected skin can also reduce the burning sensation.

Pepper sprays we recommend

Best of the best: SABRE RED Police-Strength Pepper Gel Spray

Our take: The Sabre Red is a great choice for joggers and others who spend time outdoors. The police-grade contents provide good stopping power.

What we like: Contents remain effective for at least four years. Hand strap provides instant accessibility. At least 35 shots per can. Gel won't blow back onto you.

What we dislike: Some may find the button difficult to press.

Best bang for your buck: SABRE Advanced Pepper Spray Keychain With Quick Release

Our take: The stopping power is impressive and the compact design makes this model ideal as a discreet form of self-defense.

What we like: Performs well under windy conditions. Contains three different police-grade pepper sprays. Easy to conceal in a purse or clip to clothing.

What we dislike: Release mechanism is not child-proof.

Choice 3: Fox Labs 5.3 Million SHU Pepper Spray

Our take: Some consumers may need to up their game when it comes to personal protection, and this professional grade pepper spray canister stops virtually any attacker.

What we like: Pistol grip improves accuracy. Professional grade ingredients 87% more powerful than average models. Stops wild animals in their tracks.

What we dislike: May not be legal to possess in some states. Powerful formula designed more for crowd control than personal protection.

Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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