The world of chemical irritation weapons that are also nonlethal is rather large. Designed to cause pain, create minor respiratory distress, and temporary blindness, these weapons are intended to deter an individual from further attacking you or another person.
They are also used by police to blind an attacker without permanent damage and make an arrest safely. There are two common weapons that cause the aforementioned pain, blindness, and respiratory issues: pepper spray and tear gas.
- Pepper spray is a generic name for a weapon that utilizes oleoresin capsicum (OC), a chemical derived from cayenne peppers. “Pepper spray” is also a term used (incorrectly) for different types of pepper-based chemical weapons, including pepper gel and pepper foam weapons. We’ll cover all three a little later.
- The second weapon is tear gas. Tear gas, also known as CS gas, is a man-made combination of chemical irritants. CS is not naturally a gas and must be heated to become one. CS gas is also occasionally mixed with pepper spray, but that is the extent to which a civilian can purchase CS.
Tear gas is an area weapon that is difficult to use on a self-defense basis. Usually deployed from grenade-style devices, it’s primarily designed for crowd control during riots.
CS gas grenades can be extremely dangerous, and if activated in a room or building, they can cause permanent damage to that room. A CS gas grenade must be used in a safe location by a trained operator. Used correctly, it can be debilitating.
Because CS gas grenades are area weapons, they can be easier to escape from, and distance and well as the wind can determine their effectiveness.
Spray vs. Foam vs. Gel
Pepper-based weapons may go under the generic name pepper spray, but they are varied. The combination of tear gas and pepper spray can be used is any of these systems, but different combinations leads to different uses and different pros and cons.
Standard Pepper Spray
The most popular OC-based weapon is pepper spray. This was the original chemical irritant weapon invented by Mace. Pepper spray is small amount of OC mixed with a large amount of liquid, usually water.
Pepper spray remains popular for its cost, small size, and proven design. Pepper spray is the easiest OC weapon to use effectively with little training.
A pepper spray stream can have an effective stream of up to 20 feet with a large container. Most concealed-carry designs give around 10 feet of effective range. Most pepper sprays have a cone-shaped impact point. This allows for total coverage of the face very quickly and efficiently.
- Can be extremely small
- Cone-shaped spray makes hitting your target easy
- Most affordable option
- Proven and effective
- Has the largest number of options
- Offers the greatest number of bursts per ounce
- Can contaminate the environment
- OC weapon most affected by the blowback
Pepper Gel also uses OC, like pepper spray, but instead of being mixed in water, the OC is mixed in a gel. This gel form gives it more weight, which allows for the longest effective range. Pepper gel can hit bad guys out to 25 feet.
Pepper gel also tends to stick to an enemy, making it difficult to see through or remove. This also means it causes more pain. The heavier weight o the gel, however, means you have fewer shots per ounce than pepper spray.
Pepper gel is popular for home defense due to its long range. It often comes in containers much larger than traditional pepper spray.
Pepper gel is better suited for indoor use because there is less blowback overall and less chance of contaminating furniture, floors, and walls. If there is contamination, cleanup is much easier than with pepper spray.
- Long range
- Sticks to an attacker
- Less chance of blowback
- Less chance of contamination
- More expensive than spray
- Fewer bursts per ounce
- Requires greater accuracy to be effective
Pepper Foam and pepper gel are very similar. The idea is the same: create a thicker substance that clings to an attacker. Foam is the easiest to clean of all these chemical-based weapons. Pepper foam has no blowback, and contamination is rare and easily dealt with.
Foam spreads into a cone-like shape and allows you to easily coat an opponent with very little difficulty. When the bad guy tries to rub the foam out of his eyes, he’s simply going to rub it in more and more.
Pepper foam is denser than spray, and this results in fewer blasts per ounce than pepper spray. Foam can be stored in smaller containers, but the overall range is only about 10 feet. It’s a combination of some of the features of both gel and spray.
- Clings to an attacker
- Very easy to clean up
- Less contamination
- Nearly impossible to remove from an attacker’s face
- Small, easily concealable containers
- Foam spreads when fired
- More expensive
- Fewer bursts per ounce
Combining Pepper Spray and Tear Gas
CS gas grenades and other CS weapons like foggers are not available to the general public, but pepper spray mixed with tear gas is a popular blend first pioneered by Mace. This combination gives a bigger bite than common pepper spray. It tends to cause severe skin irritation and long-lasting eye pain.
The blend of tear gas and pepper spray is a favorite of police forces due to its effectiveness. More companies have begun mixing tear gas and pepper spray to create a more effective blend.
The downside of this mix is the more severe blowback can have on the user. If sprayed into the wind, for example, the airborne spray can blow back onto the user and subject him or her to its effects.
Blowback is always an issue with pepper spray, but anytime pepper spray is made more potent, you can expect a more potent blowback.
Choosing Your Weapon
My personal choice for daily carry would likely be a small container of pepper spray. I can get a very small model of pepper spray that will allow me to conceal it easily. I would also prefer to keep pepper foam on me if I was going to be indoors for the majority of the day.
For a home defense situation, pepper gel would be the better choice for long-range, hard-hitting indoor performance.
All three pepper-based weapons have proven to be effective, and you’ll need to weigh your needs as well as your environment when choosing the right spray, gel, or foam for you.
Now that you have a better idea what type of protection you are looking for you can continue to our buyer guides:
Best pepper sprays for self defense ( also includes gel and foam picks )