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Mace and Pepper Spray are NOT the same thing. How to pick a defensive spray.

Updated on April 8, 2008

People want to defend themselves.

The large demand for defensive sprays has created dozens of different types, brands and sizes. Some are good and some are a dangerous waste of money because they don't work.

Only two types of sprays are worthwhile for civilian self protection.

Pepper Spray and Tear Gas (Mace products)

Pepper Spray is not mace. they are two totally different products with different ingredients and cause different reactions.

Pepper sprays are sold by a variety of names. Some of the common names for pepper spray are: OC (oleoresin capsicum), Pepper Spray, OC Spray, OC Pepper Spray, Pepper Gas, Cayenne Pepper Spray and Capsicum.

They all refer to a spray containing oleoresin capsicum, an extract of pepper, as the active ingredient.

Mace is a tear gas (and a brand name.) Mace contains either CS (2-chlorobenzalmalononitril, also called o-Chlorobenzylidene Malononitrile) or CN (Alphachloroacetaphenone.)

Although Mace products are still used by police in large doses for groups of people, the hand held canisters aren't used as much as they once where. They discovered that mace does not work reliably on different individuals and there are more effective products available for personal use.

The different effects of the two sprays.

Mace (CN and CS) is an IRRITANT to membrane tissue. It causes stinging pain and tearing in 5 to 30 secs. Some people can develop a resistance to CN and CS.

Pepper Spray (OC) in not an irritant. It is an INFLAMMATORY agent. The difference is important. When you are sprayed with an inflammatory agent your eyes slam shut instantly. If you can manage to open your eyes your capillaries will be dilated and you will be temporarily blind. Also, you will have an instant coughing fit because of your inflamed breathing tissues and breathing will be severely limited. Since OC is an inflammatory it is very hard to resist.

One professional trainer said, "It's like being hit with a flame thrower!" Assailants sprayed with OC stop what they are doing, they can't even think about coming after you.

Some professionals like a combination of pepper spray (inflammatory) and mace (irritant for tearing).

NOTE: Some marketers have capitalized on people not knowing what to look for in good spray defenses and sell products with too little of a dose. Very dangerous if you actually need to use it. Not to mention the waste of money. These are often found in convenience stores or in the back of magazines.

Here of some of the things to look for in a guality pepper spray or mace.

First, determine the laws in the state you which to use it. There is a short check list of state conditions and laws near the bottom of this article to help you, but check your state for their rules.

Secondly, decide how you are going to carry it. There are flip tops, twist locks, thumb trigger, and gun grip models. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Most police and other enforcement agents us a flip top canister. They have a guard over the button and it is protected from going off accidentally, but usually need to be n a carry case on the belt.

Twist locks are good for carrying in a pocket, if it has a good locking design.

Thumb trigger and gun grip models need to be in a holster of some kind and are larger. Not so good for the opera, but maybe good when hiking or camping.

Next, you need to look for quality. Here is a quick checklist of what to look for.

Is the manufacturer easy to determine? If not, look elsewhere. Some good brands come from TOP COP, FOX, SABRE, ELIMINATOR, STREETWISE, FOX, and of course, MACE.

Look for a SHU rating (Scoville Heat Units). SHU is a measure of the spray's “hotness”. A jalapeno pepper has an SHU of 5000, a habanero pepper 300,000 and a typical defensive pepper spray will be in the 2 million SHU range.

Is there a return policy if you don't like it?

Determine the method of delivery that is best for you.

Some deliver the product in a STREAM. Just like a water pistol. This is good against a single attacker and better if there is a wind.

The CONE style comes out like hair spray. This is a wider stream and easier to use against multiple attackers, but more susceptible to wind blowing it around and back at you.

A FOG delivery is lighter than the Cone method and good against multiple attackers. You don't really have to aim, just fire.

Some people like the FOAM delivery. This is like shaving cream shooting out of the nozzle. It is messy for the bad guys and less susceptible to the wind.

Experts recommend you only use canisters that are at least 2 oz. Use the little lipstick size ones if you have no other options.

It is a good idea to check the expiration date. Look for ones that are about 3 years before expiration. Chances are that you won't be using it right away and you want it to last as long a possible.

Important, know the laws in your state. Here is a quick primer of some of the State's Regulations to get you started, but check to see what your state has to say about it.

New York: Residents can only buy from licensed Firearm Dealers of Pharmacists. However, Dog and Bear repellents are legal.

Massachusetts: Residents can only buy from licensed Firearm Dealers.

Michigan: OC spray is limited to no more than 2% concentrate. CS in the only legal tear gas and can't be over 35 grams/can. They don't allow combination sprays. However, dog and bear repellents are legal.

Wisconsin: They only allow OC Pepper sprays 10% solutions of less. The can must weight between 15 and 60 grams. Also, it must look like a canister, no lipstick, pen, pager, or stunning rings. Dog and Bear repellents allowed.

Also, check about local restrictions. Many cities have their own regulations.

Lastly, check into getting trained by a professional. Cost vary, usually $50 to $100 for a OC course. Good information, especially how to use it correctly to avoid legal trouble. Worth the money right there.


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    • profile image

      donna norris 

      2 years ago

      What stupid comments.

    • TimArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 

      4 years ago from Chicago Region

      While I agree that traditional Mace and Pepper Spray are NOT the same thing, I would add that the Mace company does indeed sell pepper spray under the Mace brand name, such as Mace Pepper Gel and Mace Pepper Gun. So, yes, you can have Mace that is in fact pepper spray.

    • Alex Simring profile image

      Alex Simring 

      6 years ago from Australia

      Lots of useful information in this balanced hub. I think many people would initially be hesitant about using a spray, but once you, or someone you know, has been attacked, you stop feeling any sympathy for a would be assailant. Still, it's good to know the different products on the market, and it seems that pepper spray is more reliable. Nice hub, voted up and useful.

    • wsteveg profile image


      6 years ago


      The Scoville heat units(SHU)can be a bad indicator as taken at the base resin.This can be deceiving as the rated high heat of the resin can be diluted by only using a small amount of it the can. If I put a thimble full of coke in a glass of water it will not taste like a coke.

      You have to look at the Capsaicin + Related Capsaicinoids or CRC.

      It's worth noting that the only required thing by the EPA for a bear spray is to have at least 1% and not more than 2% Capsaicin & Related Capsaicinoids.

      There is no requirement for either the SHU or OC in bear spray. Currently there is at least one manufacture using a 3% Capsaicin & Related Capsaicinoids (CRC)in a personal defense spray

    • profile image

      Canada Goose 

      6 years ago

      How to pick a defensive spray, see more at

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Many yrs ago, I sprayed a man in the face w/what I know think was "Mace." I was alone @ nite in Chicago--he came at me from behind and grabbed me. The guy instantly hit the ground, screaming & clawing @ his face. I was horrified that I'd hurt a stranger that much! I ran home & called 911, then my boyfriend (who'd given me the spray b/c of where I lived & my work sched.) When I told him I felt bad abt hurting the fellow, he said, "Do you think that fellow felt bad abt whatever he had planned for you?"

      Think abt this before you spray someone you've loved before. It's hard to hurt someone & leave them behind. Be prepared for what to do AFTER you spray!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I got hit by a car last night and when I got up and started yelling at the people through the window they hit me with mace or pepper spray. All I know is my eyes slammed shut it was hard to breathe and it burned horribly. I'm still feeling the effects. Not a fun experience.

    • profile image

      Bryce Jackson 

      8 years ago

      I have not heard about the foam pepper spray until this hub. I can see where that could be more beneficial when being used. Thank you for the very informative hub! I am going to do more research on the foam pepper spray.

    • captainchris profile image


      8 years ago


      Thank you for bring this out so many people think that this is the same thing. You did a very good job teachin ghits!!

      thanks for sharint is great info!!

      keep on posting this kind of stuff so more people can learn how to protect them self!!

    • jeanie.stecher profile image


      8 years ago from Seattle

      Nice hub. I now find better reference when we speak of pepper spray or a mace. Previously, this two products are referred top as one but in fact they are two different things. It is important to know the different between the two because when we purchase, we will know what fits us and what we really want. Furthermore, when we purchase, we will have reference on which one to buy and which one is legal or has restrictions in the city or state where we live.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i maced someone with top cop mace and it seemed to work they were trying to wipe it off and stuff

    • adorababy profile image


      8 years ago from Syracuse, NY

      Due to the current brand-name use of the term "Mace" to refer to pepper sprays and the fact that mace is illegal in most Western countries, it is very difficult to find information on traditional mace. "Mace" and "pepper spray" are frequently used interchangeably, although they are different substances.

    • secretscp profile image


      8 years ago

      I once walked into a cloud of pepper spray a while after it had been sprayed and it was still really potent. I can't imagine actually being hit with the stuff. It would hurt!


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