4 quick steps on how to use pepper spray to protect yourself

Using pepper spray to fight an attacker is not simply a matter of point and shoot. There are many variables that you need to think about beforehand in order to use pepper spray effectively and efficiently to combat an attack. The four most important things to consider are; how to carry pepper spray, when to use it, how to shoot and how to withdraw.

How to wear it

There are three basic ways to carry a defensive spray, and the choice of which is best for you will be determined by the type of spray, the size of the spray, and whether you are a man or a woman.

  • Carry bagMany women prefer this method, especially if they carry a large container such as 4 oz or more. The downside is that most women tend to toss it in their purse and forget about it, making it difficult to find it at a time when they need it. If you choose this option, keep your spray can in its own bag in your purse, where it is quick and easy to access. Many jars come with a clip so that it can be placed in an inside pocket or on the flap of the bag for easy access. It should be in a place where you can reach in and grab it without looking.
  • Keychain Transport: This method is the most common and popular way to carry pepper spray. Most people already have the keys in hand when approaching or exiting their vehicle, so it can be easily deployed at any time. The downside is that at ½ ounce size, most keychain pepper sprays are smaller than portfolio models. One way women rectify this is to carry a keychain spray for quick deployment and an additional 4 oz or more model in their purse in case they empty the keychain canister.
  • Belt Carry – This is how the police carry pepper spray from your department. It is also the method of choice for men using defensive sprays. The larger model sprays generally come with some type of leather belt strap. It is at your fingertips quickly and easily. Many people position the belt clip so that it faces the ground. You will find that it is easier to draw the spray quickly this way, rather than having to draw upwards, which is an unnatural movement. Also, be sure to position it so that when you retrieve it, the trigger is already in the correct position in your hand. This way, you won’t have to waste valuable time rearranging it in your hand.

Never carry pepper spray in your pocket, you won’t be able to retrieve it fast enough to deploy it. Most assaults happen quickly and without warning, so rapid implementation is vital to achieving the desired result. Carrying pepper spray in your pocket is similar to giving an attacker a one or two second advantage. Remember, for a defensive spray to be effective, it must be readily available.

When to use it

Your time, deciding exactly when to use your spray, is essential to effectively stopping an attacker in your way. The goal is to surprise the attacker. Take out the pepper spray only when you are ready to use it. Don’t show it and threaten him with it, hoping you can scare him away.

Don’t give the attacker time to think and react. This makes it more difficult to hit a direct hit if you can duck or avoid the spray. In addition, many attackers carry a weapon but do not usually display it. They often feel like they can overpower someone without a weapon, but they carry one in case they need it. Picking up the pepper spray prematurely without shooting him only gives him time to retrieve his weapon and use it against you.


Most women who use pepper spray are not prepared to use it because they have never been trained on how to use it. They mistakenly believe that all they have to do is point and shoot. They underestimate how quickly things happen and don’t realize how difficult it can be to shoot and aim accurately in stressful conditions.

Once you’ve got your spray out and you’re ready to shoot, it’s important to get in a good athletic position in preparation for shooting. Squat slightly with your feet shoulder-width apart, evenly balanced, with your shoulders straight, and looking directly at the attacker.

Hold out your non-shooting hand and scream “stop”, while shooting. This will focus your energy on the task at hand and can draw the attacker’s attention to your hand and away from the pepper spray. It also gives you time to lift and aim the spray before firing. However, keep in mind that many people under the stress of the situation may not be able to keep the firing hand steady enough to achieve accurate aim.

If you think this might be the case for you, use your non-shooting hand to steady your shooting hand.

While shooting, never push your hand forward as it will affect your aim. Instead, lift your arm gently but in a quick, smooth motion. Don’t turn your back on the attacker! While shooting, back off slightly slowly, steadily, and deliberately. Try to limit upper body movement as much as possible. Limiting upper body and hip movement will keep your goal steady and prevent you from constantly having to readjust your goal.

Taking a step back will give you more time, create more distance between you and the attacker, and draw the attacker into the spray. Don’t close your eyes while spraying and don’t wave the spray like a fire hose, this only wastes the spray. Remember to aim, shoot and look where you are hitting and correct if necessary.

Aim for the head and shoulders. Shooting for about 1 to 2 seconds is usually adequate. At this point, an attacker will normally pause for a moment while trying to recover as pain and uncontrollable coughing spasms begin to appear. Once disabled, stop spraying and run away.


The point of having pepper spray is to use it to escape! So once you’ve been neutralized, get out of there. Do not wait for the police or try to stop it by the police. Do not move towards the attacker or you may be affected by the spray. While you’re escaping, stay away, but don’t turn your back on him! Obviously you need to see where you are going, but don’t turn your back on it until you are a good distance away. It may get up and try to follow you, so you may need to spray it again. Once you’re at a safe distance (about 100 feet or so) and see that you won’t get up, turn around, run, and escape as quickly as possible.

So remember to stay calm, aim, spray, adjust, and continue spraying, while backing up. Also, if you want to be able to use the spray effectively, it is important that you practice all the steps. If you don’t practice, when you find yourself in a threatening situation, you will probably panic and freeze. Practice until you feel confident and then when something happens you won’t panic because you are prepared. If you don’t want to practice with real pepper spray, you can buy a water-based practice or inert spray.