On Her Own

Don’t use wasp spray for self-defense

It seems that the idea of using wasp spray as a defensive weapon has been making the rounds again. It’s a persistent idea and one that has been recommended by all sorts of people, even purported self-defense experts.

They’re wrong.

Wasp spray should not be used for any purpose other than killing annoying flying, stinging insects like wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets.

I’m not saying that because of some idea that you’ll get prosecuted for breaking federal law by using wasp spray in a manner not permitted or intended by its labeling. Let’s be real: that’s not what you’re going to get in trouble for.

The real problem with wasp spray is that it doesn’t work against humans.

Without getting too deeply into the science of wasp spray (though we can, if you like), the active ingredients are generally not toxic to humans in the kinds of concentrations we see on the consumer market. To the extent that they are, they take a certain amount of time and repeated exposure to do any real harm. In the heat of an attack, it generally won’t have a fast or strong enough effect to be useful in stopping or slowing down a bad guy. It’s certainly not reliable against human beings, and there are better tools available.

One of the arguments you’ll hear for wasp spray is that at least it sprays a far distance, about double that of pepper spray. It’s true that most wasp sprays do reach out around twenty feet. However, so do the more industrial-sized, law enforcement-oriented pepper spray canisters, like the Sabre Red MK-3 Crossfire stream units. They aren’t the same keychain or pocket-sized pepper sprays most of us carry but then again, wasp spray doesn’t come in those tiny sizes either. And while the smaller pepper sprays don’t reach as far, they do have that advantage of much easier to carry around than that giant bottle of wasp spray.

Some folks like wasp spray because it’s inexpensive and easy to buy. That’s not untrue, but a good quality pepper spray will normally run right around the same price and certainly under $20. And you can buy both on Amazon or at your local hardware store. The only exception may be localities where pepper spray has some purchase restrictions, although those places tend to not make it as hard to get pepper spray as you might think. The limitations you’ll run into usually revolve around formulation and size, or requiring you to go to licensed stores or fill out forms – not ideal, but not often a difficult problem.

Nevertheless, you’ll hear that wasp spray is great because it’s permissible just about everywhere. School campuses and workplaces are popular settings for the wasp spray suggestion because of strict no-weapons policies that may even restrict pepper spray. I am absolutely empathetic to that struggle. However, I don’t think the answer is to have something on hand that can only give false confidence. You might feel better with a “something is better than nothing” mindset, but it won’t help you if it really does nothing when you really need it, not to mention the wasted time and effort if you find that out in the middle of an attack.

Meanwhile, pepper spray is allowed in more places than you might think, and if not, then Chuck Haggard of Agile/Training and Consulting clued me in to a better option that will almost certainly be okay in even the most restrictive environments: the simple ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher. Spraying one of those into the face of an attacker gives you a strong, blinding, cough-inducing blast, but one that is ultimately largely harmless in most instances (exceptions abound! Don’t mistake this as an indication that it’s safe to spray someone in the face with a fire extinguisher). You’ll get a very real distracting effect, and then you’re left with a metal canister that itself can serve as an impact weapon. It’s far more likely to be effective than wasp spray as an improvised weapon, even in unpracticed hands.

The best option if you can? Just use pepper spray. It’s formulated, tested, and intended for use against humans, and it works. Why improvise with something designed for another purpose entirely, and hope that it works as well against a person as it does against an insect? And if you can’t use a purpose-built tool like pepper spray and have the space for wasp spray, why not use something that is just as easy to have around, attracts just as little attention, and is far more likely to actually give you a chance to escape or fight back?

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