How does pepper spray work?

Pepper spray acts as an irritant on the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth, and is a highly effective means of stopping an assailant, which is why police worldwide carry pepper spray as a non-lethal tool. Pepper spray causes extreme pain in the eyes, forcing them shut – effectively removing the eyesight of the attacker for up to an hour.

These are some of the effects of pepper spray:

  • Excruciating pain in the eyes, which are forced shut causing temporary blindness
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Burning skin

Most people that have experienced being sprayed with pepper spray say that it is unbearably painful. Actually, we spoke to a person who had been pepper sprayed as part of his education to become a prison guard. He had also previously in his life been in an accident where he broke his femur bone (which is very high on the scale of painful things to experience), and he told us that he would much prefer to break his femur bone again than be pepper sprayed. That’s how painful it is.

Pepper spray is however in most cases completely harmless. The pain subsides and is often gone in about an hour. Only in very rare cases does pepper spray cause any permanent damage. There has been deaths reported, but they are extremely rare and when it has happened the person has often had a pre-existing condition (asthma, for example) or been allergic to chili pepper. Pepper spray is widely considered a non-lethal and very effective tool for stopping an attacker.

How does pepper spray work

Different Pepper Spray Formulas

There are many pepper spray formulations on the market, and the marketing of the different types can be a bit confusing to say the least. Different companies use different scales of pepper spray heat and other technical jargon. In this section, we will clarify all of this ☺

We’ll begin by describing how other pepper spray brands manufacture their pepper spray liquid, and then describe Plegium’s superior manufacturing process and formula.

Other brands’ pepper spray

Other brands make pepper spray from chili pepper oil (called Oleoresin Capsicum or “OC”), extracted from real chili pepper fruits. Chili peppers and the oil extracted from them contain a high concentration of a group of molecules called capsaicinoids. Capsaicinoids are what make chili peppers taste spicy. In humans, capsaicinoids actually attach to the same nerve end receptors that detect real heat. That is why you experience a sensation of heat when eating chili peppers.

The level of heat in chili peppers is often measured in Scoville Heat Units (“SHU”). This scale ranges from 0 – 15,000,000. But there is actually another scale for measuring heat in peppers, called Major Capsaicinoids Percentage (“MC”). Some brands use the MC scale in their marketing instead of SHU. Complicated, huh? The good news is that the conversion between SHU and MC is easy: 15,000,000 SHU = 100% MC.

The manufacturing process that other brands use (cultivating, harvesting and extracting the capsaicinoids from real chili peppers) has some crucial disadvantages:

  • The concentration of capsaicinoids in chili peppers is highly inconsistent between batches. Capsaicinoid concentration in chili peppers depend on hours of sunlight, irrigation, growing temperature and soil composition, to name a few factors. Because of the inconsistency of these factors, many brands don’t know the actual heat of their pepper spray liquid.
  • The pepper oil extracted from the chili fruits contain contaminants, for example odours and color from the chili fruits and the fertilizers used when cultivating them.
  • The pepper oil extracted from the chili fruits contain contaminants, for example odours and color from the chili fruits and the fertilizers used when cultivating them.

When manufacturing pepper spray liquid, the chili pepper oil is diluted (often with a glycol) to a desired heat level. The most powerful pepper sprays on the market have a heat of around 200,000 SHU, which is equal to 1,33% MC (since 200,000 / 15,000,000 = 1,33%).

There is a process for checking the actual strength of the finished pepper spray liquid. This process is called (this one is a mouthful…): High Performance Liquid Chromatography – abbreviated “HPLC”. The HPLC machinery and process is very expensive though, which is why almost no pepper spray brands do HPLC. You can’t be sure about the actual strength and stopping power of the pepper spray you are buying, unless the manufacturer does the HPLC check (Hint: Plegium does HPLC ;)).

Plegium’s pepper spray manufacturing and formula

Plegium uses a new, patented, sustainable and lab based process for manufacturing a pepper spray liquid superior to other brands. This is how we do it:

The most potent of the capsaicinoids (the group of compounds that make chili peppers spicy, remember?) is called capsaicin. This molecule has a strength of 15,000,000 SHU. In the process by which our pepper spray is made, we acquire the capsaicin from something called “lignin” instead of from chili peppers. Counterintuitively, no chili pepper is used in our manufacturing process! Ligning is a by-product from production of paper, and a patented process is used to transform it into a colorless, odourless powder of highly concentrated capsaicin (95%+). Using this highly concentrated capsaicin powder instead of chili pepper oil (which is what other brands use) has many benefits, and it’s what enables us to make the best pepper sprays on the market

Here’s what makes our pepper spray unique and superior:

  • We know the SHU strength of the powdered capsaicin that we base our pepper spray liquid on.
  • After diluting the powdered capsaicin into a pepper spray liquid with the desired strength, we do HPLC (the “heat check”) to make sure we actually have the correct strength on each batch of pepper spray liquid. This means that you can be sure that the pepper spray from Plegium will always have the strength that we market, and the stopping power that you need.
  • All of our pepper sprays have more than enough stopping power at a strength of 1,33% MC (which is equal to 200,000 SHU).
  • Plegium’s pepper sprays has a very low freezing point (-9°F / -23°C) – lower than most other pepper sprays on the market.
  • Our pepper sprays are non-flammable.
  • Since we produce the capsaicin from lignin in a lab process instead by cultivating, harvesting and grinding chili pepper fruits, our sprays don’t contain any fertilizer contaminants or unwanted color and odours from chili fruits.
  • Plegium’s pepper spray has an added highly concentrated red dye and a UV dye, to mark the assailant. The red dye is difficult to wash off, and even after the perpetrator has managed to wash it off the UV component will glow under police UV flashlights (“black light”) for up to 2 weeks.
  • We use special machinery to pressure check every single canister of pepper spray that we make, to make sure there

Several of the above properties are attainable only through the patented lab process by which Plegium’s pepper spray liquid is manufactured.

Read more about the hottest pepper sprays on the market.

Pepper spray or pepper gel? Which is best?

Basically, a pepper spray with a stream spray pattern is best for everyday carry. We’ll explain below.

It’s not only the strength of the pepper spray that matters. Pepper spray also comes in different so called spray patterns.

The most common spray patterns are:

  • Cone – which means the spray comes out in a mist. This means that you hardly have to aim to hit your target, since the mist disperses widely. Cone has a big drawback though, which is that the mist has a high risk of blowing back into your own eyes.
  • Stream – which means the spray comes out in a collected jet that disperses to a target area of about a foot at its’ maximum range of about 10-15 feet.
  • Gel – which means the liquid is even thicker than the stream spray pattern. Gel stays in an even more collected jet even at maximum range (which often is a little farther than a stream spray). Gel has the drawback that you have to aim more precisely to hit your target.

Plegium’s superior pepper spray liquid comes in a “stream” spray pattern which we (and many other expert pepper spray users) believe is the best compromise functionally. The stream spray pattern is a good combination of long range (ours reach about 15 feet), low risk of blow-back and still disperses a bit to be forgiving with regards to aim compared to a gel spray pattern.

Pepper spray “number of bursts”

Many brands market that their canisters have a certain number of “bursts”. For example, a company can claim that their pepper spray “contains up to 10 quick bursts”. We don’t like claims like those, since it’s very difficult to understand for how long you can actually spray. The obvious question that pops up is: How long is “one burst”?

At Plegium, we have developed our own pepper spray nozzles (as we do with all crucial components) and adapted the size of the hole in the spray nozzle to maximize the spray range and spray time. All of our pepper sprays contain enough liquid to last for about 10 seconds of continuous spraying – which is more than enough to adapt your aim and hit multiple attackers, while still making the products compact and ideal for everyday carry.

All pepper sprays are in effect one-time use. If you have had to use a pepper spray, it’s important that you get a new one to make sure you have enough liquid and stopping power left if you would be so unlucky as to have to use pepper spray again. But here’s the good part. Plegium has a unique guarantee: If you have had to use any of our sprays in a real situation, we will give you a new one for free! Just email us with some sort of proof of a real incident and we’ll send you a replacement product for free ☺

Pepper Spray Comparison Table

Plegium Other Brands
Manufacturing Process Patented and sustainable lab based process. Highly precise. Process based on harvesting, drying and grinding chili pepper fruits. Less precise.
HPLC heat strength check of every canister Yes Some
Major Capsaicinoids (“MC”) 1,33% Up to ~1,33%
Scoville Heat Units (“SHU”) 200,000 Up to ~200,000
Freezing Point -9°F / -23°C Often around 32°F / 0°C
Non-Flammable Yes Some
Free from fertilizer contaminants, odours and color from chili fruits Yes No
Red dye Yes Some
UV dye Yes Some
Spray pattern Stream (best combination of range, dispersion and low risk of blow-back) Cone / stream / gel
Spray time ~10 seconds. More than enough to aim and hit multiple attackers. Varies depending on size of canister
New spray for free Yes (if used in a real situation) No

Our product development and manufacturing process

Plegium is the driving innovative force in the personal safety industry.

We believe that all people should carry an effective, affordable, feature-rich tool (for example our Smart Pepper Spray ;)) to be able to escape in case something bad would happen.

All of our products are developed and manufactured in-house, in our production facility in Sweden. You know Sweden? Not to be confused with Switzerland…

While both are countries in Europe, Switzerland makes high-end watches, cheese and chocolate. Sweden on the other hand is the birthplace of many successful companies including Spotify, IKEA, Volvo, Skype, H&M, Minecraft (!) and now Plegium ;)

We leverage the latest technologies, providing products equipped with new features (for example free GPS text messages and phone calls), at a small form factor, with an unsurpassed battery life and at a much lower price than any of our competitors.

Developing products that satisfy all of these criteria has been challenging to say the least, but we have managed to do it and are very happy with the result. And more importantly: Our customers are very happy with the result ☺

We made the choice to manufacture our products in our own factory in order to have full control over quality. These are some of the steps in manufacturing a Smart Pepper Spray:

  • Filling liquid into and pressurizing the pepper spray canisters
  • Pressure checking each and every canister with special machinery, to make sure no canisters leak
  • Manufacturing the electronic circuit boards (most companies outsource this to China – we do it in-house for maximum quality control)
  • Assembling all components that make up a Smart Pepper spray (there is about 70 components in total)
  • Putting the products inside of our beautiful customer packaging.

Almost every component that make up the Smart Pepper Spray had to be developed from scratch. These are just some of the custom made parts: The pepper spray liquid, battery packs (there are actually eight batteries in total driving the different functions of the Smart Pepper spray…), battery contacts, circuit boards, cables, Bluetooth chip firmware, iOS app, Android App, cloud communication (for the GPS text messages and phone calls), the safety lid and its’ unique spring mechanism, the siren, spray nozzle, trigger and the entire plastic enclosure (glad emoji med svettdroppe). If we would have used off-the-shelf components, the Smart Pepper Spray it would probably have been at least double in size. We took no shortcuts in making what we (and many of our customers) believe is the best personal safety device on the market.

Also, making a Bluetooth connected product that has a long lasting battery life is no small feat. We had to finely tune the firmware and antenna inside of the Smart Pepper Spray to communicate extremely power efficiently with your phone. It’s very important that you don’t have to worry about charging your pepper spray with power, because let’s be real – there is a risk of forgetting to do that... With a battery that does not need be charged, you can be sure that your emergency contacts are notified if you would have to use your Plegium Smart Pepper Spray.

Throughout our production line, there are many quality control stations. And right before putting the product inside of the customer packaging we make one more final test of all functions to make sure you receive a perfect product that you can rely on when you need it the most.

How do I use my pepper spray?

All pepper sprays from Plegium are very easy to use. Just slide your thumb under the safety lid and push down the trigger to spray and activate all other functions simultaneously. Spray the attacker across the eyes (from ear to ear), and then aim for nose and mouth. If you have a Smart Pepper Spray, the attacker is now blinded by the pepper spray, a siren is attracting attention locally, the LED is flashing, your emergency contacts receive a phone call (for free) and a text message with your GPS-location on a map (for free). And if you have the optional professional monitoring service (available as an in-app subscription in the Plegium app), a monitoring desk will notify local police as well. Pretty cool, huh?

Step 1

Put your thumb on top of the Smart spray under the protective cover

Step 2

Put your thumb on top of the Smart spray under the protective cover

Step 3

Put your thumb on top of the Smart spray under the protective cover

Step 4

Put your thumb on top of the Smart spray under the protective cover

If would be attacked, it is of course important that you know where your pepper spray is, and that you can quickly get it out and fire it. To facilitate this, we have developed a unique “break-away” magnetic keychain, which enables accessing the pepper spray fast - with one hand!

Plegium's pepper sprays are the only ones on the market with this separating magnetic keychain.

This is how you use it: Hang your Plegium pepper spray on your keychain or in a compartment on the inside of your handbag, so you know where you have it. If you need to use it, just pull it off - the keychain splits, so that you can quickly get the spray out and fire it.

Some other sprays on the market have a "buckle" on the key chain, but those require two hands to detach, which is not optimal if you are attacked.