This took me time to write, but I thought I had to say something about do-it-yourself self-defense solutions like this. Commercial solutions tend to be expensive and specialized, so it’s more of a chore to carry them around and replacing them when they’re no longer fresh, whether it’s stun guns or pepper spray. In this post, let’s talk about the latter, specifically a DIY version of it.
I hope to never experience being sprayed in the eyes with actual pepper spray throughout my existence on this earth. May we be struck by an asteroid, buried in rubble by an earthquake, or drowned by melting ice caps, as long as I don’t have to have pure capsaicin introduced to my ocular cavity. Thank you.
Suffice to say, I believe in the effectiveness of commercial pepper spray. I’ve seen what it can do and I can recommend it as a self-defense solution. If it can repel bears, it can deter human beings. With that said, upon seeing this post on making your own pepper spray for self-defense, and seeing what other people have to say about it, I had to make a 1000-word quip on it.
DISCLAIMER: I know next to nothing about chemistry and I don’t work professionally in the self-defense industry. I’m a failed martial artist who occasionally acts like a know-it-all.
I’m a hack who wrote this for his shitty blog. You don’t have to take this too seriously—I certainly didn’t.
Making the Pepper Spray Liquid
Capsaicin is the main ingredient, and the development of commercial pepper spray aims to get a close to pure capsaicin in liquid form as possible. Spraying it right in the eyes and nose makes for best effect, leading to immediate obstruction of vision and breathing and debilitating pain upon contact. However, the agent itself should be strong enough to induce pain and inflammation even when it just gets on the skin since you’re going for incapacitation and not just mild annoyance.
Perhaps one of those super powered hot sauce like in the YouTube show Hot Ones may suffice.
Making your own pepper spray from chili peppers poses some challenges. First is choosing the right liquid base. Pure capsaicin is actually hydrophobic, so just dipping peppers in water won’t be effective. The chemical is soluble in ethanol or benzene, so perhaps grain alcohol can be used to extract capsaicin from finely ground chili peppers similar to the actual manufacturing process.
As they tend to do it, they distill that solution (possible with a still), take the waxy residue that remains and emulsify it in water with propylene glycol (more widely available now thanks to cosmetics and vaping). The resulting solution is concentrated capsaicin ready to burn faces off.
Some people have suggested adding vinegar to the DIY agent, but this may be detrimental to overall effectiveness. While acetic acid may be an irritant as well, it’s not as effective as capsaicin alone. Also, vinegar contains mostly water, which is not ideal for this formulation.
Another factor worth considering is the viscosity of the resulting liquid. You want it thick enough to stick into wherever it’s sprayed at while not being too thick that it gunks up your delivery mechanism. Making it watery will make sure it can be easily sprayed, but it will disperse too easily. The objective is to deliver a continuous stream of “Fuck you, get off of me” to the target’s ocular and nasal regions.
If you’re making it with the peppers intact, you’ll have to make sure to not include the seeds. Most of the capsaicin is in the pith and ribs where the seeds are attached to and not the seeds themselves, so they’re not necessary. The most they’ll do is clog up the spray nozzle, so it’s best to leave them out.
DIY Pepper Spray Delivery System
The first thing I raised my eyebrow on with the DIY pepper spray idea is the spray nozzle. Mechanical spray nozzles need to be pressed repeated to coax out a sufficient amount of liquid. Having to manually press it multiple times in an adrenal state during a self-defense situation may not be the best idea as panic sets in.
Also, the limited range means you have to be really close in order to use it. While that does make it an option when assailants do get close, not having the option to deliver the payload effectively at a distance makes it less viable in real-life self-defense situations, wherein the last thing you ever want to happen is have them get close at all.
That’s why aerosol is used in commercial pepper spray. The nozzle itself is wide enough to allow for a fairly thick stream, thus letting the user apply a generous amount quickly from a considerable distance.
Self-defense situations become dire when the assailant gets within 6 feet of your personal space, wherein risk level greatly increases. Therefore, having something that can immediately address the situation from 6 feet or beyond is crucial.
Of course, a gun would be best here, but a murder or homicide charge is not conducive to one’s life. Therefore, a good pepper spray is the next best thing.
Apparent Obsession with a Secondary Purpose
The other puzzling thing I encountered when looking into this is how people tend to suggest that the concoction can double as a condiment-to-go. For the sake of argument, let’s take it somewhat seriously.
If you want it to be edible, it can’t be too hot. That defeats the point of having a pepper spray that makes attackers scream for mercy. While having a slightly spicy liquid can still be painful when directed to the eyes, it may not be enough to completely blind the sod so you can get away.
If there’s even an inkling of a chance for an assailant to endure that pain and discomfort, it’s not 100% viable for self-defense—potentially a matter of life and death.
Never mind that the suggestion of adding vinegar to make it more pungent is moot since mild annoyance does not make for an effective self-defense solution. Searing pain does.
The person who made that social media post on her DIY pepper spray seems to be convinced of its effectiveness, and perhaps her formulation does work. But just because it’s pungent, doesn’t mean it can deter a determined attacker. The goal is not merely to annoy, but to incapacitate and render him helpless and vulnerable.
The assailant will surely have evil intentions for you, so your solution must have truly evil intentions in return.
If you want a self-defense implement that reliably works and has been proven to be effective, get commercial pepper spray. It’s way better than a stun gun and can incapacitate even giant grizzly bears and angry mobs when shot directly into the eyes. It’s perhaps the only thing that can make pain compliance work in adrenal situations.
Keep in mind that if you do go for this DIY pepper spray solution, you’re taking a risk by investing your personal safety on it alone. Have a backup plan whenever possible.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have on the comment section below.