Does Wasp Spray Work for Self-Defense?

Evidence is lacking for wasp spray self-defense claims

Man handles pray cans on an assembly line
Blend Images/Dream Pictures/Shannon Faulk/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

A viral message circulating since 2009 advocates using wasp spray for self-defense instead of pepper spray because it's allegedly more effective and works at a greater distance. There's precious little proof that this is true, however. Apart from some YouTube videos and anecdotal claims from anonymous parties, no real research has been done.

Origins of the Story

Description: Email rumor / Viral text
Circulating since: June 2009
Status: Questionable (details below)

Example #1:
Email contributed by Marv B., January 20, 2010:

Wasp Spray

A friend who is a receptionist in a church in a high risk area was concerned about someone coming into the office on Monday to rob them when they were counting the collection. She asked the local police department about using pepper spray and they recommended to her that she get a can of wasp spray instead.

The wasp spray, they told her, can shoot up to twenty feet away and is a lot more accurate, while with the pepper spray, they have to get too close to you and could overpower you. The wasp spray temporarily blinds an attacker until they get to the hospital for an antidote. She keeps a can on her desk in the office and it doesn't attract attention from people like a can of pepper spray would. She also keeps one nearby at home for home protection... Thought this was interesting and might be of use.

FROM ANOTHER SOURCE

On the heels of a break in and beating that left an elderly woman in Toledo dead, self defense experts have a tip that could save your life..

Val Glinka teaches self-defense to students at Sylvania Southview High School . For decades, he's suggested putting a can of wasp and hornet spray near your door or bed.

Glinka says, "This is better than anything I can teach them."

Glinka considers it inexpensive, easy to find, and more effective than mace or pepper spray. The cans typically shoot 20 to 30 feet; so if someone tries to break into your home, Glinka says, "spray the culprit in the eyes". It's a tip he's given to students for decades.

It's also one he wants everyone to hear. If you're looking for protection, Glinka says look to the spray.

"That's going to give you a chance to call the police; maybe get out."

Maybe even save a life.

Please share this with all the people in your life.


Analysis

U.S. residents tempted to avail themselves of this Internet-recommended self-defense option by stockpiling wasp spray would do well consider that federal law prohibits the use of any pesticide "in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." Likewise, some states forbid carrying substances for self-protection that aren't specifically authorized for that purpose.

There could be significant liability issues involved.

The main ingredient of pepper spray is capsaicin, an oil extracted from chili peppers which temporarily causes severe irritation of the eyes and lungs, producing a strong burning sensation and difficulty breathing.

Wasp sprays, on the other hand, consist of one or more insecticides such as pyrethrum or propoxur. While the toxic side-effects of such chemicals do, in fact, include eye and lung irritation in humans, they are chemical poisons, the main purpose of which is killing pests.

Wasp spray vs. pepper spray

Notwithstanding variations among specific products (of which there are many), it's probably true that wasp and hornet sprays in general, because they're manufactured for use at greater distances, project further and more accurately than pepper sprays, which typically have a range of six to 10 feet. How reliably wasp and hornet sprays would actually work as a deterrent against human assailants is bound to vary, however, given differences in formulation and the fact that they weren't made for that use in the first place.

To my knowledge, no one has ever tested or documented the effectiveness of insecticide sprays for self-defense.

Until they do, prudence would dictate refraining from using it that way.

One reader who accidentally received a dose of wasp spray while using it around his home told me he was surprised at how little irritation he felt. "A gust of wind caused a good splash of the spray to come right back into my right eye," he wrote. "I panicked and started to run to a source of water, only to find there was no adverse reaction at all, no more than being squirted with a water pistol. It took me at least ten seconds to get to the water, and I rinsed it off, and never felt anything from it."

Update

While we still lack any academic research, various videos have appeared on the Internet putting these claims to the test. In Pepper Spray vs. Wasp Spray Challenge (2015), a subject is given tasks to complete after being sprayed with each item.

Wasp spray was found to be significantly less incapacitating than pepper spray. In Wasp Spray vs. Pepper Spray (2012), personal safety expert David Nance concluded that wasp spray is impractical both to carry and to use as a self-defense tool.