Does Wasp Spray Work for Self-Defense?

Using it for that purpose may be dangerous and present legal issues

Man handles pray cans on an assembly line

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Some sources have appeared in recent years that advocate 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.

Using wasp spray instead of pepper spray is an urban legend that sprang up in the context of discussions about various methods of self-defense. Indeed, the website for Mace—a firm that admittedly makes and markets pepper spray for self-defense purposes—notes:

"No police department, local or otherwise, would recommend for self-defense the use of a product which is designed to penetrate the nervous system of an insect and kill it."

Indeed, the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates the use of insect repellents, says that you should read the labels on insect repellents and only use them in accordance with those instructions—which, certainly, do not include pointing and spraying them at another person.

Legal Issues

Americans tempted to stockpile wasp spray for self-defense purposes would do well to consider that, according to the EPA, pesticide labels are "legally enforceable" and that the use of any pesticide "in a manner inconsistent with its labeling" is a violation of federal law. 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 in 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—propoxur can even cause headache, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle twitching, loss of coordination, and even death —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 generally project farther and more accurately than some pepper sprays. In particular, they're manufactured for use at greater distances than pepper sprays, which typically have a range of 6 to 10 feet. How reliably wasp and hornet sprays would actually work as a deterrent against human assailants is bound to vary, given differences in formulation and the fact that they weren't made for that purpose in the first place.

No scientific studies have tested or documented the effectiveness of insecticide sprays for self-defense. Until they do, prudence would dictate refraining from using it that way.

Anecdotal Research

While no academic researchers have put the wasp spray theory to the test, various videos have appeared online that claim to do just that.

In a YouTube video, "Pepper Spray vs. Wasp Spray Challenge," 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 another YouTube video—"Wasp Spray for Self Defense Debunked!"—the presenter shows that wasp spray would simply not be very effective for self-defense.

Additionally, in the 2012 YouTube video, "Wasp Spray vs. Pepper Spray," personal safety expert David Nance concludes that wasp spray is impractical both to carry and to use as a self-defense tool.

Additional References

View Article Sources
  1. Dominguez, Karen D. “How Dangerous Is Pepper Spray?” Get Poison Control Help Online or Call 1-800-222-1222, National Capital Poison Center, 21 Apr. 2020.

  2. Pesticide Application And Safety Training For Applicators Of Public Health Pesticides, westnile.ca.gov.

  3. Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Propoxur. New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.