Is Pepper Spray Flammable?


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We hope that you’ve never had cause to use pepper spray on someone and that it has never been used on you. However, it’s fair to say that police around the world rely on this non-lethal deterrent to ensure that situations don’t get out of control and result in loss of life. But is there a bigger risk than some pain and vision issues? Is pepper spray likely to catch fire when it’s used in public?

Pepper spray itself is not flammable. This is partly due to the high water content. However, many of the aerosol propellants used are flammable and this can cause some types of pepper spray to catch on fire.

Let’s take a look at what pepper spray actually is, as well as how it behaves around fire. Here’s what you need to know about it. 

Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?

What Is Pepper Spray?

pepper spray key chain

Pepper spray is what’s known as a lachrymatory agent. That means it’s meant to irritate the eyes and cause both temporary blindness, a burning sensation, and intense pain.

It’s been adopted for use in self-defense, policing (including riot control and crowd control), and even as a defense against being attacked by animals. (You may have heard of bear spray.) 

The idea being that temporary blindness makes it easier to either evade or to subdue the threat and for any potential victim of an action to escape. 

It’s worth noting that the use of pepper spray can also affect the respiratory system and make it feel like someone’s lungs are burning. This, in turn, can cause shortness of breath. 

What Is It Made Of?

Pepper spray is, quite literally, made from peppers.

Capsicum/Capsaicin is the active ingredient and thus, pepper spray is very easy to manufacture and produce. It’s also very cheap to make which explains its near-universal popularity for the tasks that it is intended for. 

Much of the rest of pepper spray is water with a little propylene glycol (anti-freeze) to help emulsify the capsicum oil in the water. 

There is no set recipe for pepper spray and every country uses a different measure of “strength” for pepper sprays. This means it can be hard to tell how effective a given pepper spray will be until it’s used on someone. 

Self-defense pepper spray is around 0.18%-0.3% pepper oils whereas the law enforcement versions tend to be between 1% and 2%. Bear spray is usually 1 to 2% as well.

Is It Combustible?

No. While, technically speaking, the capsicum oils could burn, the water content of the spray prevents that. So, in concentrated form is could be combustible or flammable, but not in the concentrations that are commonly found.

The only real fire risk when using pepper spray comes if you are using an aerosol spray. Then the propellant in the aerosol is likely to be a flammable product such as butane or propane.

If you’ve ever seen someone spray a deodorant over a naked flame, then you’ll know just how flammable propellants can be. 

Take a look at this video of a man in France getting pepper sprayed, shot with a taser and then catches on fire:

Because they are in the air, the water content of the pepper spray will not extinguish such a flame and that means an aerosol fire can be very dangerous, indeed.

However, it’s worth noting that many pepper sprays don’t rely on aerosol delivery and thus, aren’t flammable or combustible at all. It really depends on the type.

Can It Ever Explode?

Because pepper spray is kept in a can or in a bottle, if the container is heated up high enough, it can explode. 

This is due to the changing pressure inside the container which eventually shreds it and ejects pieces everywhere. 

There is also the potential with an aerosol-based pepper spray for burning spray to be sucked into the container causing a fire and an explosion. This could also be caused by puncturing an aerosol container or throwing it into a fire.

Does It Burn When Heated?

No, pepper spray does not burn. However, the propellant used might.

The oil could burn if in concentrated form, but given the water content of pepper spray – any fire would quickly self-extinguish. 

Is Pepper Spray A Chemical Weapon? 

No, pepper spray is categorically not a “chemical weapon”.

Chemical weapons, globally, are defined under the CWC (that is, the Chemical Weapons Convention) and if you refer to the list of chemical weapons that have been generated under that agreement – pepper spray is not on it.

It is on a list on the CWC, but as a riot-control agent not as a chemical weapon. Riot control agents are, specifically, excluded from being covered by the prohibitions of the CWC. 

In fact, pepper spray was adapted for use as riot control agent by Kamran Longhman who wrote guidelines on its effective use which have been generally adopted as a best practice everywhere pepper spray is used. 

Legality Of Pepper Spray

Finally, just because pepper spray is not necessarily flammable, it doesn’t mean that you are free to buy or use pepper spray.

Every country in the world has laws regarding the purchasing, possession, and usage of pepper spray and infringing those laws may carry particularly serious consequences.

It is up to you to determine whether ownership, etc. is legal before buying or carrying pepper spray and we would like to note that we do not endorse the use of pepper spray with this article – we simply comment on its flammability and other factual properties of the spray. 

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Chase

I have been a Firefighter in Northern California since 2012 and a Paramedic since 2008. My site is dedicated to helping answer questions people have about the fire service. I am passionate about helping to share what I have learned and assisting those who are pursuing a career as a firefighter. Thanks for coming to my site!

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