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Wasp spray for self defense? This myth just won’t die!

Wasp spray for self defense? This myth just won’t die!


“Aerosol” by PiccoloNamek. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


It’s happened again — a supposed “expert” says yellowjacket killer is an effective self defense weapon. True, or unabashed nonsense?

The internet is buzzing about a recent NBC news segment where a security “expert” recommended the use of wasp/yellowjacket/hornet spray as a good replacement for pepper spray (aka oleoresin capsicum or ‘OC’ for short), or even a firearm.

This strikes me as odd advice, as I’ve been sprayed with OC and once accidentally got a face of some wasp killer, and I’m here to tell you there is no comparison!

Let’s put this myth to bed once and for all.

First, there has been, to the best of my knowledge, no comparative testing of the efficacy of wasp spray as a defensive tool. In other words, I’ve heard of no person ever volunteering to be sprayed with the stuff in order to test whether or not it works. I wouldn’t volunteer, either, as the folks who make the stuff say that it is poisonous and is easily absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes! That doesn’t mean it’s effective at stopping an attacker, only that it has long-term health consequences from use.

Most of the people recommending its use are doing so, I suppose, from watching what it does to the insects it’s designed to attack: they curl up in mid-flight and drop to the ground, apparently in pain. It must do the same thing for humans, right?


Wasp sprays contain pyrethrins or pyrethroids, which are derivatives of the chrysanthemum plant. They’re a type of neurotoxin, which means they attack a bee’s nervous system and destroy it’s ability to function.

The concentration of pyrethrins in a typical wasp spray isn’t all that high, but the amount of material in thei stream which hits the insect may weigh as much as it does; even in a small concentration, the insect will get a huge dose of the poison relative to its weight. The distillates which serve as the carrier are selected to get past the bug’s exoskeleton and deliver the poison very rapidly. The result is the effect described above: the insect loses its ability to control its muscular functions in mid-air and drops to the ground, where it rapidly dies.

When directed at a human, I can tell you from experience this doesn’t happen. As I said at the top, several years ago I managed to spray myself in the face with some wasp spray as I attempted to snuff out a large nest. I wasn’t looking at the can as I shifted my grip to get the spray into an difficult place, and I was wearing gloves so that I couldn’t tell where the button was pointed. Instead of hitting the nest the spray hit my face!

I was in no way incapacitated and had no problem walking into the house, cleaning myself off, and checking the manufacturer’s website for first aid procedures. I did notice some tingling and my vision was a little blurry in one eye for a bit, but that was about the extent of it.

It’s claimed that the wasp killer will blind an attacker until an antidote is administered; this is simply not true. The pyrethrins are a mild irritant as they’re absorbed into the eye, and once there they can do damage to the nerves over a long period of time, but the material won’t blind someone any more than Coca-Cola will. (In fact, the Coke is probably more painful!)

Now compare this to OC spray. OC is an inflammatory agent which causes nearly instantaneous pain and swelling of tissues that it contacts. The thinner the skin, the less protection the tissues have and the more pain and swelling occurs. This is why hot pepper juice, from which OC is made, doesn’t hurt when on your fingers but stings like crazy on your face, lips, or especially eyes! OC spray causes the eyes to swell shut and extreme pain on the skin; very painful on the face, less so on extremities.

I can vouch for the pain the time I was sprayed with OC: my eyes quickly shut from the swelling and the desire to avoid more pain, I could hardly breathe because it felt as though my throat was swelling shut, my entire face felt like it was on fire, my lungs felt like they were going to spontaneously combust, and the only thing I wanted to do was escape to a cold shower to get the stuff off of me! Only with great effort was I able to open my eyes, draw my gun and shoot the target (the whole point of the exercise.) It hurt like hell!

The American Prepper’s Network, in fact, has some interesting video of a news crew that was sprayed with insect killer by someone who obviously bought into the myth. Go watch the video and notice how underwhelming the effects were.

So, the claims for efficacy of wasp spray as a defensive aerosol are unproven by testing and refuted by my anecdotal experience and those of others. It has little to no effect whatsoever; it simply doesn’t work as a deterrent (but may have long-term health consequences.)

The myth doesn’t end there. One of the reasons given for the use of wasp spray is that it has longer range than pepper spray (20 feet is most commonly claimed.) This is false — there are many pepper sprays you can buy that will shoot a similarly configured stream of OC to the same distance as the hornet killer. The difference is that you can also buy a fog or mist-type OC spray that doesn’t reach as far; this would be more comparable to the basic flying insect killer: an area spray, not a pinpoint stream.

Aside from the fact that it doesn’t work and will probably just enrage your attacker when you spray him in the face, are there other potential downsides to using wasp spray? Yes, there are.

By spraying someone with insect killer, you’re poisoning them intentionally. The label on all insecticides cautions that the material is not to be used “in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” It is illegal to intentionally spray someone with a poison, and planning to do so by buying a can of yellowjacket spray for the purposes of self defense may be construed to show prior intent to do so. Using it may expose you to very great civil liability.

So there you have it: insect sprays simply don’t work as defensive devices, they don’t deliver their payload to any greater range than does a good OC spray, and are illegal to use for anything other than their intended purpose. They are a bad choice for self defense and one has to be phenomenally ignorant to recommend their use for anything other than killing stinging insects.

-=[ Grant ]=-

P.S.: If you get the inevitable chain email telling you how great wasp spray is as a defensive tool, email back a link to this blog!

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On September 16, 2014

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