There are lots of things to be aware of when it comes to fire safety. Most preppers know to take great care when storing liquid fuels and when cooking in the kitchen.
But sometimes it’s the things you least expect that could turn out to be really dangerous when it comes to fire hazard. How about some of your EDC items?
Let’s look at pepper spray. Pepper spray is one of the single best defensive tools that anyone can carry, but is it a fire hazard? Is pepper spray flammable?
Pepper spray is typically not flammable these days, but any formulation made with flammable propellant or an alcohol-based solution can catch fire when exposed to an ignition source. Aerosol-types tend to be more flammable than gels or foams.
If you’ve been paying any attention in the police or self-defense spheres online, you’ve probably heard of a few highly publicized cases where police officers accidentally lit a suspect on fire after pepper spraying and then subsequently tasing them. Bad day!
This wasn’t a freak thing, and is entirely predictable if you understand the variables at play.
Regardless, you need to know exactly what you’re dealing with when it comes to pepper spray in order to be better prepared and to stay on the right side of the law when it comes to use of force. I’ll tell you more below.
The Flammability of Pepper Spray Depends on the Propellant
First things first, you should know that most types of pepper spray today are not considered to be flammable, and are indeed very difficult to ignite.
That’s because there have been some serious mishaps in the past using the stuff as I described above!
Broadly, the major culprit when it comes to the flammability of pepper spray is the propellant, or sometimes the solvent part of the solution.
If any kind of pepper spray or other defensive spray uses a flammable propellant like butane as opposed to an inert gas like nitrogen, it will easily ignite if exposed to sparks, open flames or any extremely hot surface. Same thing goes if the formula uses alcohol as the solvent.
Conversely, inert gasses like nitrogen absolutely will not catch fire so long as all of the other ingredients in the formula are likewise non-flammable.
Does Pepper Spray Ignite at Any Temperature?
Yes, pepper spray can and will ignite at a relatively low temperature if it uses flammable propellant, alcohol or other combustible materials in the formulation.
Although less and less common these days after some highly publicized accidents, there are still some manufacturers out there that make these sprays, and even a single spark, say from a taser or cigarette, might be enough to ignite the solution.
Does Pepper Spray React with High Temperature?
Assuming that your pepper spray is not overtly flammable as described above, it generally won’t react hazardously with high temperatures.
A non-flammable formula doesn’t suddenly become flammable even if it is exposed to sustained, high temps.
The vast majority of pepper spray formulations on the market, defined as OC or oleoresin capsicum, or made with compounds that can degrade and lose potency or even effectiveness if they are kept too hot.
This is why you never want to keep pepper spray in a place that is subjected to temperature extremes, and heat in particular.
That means the interior of your car is right out, and think twice before storing it in an environment that typically gets hot like your garage or a shed.
Aerosol or Mist Sprays are More Flammable than Foam or Gel as a Rule of Thumb
Another thing to keep in mind, no matter what kind of spray you are using, is it the overall flammability of a spray is increased if it is an aerosol or mist-type dispenser.
This is because the tiny individual droplets that make up the mist have far less surface area compared to the volume that they contain.
Take this, and then add into the fact there was a lot more oxygen present due to the nature of the spray and the stage is set for easy ignition.
Compared to foam- or gel-type units, mist and aerosol will always be a lot more flammable but if the formula you’re using is inherently nonflammable it shouldn’t make much difference.
Is Capsaicin Flammable?
Yes, technically speaking. Capsaicin, the ingredient that makes hot peppers and pepper spray hot, can itself be ignited but it has a very high ignition temperature by itself and isn’t considered to be the culprit responsible for making pepper spray flammable.
Is Tear Gas Flammable?
No, not generally. If you’re talking about true tear gas (CN or CS) as opposed to pepper spray (OC) all formulations and major manufacturers strive to make it as unlikely to ignite as possible considering its typical method of deployment from a grenade or canister launching firearms.
That being said, there have been some historical incidents that have made people question whether or not tear gas is actually as non-flammable as manufacturers claim.
Broadly speaking, it’s highly unlikely that anything will ignite tear gas in any form, though.
Will Pepper Spray Make a Fire Worse?
Yes, it definitely can if it is a flammable formula or if it uses a flammable propellant like butane. Either will brew up quickly and serve as a ready source of fuel for a fire, intensifying it and potentially spreading it.
Also, in the case of a unit using butane propellant, it’s not out of the question that a nearby ignition source could ignite the dispensed stream of formula mingled with the propellant which would then travel back up the stream, into the canister, and cause it to combust with potentially lethal results.
If you have any doubts whatsoever, check the package or the canister of pepper spray itself for any warning placards, and if it’s still not clear contact the manufacturer.
If, for whatever reason, they aren’t forthcoming with that information, you must assume that your pepper spray is flammable! At that point, I highly recommend you replace it for safety and liability purposes.
Is Pepper Spray Reactive with Other Substances?
Generally no, but this depends on the formulation.
Again, there are many different pepper spray formulas and manufacturers out there on the market and it’s too difficult to say what chemicals or other substances might negatively interact with dispensed pepper spray to create a dangerous condition or to increase fire hazard.
But, pepper spray has shown to be dependably non-reactive with many other substances considering its near-constant use by police and armed citizens so this is not considered to be a major factor
How Should You Deal with Pepper Spray Exposed to Fire?
If you’re dealing with a fire that is started or, somehow, being fueled by pepper spray you should be able to put it out by any typical means, including water.
However, the alcohol and oils that might be present in pepper spray could potentially make extinguishing with water a tricky proposition, and it isn’t out of the question that water might splash or spread the flaming solution in unintended ways.
A better, sure and safer method is to just use an extinguisher. A common ABC-rated fire extinguisher should put out any conceivable fire started or fed by pepper spray.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.