Does Bear Spray Expire? Here is The Complete Answer!

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Bear spray is quite potent and serves as a shield against bears and wild animals while on hikes in forests and in wooded areas. But it’s of no use if the spray is too old and has lost its usefulness. So, does bear spray expire? Get the complete truth on its shelf life and more below!

Does Bear Spray Expire Before the ‘Best By’ Date?

Yes, bear sprays can expire before it reaches the actual expiration date printed on the can, it is generally given a shelf life of 3 to 4 years. The pepper remains potent, but the effectiveness of the spray may be reduced.

How Does Bear Spray Expire?

See, bear sprays are aerosol sprays. The active ingredient (i.e. capsaicinoids, found in hot peppers) is mixed with a propellant (e.g. nitrogen) which creates pressure in the can and helps to release a stinging spray of pepper when the trigger is squeezed.

With time, the propellant’s power gradually reduces until there is no pressure left in the can. This ultimately impacts the release of the pepper and so, the bear spray becomes ineffective and is considered to be ‘expired’.

Bear sprays can expire after an outdoor hike or if they are left out in extreme temperatures. In fact, the aerosol can deplete even if the bear spray sits shelved for months!

So, while it is a good idea to consider the expiration date given on the label, it is best to self-check that the bear spray works and to keep an extra in the bag just in case the first can fails.

How to Make Sure the Bear Spray Lasts Long

To increase the bear spray’s lifespan, make sure to always store it at room temperature or in a cool, dry place. Do not store it in the trunk of a vehicle, under the seat, in the garage, or in places exposed to direct sunlight or icy conditions.

Additionally, when placing it in a backpack or in hiking gear, make sure the spray opening is closed, ensure there are no leaks and – for extra caution – keep the spray in an easily accessible pocket.

Can Expired Bear Spray Still Work?

Yes. Technically, expired bear spray can still work if we are talking about the potency of the spray itself. But since the propellant – aka the aerosol – depletes over time, the solution will eventually become watered down and the pressure will be reduced to a minimum. This will affect how far the vapor from the spray travels or if it even comes out.

According to experts, it is recommended to spray bears or other wild animals at a distance of about 25 to 35 feet. This will allow the animal to divert its charge and run away instead of run towards you. Also, keep in mind that the bear spray will only last about 15 to 45 minutes on a bear after which the painful effects start wearing off.

Here’s how to correctly spray a bear with bear spray:

  • Aim the bear spray an inch or two down the front of the bear’s head.
  • Spray for 1 to 3 seconds, up to two times, into its nose or mouth.
  • Take small steps backward and monitor the bear’s actions with close attention.
  • Do not, under any circumstance, turn your back on the bear even if it starts moving away.
  • Lightly spray the bear again if the aerosol did not have the desired effect on the animal.

Tips on How to Check if the Bear Spray has Expired

Before packing the bear spray in your hiking gear, it is important to do a self-check and determine whether the aerosol spray actually works. This check is even more vital if the weather recently dropped below freezing or if blazing sunlight shone directly in the room the bear spray was stored in.

To check if the bear spray has expired, all you need is an open field, a tape measure and the bear spray. Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand in an open field, where there is at least 40 to 45 feet of empty area.
  • Make sure there is little to no wind, especially directed towards you.
  • Pull out the bear spray, pop off the safety tab, making sure that the opening is away from you.
  • Now, test the effective range of the bear spray by pressing the trigger for 1 to 2 seconds in continuous bursts.
  • Take out the tape measure and note the nearest range of the bear spray and the furthest distance it covered.
  • This will give you an estimate of the distance the bear spray can cover effectively.
  • If it aligns with the estimated range given on the can, the bear spray isn’t expired and can be effective in preventing bear attacks.

How to Correctly Dispose Off Expired Bear Spray?

Bear sprays or pepper sprays are quite potent even after they are ‘expired’ and can sting for hours if they are accidentally sprayed on humans and animals. Because it is a hazardous waste product, it’s important to dispose of it properly. 

The first step is to check your community, state, or local municipality’s disposal and recycling laws to determine the correct way to discard the bear spray and avoid any issues with law enforcement officers.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to dispose of bear spray properly:

  • In an open field and on a non-windy day, check if the bear spray has any pepper solution leftover by spraying it away from yourself.
  • If it does, release the pressure and empty out the solution by spraying it outside.
  • Then, dump it into a trash can.
  • If the trash cans near you are frequented by animals, place the empty bear spray can in a plastic bag or a ziploc bag, securing it tightly.
  • Then, toss it into the dumpster.
  • Make sure the can isn’t leaking and place the safety tab back on the sprayer.

How Long Does Bear Spray Last in the Air?

Generally, when bear spray is sprayed in a room, the lasting effects will depend upon how well ventilated the room is. If the doors and windows are closed, the bear spray will prove to be a greater hazard to the victim and can persist up to 45 minutes than when it is sprayed in an open, airy field.

At worst, the effects of the pepper spray can be lethal (especially for asthmatics), so it is advised to always spray it outside, making sure the wind is settled or directed away from yourself.

However, in matters of self defense, where there is a minimal chance of leaving without disarming the attacker, spray in continuous bursts of 1 to 2 seconds – just enough to unsettle the assailant – and then run outside. This way the pepper exposure in the air won’t travel as fast and the victim can get out into the fresh air safely.

How to Get Bear Spray Out of the Air?

When bear spray is sprayed in an enclosed space, the most important step to take next is to run outside for fresh air. Do not close the door and after an hour has passed, the bear spray will have dissipated and won’t affect the habitant.

Since bear spray is aerosol-based, the vapor will clear but the pepper solution will settle down on the floor or stick to the walls. Fortunately, it is easy to clean up. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Start by putting on a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves, a face mask, and preferably some protective eye glasses.
  • Prepare a soap solution with water, make sure the soap is oil-free (e.g. dishwashing liquid).
  • Take a clean rag, drench it in the prepared soap solution, wring it out, and clean the pepper off the wall.
  • Let the soap sit on carpet or furniture for at least 15 minutes before scrubbing.

does bear spray expire

How Long Does Bear Spray Last on Skin?

Bear spray, on human and animal skin, lasts for about 20 minutes after which the adverse effects (like difficulty with breathing, trouble opening the eyes, coughing, and throat irritation) start to wear off.

It is important to remember that expired bear spray is just as hazardous as a fresh can – the potency of the pepper remains the same in both. Only the range of the spray is affected.

Fortunately, if the pepper spray gets in the eye, it will heal fast and the symptoms will die down in a matter of minutes. The skin however can swell up painfully, becoming red and itchy.

What to Do if You Get Bear Spray on the Skin?

If bear spray gets on the skin, you will notice some swelling, redness, and itchiness. Avoid scratching and have someone pour milk over the exposed skin. When the pain gets better, clean the pepper off with some oil-free soap (such as a dishwashing liquid) and cold water.

The symptoms will last for a couple minutes and depending upon how much was sprayed, there will most likely be no scarring. Remember to stay still and breathe normally.

Also, make sure to avoid the pepper-sprayed area and remove clothes that may have been hit with the hazardous solution to prevent recontamination.

Does Bear Spray Work on Humans?

According to experts, bear spray is more harmful than regular pepper spray in terms of the level of intensity, the distance covered, and the way it is dispensed. It is intended to be used on wild animals, like bears or cougars. So, yes, bear spray does work on humans and can be three times more hazardous than regular pepper spray. 

This is why it is illegal in most countries to use bear spray on domestic animals or humans, even if they are vicious attackers. However, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does allow bear spray to be used as a pesticide.

How Long Does Bear Spray Last on Humans?

Generally, bear spray should not be used on humans and is actually illegal in most countries. If it does accidentally land on a human, do not worry. The symptoms and the effects will not last for more than 45 minutes

If it was sprayed from a close-range, then it is best to use milk (avoid soap at all costs!) on the eyes and to take the victim to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible. If it isn’t taken care of immediately, bear spray can cause permanent eye damage, wheezing, and trouble speaking. In severe cases, it can even cause death.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does expired bear spray last?

Bear spray has a shelf life of up to 4 years and can remain potent for even longer, but will become ineffective if the propellant depletes due to non-usage or extreme temperatures. This renders the bear spray ‘expired’. Make sure to empty it out before disposal.

Can you still use expired pepper/bear spray?

Yes, expired bear spray can still be used since the potency of the pepper remains unaffected. However, it will cover a shorter distance. This is why it is advised to keep an additional, fresh can of bear spray handy just in case the first one fails to unsettle the wild animal.

What happens if you use expired bear spray?

Expired bear spray will not cover as great a distance as a fresh container but is still hazardous since the potency of the peppers will be unaffected. It is best to self-check and note the range before stepping out on a hike and remember to always keep an extra can ready.

Final Thoughts

Does bear spray expire? Yes, it does, but that does not mean it isn’t hazardous! So make sure to keep these tips in mind, research your local laws for effective usage and disposal of bear spray, and remember to self-check the spray before heading out.