What does tear gas do?

Tear gas is used both by the police for crowd control, and by individuals for self defense. According to "Tear Gas, With an Emphasis on Self Defense," there are three kinds of tear gas a consumer can buy:

  • CS (chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile)
  • CN (chloroacetophenone) - often sold as Mace
  • Pepper spray - made from chili peppers mixed with a vehicle like corn oil

CS is stronger than CN but wears off more quickly.


Tear gas that you hear about on the news, in the form of CN or CS, is often used by law enforcement when they are faced with a combative crowd. The tear gas is launched in the form of grenades or aerosol cans so that the liquid becomes an aerosol. Both CN and CS are irritants -- they irritate mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and cause tearing, sneezing, coughing, etc.

Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent that causes inflammation in the eyes, nose and mouth. Its effect is more debilitating, but you have to hit someone with it directly for it to be effective. This makes it more useful for self-defense against an individual. It is also useful against attacking dogs and bears.

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Frequently Answered Questions

Why does tear gas hurt?
The pain caused by tear gas is a result of the chemical irritating the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs.
What tear gas feels like?
Tear gas feels like a burning sensation in the eyes, nose, mouth, and lungs.