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VERIFY: No, baking soda and water will not stop burning sensation from pepper spray

As clashes between police and protesters continue, some people are sharing this tip online. But it could cause more burning instead.

WASHINGTON — QUESTION:

If you get hit with pepper spray, will a mixture of water and baking soda sprayed on your face stop the burning sensation? 

ANSWER:

No.

SOURCES:

Chris Cramer: VP for Research, Professor, Chemical Theory and Computation, University of Minnesota

Dr. Adam Friedman: Chair of Dermatology, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor: Medical Director at National Capital Poison Center 

Scott P. Lockledge: Ph.D, CEO and Co-Founder of Tiptek

PROCESS:

As clashes between police and protesters continue, some people are sharing this tip online. To get an answer, our Verify researchers contacted experts in chemistry, dermatology and poison control, and looked at information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chris Cramer said there’s no evidence the baking soda solution would work,  because the active ingredient in pepper spray isn’t an acid - it’s capsaicin, the heat-producing compound in chile peppers.

Cramer says capsaicin is oil-based, so it won’t dissolve in water. 

“When somebody is sprayed with pepper spray, their eyes were irritated and they might be rubbing their eye," Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor said. "If something small, particulate, like baking soda, gets in the eye, that can make the irritation worse and actually lead to more serious injury, like even a corneal abrasion or a corneal ulcer." 

Credit: Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 01: A demonstrator is doused with water and milk after being hit with pepper spray from law enforcement during a protest on June 1, 2020 in downtown Washington, DC. Protests and riots continue in cities across America following the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin, 44, was charged last Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Dr. Adam Friedman said using baking soda this way could even cause an alkaline burn.

So we can Verify, experts say using baking soda and water is not an effective way to neutralize pepper spray.

Our experts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggest using soapy water on your skin and irrigating your eyes with water instead.

If you choose to use soapy water, be careful what type of soap is used. Baby shampoo is a good choice, as it will generally not irritate eyes -- it is formulated with this in mind.

However, if one chooses something like Dawn Dishwashing Detergent or any soap containing anionic surfactants, eye contact should be avoided as it may cause stinging, tearing, itching, swelling, and/or redness. If contact occurs, eyes should be rinsed with plain water. 

Scott P. Lockledge, Ph.D, CEO and Co-Founder of Tiptek, says if you choose to use soapy water, be careful what type of soap you use. He said baby shampoo is a good  choice, as it will generally not irritate eyes.  

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