Over the last few weeks I’ve been having some experiences that are literally shocking. I’ll walk across the room and flip a light switch or give my husband a welcome home hug and experience an electrostatic shock.
I’ve looked into the causes of this phenomenon and, more relevant to me at the moment, some ways to prevent it.
What is static electricity?
Electrical charges accumulate on the surfaces of non-conducting materials. Static often forms when two materials come into contact and the charges redistribute from one material to the other, leaving one material with a net positive charge and the other with an equivalent negative charge. This will remain the case if the two materials separate; however, if the net charges grow more quickly than can be dissipated by the materials, an electrostatic charge builds. An electrostatic discharge (the shock you feel) occurs when the surplus charges on the materials are neutralized by the movement of charges to the surroundings.
Ways to limit static electricity in the home
- Use a humidifier. Humid air promotes the collection of water molecules on household surfaces, preventing the buildup of electrical charges. Aim for humidity levels of about 40%. Mechanical humidifiers work well, but if you don’t have access to one you can simply simmer a pot of water on the stove (just don’t forget the stove is on).
- Keep houseplants. Leafy indoor plants are able to turn liquid water into water vapor, which adds humidity to the air in a manner similar to mechanical humidifiers.
- Wear clothes and shoes made of natural fibers. Cotton picks up less static charge than fabrics such as polyester or nylon. Likewise, leather-soled shoes pick up less static charge than rubber-soled shoes. Regardless of the material that comprises your shoe soles, try not to drag your feet along the carpet when you walk.
- Use moisturizing products on your hair and skin. The moisture of conditioners and lotions helps prevent the collection of electrical charges, which will keep your hair from standing on end and minimize static cling.
- Use antistatic lotions and straps. A variety of antistatic products, such as lotions and wrist bands, are available for purchase. Generally, these are used in industries such as telecommunications and utilities; however, they are widely available on the internet.
Static electricity is typically not dangerous because it has almost no current. However, in a building with a natural gas leak an explosion could result. There have also been rare instances where injuries involving hot fluids have occurred after static shock caused unintended recoils. Additionally, it is possible for sensitive electronics to be damaged by an electrostatic discharge.
More information on the topic is available from the Library of Congress and the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.
What tips can you offer for minimizing static electricity in the home?