If you frequently hear a snapping sound and then a loud “Ouch” from family members, they probably just got zapped by static electricity. It's a common problem but there are steps you can take to stop, or at least reduce, those shocking little surprises.
Static electricity refers to the buildup of an electric charge on an object over time. The charge stays put (static) until it either gradually leaks away to the ground, or it is quickly discharged with a snap. A bolt of lightning in the sky is a vivid demonstration of static electricity. Static is the opposite of electrical current which is electricity that moves along a wired path called a circuit.
Static electricity builds up on your body when you put on clothing, walk-on rugs, or do other common activities that cause the collection of free electrons. When the body of gathered electrons grows large enough and you touch a metal conductor, like a doorknob, the electrons shoot into that object and you get a shock.
Here are some things you can do to reduce this problem:
- Humid summer air helps the electrons move off your body, but winter air is drier so a larger static charge can build upon you. More humidity helps reduce static electricity, so installing a whole-house humidifier is an option. Keeping the air in your home above 30% relative humidity should help quite a bit.
- Wear more cotton clothing and less synthetic clothes, especially polyester. Items like cotton socks that touch your skin are good, but wool sweaters are not so good, especially when you sit on certain types of fabric furniture.
- Moisturize your skin more frequently. Dry skin holds more static than moisture.
- Dry your clothing separately by fabric type, synthetic, and cotton. This will help to reduce the static buildup already in your clothes when you put them on. You can also adjust your dryer so that it leaves a little moisture in the clothing.
- Change your footwear to rubber-soled shoes, slippers, or footwear made to dissipate static charges called ESD shoes. You can find them at shoe stores and online, and the cost is comparable to standard non-ESD shoes.
- Treat your rugs or furniture with an anti-static chemical spray-on treatment, available at many retail stores and online. There are also anti-static mats you can use if a specific area is a problem, such as a workbench or a computer desk.
- If car shocks are a problem, the static is probably caused by your clothes rubbing against the car seat. Hold onto the door frame as you get out and don’t let go until you are completely clear of the car.
That’s a good list of options you can pursue to stop getting zapped by static. We hope it helps you to have less “zapped by static” events in your future.