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Key words: Static Electricity, materials, triboelectric series, physics, charges electron, chemical bonding, Periodic Table, friction, positive, negative, surface charges, human skin, wool, cotton, polyester, Ron Kurtus, School for Champions. Copyright © Restrictions

Effect of Materials on Static Electricity

by Ron Kurtus (revised 26 January 2014)

Some materials cause or create more static electricity than others. Since static electricity is the collection of electrically charged particles on the surface of a material, various materials have a tendency of either giving up electrons and becoming positive (+) in charge or attracting electrons and becoming negative (−) in charge.

The Triboelectric Series is a list of materials, showing which have a greater tendency to become positive (+) and which have a greater tendency to become negative (−). The list is a handy tool to determine which combinations of materials create the most static electricity.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion



Triboelectric Series

Common materials are listed according how well they create static electricity when rubbed with another material, as well as what charge the material will possess.

Become positive in charge

The following materials tend to give up electrons when brought in contact with other materials. That means they will have an increase of positive (+) charges.

The materials are listed with those that have the greatest tendency to give up electrons at the top to those that barely give up electrons.

Materials that gain a positive (+) electrical charges
(Tend to give up electrons)

Dry human skin Greatest tendency to giving up electrons and becoming highly positive (+) in charge

Leather

 

Rabbit fur

Fur is often used to create static electricity

Glass

The glass on your TV screen gets charged and collects dust

Human hair

"Flyaway hair" is a good example of having a moderate positive (+) charge

Nylon

 

Wool

 

Lead

A surprise that lead would collect as much static electricity as cat fur

Cat fur

 

Silk

 

Aluminum

Gives up some electrons

Paper

 

Neutral

There are very few materials that do not tend to readily attract or give up electrons when brought in contact or rubbed with other materials.

Materials that are relatively neutral

Cotton

Best for non-static clothes

Steel

Not useful for static electricity

Become negative in charge

The following materials tend to attract electrons when brought in contact with other materials. They are listed from those with the least tendency to attract electrons to those that readily attract electrons.

Materials that gain a negative (−) electrical charges
(Tend to attract electrons)

Wood

Attracts some electrons, but is almost neutral

Amber

 

Hard rubber

Some combs are made of hard rubber

Nickel, Copper

Copper brushes used in Wimshurst electrostatic generator

Brass, Silver

 

Gold, Platinum

It is surprising that these metals attract electrons almost as much as polyester

Polyester

Clothes have static cling

Styrene (Styrofoam)

Packing material seems to stick to everything

Saran Wrap

You can see how Saran Wrap will stick to things

Polyurethane

 

Polyethylene (like Scotch Tape)

Pull Scotch Tape off surface and it will become charged

Polypropylene

 

Vinyl (PVC)

Many electrons will collect on PVC surface

Silicon

 

Teflon

Greatest tendency of gathering electrons on its surface and becoming highly negative (−) in charge

Best combinations to create static electricity

The best combinations of materials to create static electricity would be to have one material from the positive charge list and one from the negative charge list. Examples include combining human skin with polyester clothes, combing your hair with a plastic comb, and rubbing fur on a plexiglass rod.

Skin and polyester clothes

A common complaint people have in the winter is that they shoot sparks when touching objects. This is typically caused because they have dry skin, which can become highly positive (+) in charge, especially when the clothes they wear are made of polyester material, which can become negative (−) in charge.

People that build up static charges due to dry skin are advised to wear all-cotton clothes, which is neutral. Also, moist skin reduces the collection of charges.

Combing your hair

Human hair becomes positive (+) in charge when combed. A hard rubber or plastic comb will collect negative (−) charges on its surface. Since similar charges repel, the hair strands will push away from each other, especially if the hair is very dry. This is called "flyaway" hair. Since the comb is negatively charged, it will attract object with a positive charge—like hair. It will also even attract material with no charge—like small pieces of paper.

Fur and plexiglas rod

Rubbing a plexiglas rod with rabbit fur or wool will give the rod a negative charge. Although the rod can be used to pick up scraps of paper, the fur and wool quickly lose their charge.

Moderate combinations

When two materials that tend to give up electrons are rubbed together, the one with the greatest tendency will moderately become positive (+) in charge. Likewise, when two materials that tend to attract electrons are rubbed together, the one with the greatest tendency will moderately become negative (−) in charge.

Silk and glass

Rubbing a glass rod with a silk cloth will charge the glass with positive charges. The silk does not retain any charges for long.

Saran Wrap

Unrolling a piece of Saran Wrap or similar plastic wrap creates negative charges on the sheet. It will tend to stick to neutral items.

Summary

Various materials have a tendency of either giving up electrons and becoming positive (+) in charge or attracting electrons and becoming negative (−) in charge. The Triboelectric Series is a list of materials, showing the relative tendency to become charged. This list can be used to determine which combinations of materials create the most static electricity.


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Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Triboelectric Series - Lisiting of materials from SiliconFarEast.com

Triboelectric effect - Wikipedia

Triboelectric Charging of Common Objects - Applications from the University of Rochester

Background of Triboelectric Effect - Harvard University

Electrostatic voltmeter - Wikipedia

Static Electricity Resources

Books

Top-rated books on Electrostatics


Questions and comments

Do you have any questions, comments, or opinions on this subject? If so, send an email with your feedback. I will try to get back to you as soon as possible.


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Electricity and Magnetism topics

Effect of Materials on Static Electricity



Static Electricity topics

Basics

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Detection

Creation

Sparks and shocks

Controlling

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