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Explanation of Reducing or Preventing Static Electricity Shocks by Ron Kurtus - Succeed in Understanding Physics. Key words: pain, spark, dry skin, synthetic materials, polyester, grounding, eliminating, newsprint, plastic sheeting machines, shoes, rug, trampoline, body chemistry, discharge, physical science, School for Champions. Copyright © Restrictions

Reducing or Preventing Static Electricity Shocks

by Ron Kurtus (15 February 2009)

You can reduce or prevent shocks from a buildup of static electric charges by taking the proper steps. A shock from static electricity is not a true electric shock but rather the pain from a hot spark jumping to or from your finger or other parts of your body. However, getting an unexpected shock simply from touching some object is still a nuisance to many people.

Dry skin rubbing on clothes made of synthetic materials is the greatest cause of building up static electric charges enough to give you a shock. Materials rubbing against each other in proximity of you can give you charges through electrostatic induction.

Reducing or eliminating the ability of the sources of static electricity to build up their charges can help to give you some relief from the shocks. You can prevent shocks by remembering to ground yourself often.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



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Common causes of excess charges

There are a number of possible causes of static electricity in your body.

Rubbing against skin

The number-one cause of getting an excess of static electricity charges in your body is rubbing certain materials against your skin. This is especially true if you have dry skin. Synthetic materials such as polyester clothes are the major culprits.

Materials rub against each other

Likewise, walking across a rug made of synthetic fibers with some types of shoes will generate static electric charges, which will get in your body through electrostatic induction. This is especially true when the humidity is low.

A similar combination is when you or your children jump on a trampoline, which usually have a synthetic fiber surface.

Just as static cling occurs in the clothes dryer, when clothes rub against each other or some materials, they can create static charges. One example, is when you slide out of your car, where the seat of the car and your clothes create charges.

Machinery

Some people work in an environment where the machinery build up static electric charges that then get transferred to them through electrostatic induction. They in turn often get static electric shocks when they touch metal equipment. Factories making newsprint or plastic sheeting are good examples of places where workers have continual problems with shocks.

(See Static Shocks for more information.)

Reducing static shocks

You need to look to the sources of static electricity to reduce your penchant or inclination for getting shocks. Since it is difficult to know the exact source of the static electric charges, you need to do some experimenting to reduce the problem as best you can.

Increase humidity

Static electricity is more active when the air and materials are dry. The humidity is normally lower in the winter, and heating the house further reduces the humidity. Also, locations with a desert climate usually have very low relative humidity.

One thing you can do is to use a humidifier to raise the humidity in the house. That may help a little. Also, having plants in the house helps increase the humidity level.

Moisturize skin

Some people have very dry skin that may cause the buildup of static charges, especially in the winter. One thing to try is to use moisturizers or lotions on your skin. The only problem with that, of course, is that you might have to put it all over your body.

You can experiment with different types of moisturizers and in different locations. Perhaps just putting lotion on you hands may be sufficient, since shocks and sparks usually come from touching objects with your hands.

Clothes on skin

Some clothing materials, such as polyester materials, cause more static electricity than others when they rub against your skin. If you have a problem with static electric shocks, you might try wear 100% cotton or wool clothing.

Since women often wear undergarments made of nylon or other synthetic material, they should try cotton items to see if it gives them relief from the shocks.

Clothes on other materials

When you slide out of a car or off furniture in the house, you can create static electricity if the combination of materials is right. Try putting a cover on the seat and changing the materials or your clothes.

You could try spraying things with an anti-static spray, such as is used to prevent static cling. However, I'm not sure how long the anti-static spray lasts or if continued use can discolor things.

Pajamas and sheets

If your pajamas and bed sheets are the type of materials that create static electricity when rubbed together, you can be bothered with shocks all night long on a dry winter night. If you have dry skin, the problem can be amplified.

Try using pajamas and/or sheets made of different materials. Cotton does not seem to develop as much static electricity as some artificial fibers.

Soles of shoes

People get shocks from walking on the rug in the house, jumping on a trampoline, or playing basketball in the gym. Certain synthetic rubber soles on shoes create a lot of static electricity. Experiment with different shoes.

The reason you build up static electricity usually comes from walking on a rug with certain types of shoes, when the weather is very dry. Static electricity is more common in the winter, because the air is often dry.

On a day that you get a lot of sparks, you can experiment walking on the rug with different shoes to see what type of soles create the most (or least) static electricity.

Body chemistry

Individual body chemistry has a significant impact on how electric current affects an individual. Some people are highly sensitive to current, experiencing involuntary muscle contraction with shocks from static electricity. Others can draw large sparks from discharging static electricity and hardly feel it, much less experience a muscle spasm.

Also, some people see to have a tendency to build up static electric charges in their bodies. The problem may be due to their body chemistry, such that their blood has an excess of ions. One theory is that too much salt in your system causes that problem. Another theory is that your system is too acidic.

You can try some diet changes to see if it helps. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much medical research in this area.

Preventing shocks

The only way to prevent getting a painful static electric shock when you touch a metal object or other electrical conductor is to ground yourself to drain off those excess static charges.

Must be constantly aware

If you have a tendency for building up static electricity, you need to be constantly aware of the possibility of getting a shock. You need to remember to ground yourself before touching anything metal, an animal or even another person.

Use a key or thimble

Touching a nonconductor like a wooden door before you touch the metal doorknob can help reduce the shock, but the best way for prevention is to drain off all your charges by directly touching the conductor with something in between you and the grounding item.

You can use a metal object like a key to touch a conductor and drain off your excess charges. This may cause the spark to fly from the key and not your finger. That is much less uncomfortable.

You can also use a ring you are wearing or even use a metal thimble to move the shock from your finger to the metal object. Note that sparks may blemish a ring, so don't use a valuable one.

Using a thimble to protect finger from static electric shock

Using a thimble to protect finger
from static shock before touching doorknob

Use a static shock eliminator

There are devices on the market that can be used to drain off static electric charges from your body. They have simple electronics that slow the discharge of electrons and prevent a spark. This can be important in preventing explosions by grounding yourself after getting out of your car at a filling station.

Static shock eliminator fits on key chain

Static shock eliminator fits on key chain

(This device may be purchased through

Amazon.com

Discipline needed

You really need discipline to remember to ground yourself before touching metal objects of conductors. However, if static electricity shocks are a major problem with you, the extra effort should be worth the trouble.

Summary

By taking the proper steps, you can reduce or prevent shocks from a buildup of static electric charges. Dry skin rubbing on clothes made of synthetic materials is the greatest cause static electric charges in your body. Reducing or eliminating the ability of the sources of static electricity to build up charges can help to give you relief from the shocks. You can prevent shocks by remembering to ground yourself often.


Protect yourself from harm


Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials

Websites

Static Shock Key Rings - From Amazon.com

Humans and Sparks - Preventing painful static sparks

Static Electricity Resources

Static Shock Key Rings - From Amazon.com

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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