ZAP! How to Reduce Static Electricity?
Your clothes are crackling, your bedsheets are sticking and popping, and if you’re lucky enough to have pets, you can see the little “lightning bolts” when you pet them.
If frigid temperatures aren’t cruel enough, winter also ushers in static electricity season in much of the country, including western Pennsylvania. Many of us pad our homes in fear that anything – a doorknob, a rug, a child’s stray balloon – could turn on us with a zap.
What is static?
You might recall playing with magnets as a child and understanding that each magnet had a positive end and a negative one, too. Do you remember that negative to negative charges would repel one another and positive to positive would do the same? But, if you put negative to positive, they stick together.
Static is the result of the imbalance of too many positive or negative charges in or on an object. The charges have to get out somehow. The way this happens can be in the form of a “shock” sensation.
If you’ve ever rubbed a latex balloon over your hair, and then stuck it to a wall, you’ve observed electrostatic charge in action. Scuff your feet along the carpet when you walk, and then touch a doorknob or another person, and you’ll also feel the zap.
Winter is usually the time of year when you most often experience static shock. This is because you most likely don’t reside in the tropics, meaning your wintertime is cold and dry –perfect conditions for static buildup. To make things even more problematic, you usually react to the cold by cranking up the heat, further reducing the humidity in the air.
Are static shocks a health risk? Fortunately, there is minimal risk to such electrostatic charges. In most instances, they are merely an annoyance, albeit an unpleasant one. The biggest risk is that a shock could cause an accidental injury. For example, you might pull back your arm abruptly and hit it against the edge of a countertop.
There are, however, a few exceptions. Solvents are flammable. Aerosols are flammable. A number of common household items fall into this category. Clearly, you don’t need to walk around your home worried about things like sugar or corn chips triggering explosions. Still, you do need to know how to control static electricity around some flammable substances.
Remember, static electric shocks are basically miniature lightning bolts jumping between you and other things. So, the more flammable those things are, the bigger the risk that electrostatic discharge (ESD) could cause a fire.
One more item of concern – ESD can harm electronic devices, although this is becoming more and more less common. Manufacturers now insulate semiconductors and other sensitive components to protect them from ESD during use.
As such, these days, the potential of static electricity damaging electronics is mainly reduced to any time the internal components are exposed. This is why computer repair technicians and workers in phone assembly plants wear antistatic devices. At home, it shouldn’t be much of a concern, unless you’re trying to repair your own equipment.
Tools and tricks for tackling static
Dry air, synthetic materials, and carpeting are the most common culprits when it comes to causing static electricity. Getting rid of static is not a step-by-step procedure, but rather, there are tricks and tools available to help reduce the static buildup in your home and clothing.
Control static in your home
To eliminate static shocks when you grab doorknobs or reach for other things in your house, you need a two-pronged line of attack. First, and foremost, you need to humidify your air properly, then, second, address the surfaces that cause a static buildup.
Add moisture to dry air
Your goal should be to keep your home’s relative humidity to at least 30 percent during winter months – though 40 to 50 percent is considered ideal. There are several ways to improve indoor humidity. Some of the easiest include:
- Use a humidifier. As dry air is one big reason static electricity becomes such a problem, it only makes sense to incorporate some water into the air to attack the static. Raising the humidity level in your home via a humidifier will reduce random static shocks, static cling, and static in your hair. The water particles in the humid air will break up static charges more quickly. If you don’t have a whole-house humidifier as part of the HVAC system, a couple of room humidifiers can also do the job. Remember to keep them clean to avoid mold and mildew problems down the road.
Need help raising your home’s humidity levels?
Just contact us. The professional electricians at J&A South Park will inspect your home and provide the solution that works best to keep your home’s humidity levels right where they should be.
We have a complete line of humidifiers from whole-house to room-size from which to choose.
A humidifier may be enough to fix your situation altogether. If not, there are plenty more solutions to take into consideration.,
- DIY humidifier. If you don’t want to invest in a humidifier at this time, you can do the DIY version with a pot on the stove, though this fix can only be used for a few hours each day. Some, including myself, have learned the hard way that you can’t boil water in the same pot every day all day long without ruining your pot.
- Note: If you add a little cinnamon or citrus peel, it’ll double as an air freshener.
- Invest in more houseplants. Having plants around the house can help increase humidity as well. House plants “sweat” a lot. Up to 90 percent of the water they consume is released back into the air via tiny holes (that act like pores) in the plant’s leaves.
Get rid of static on carpets, curtains and upholstery.
- Stop wearing rubber-soled shoes. Since rubber is a first-rate insulator, wearing rubber-soled shoes indoors allows a lot of static to accumulate on your body. When you touch something with a different ionic charge, you’ll get an annoying and sometimes painful static shock. The solution is switching to leather-soled shoes or simply wearing socks indoors. (Adopting a no-shoes policy will help keep your carpet cleaner, too.)
- Cover synthetic sofas with a sheet. If you have kids or pets, it’s easier to clean a sofa upholstered with synthetic fabric. Unfortunately, synthetic fabrics lead to shocks. Spread a cotton sheet or blanket over microfiber, polyester or other synthetic upholstery to control the static buildup.
- Treat your carpets, curtains and upholstery with an anti-static spray. Most carpet retailers offer spray treatments. Lightly spray these items with your antistatic spray and wait for it to completely dry. This will greatly decrease the amount of static electricity you experience.
Making your own anti-static spray is easy and economical.
Combine the following in a bottle with a sprayer nozzle, shake well and mist your carpets, curtains and upholstery.
• 2 tablespoons fabric softener or hair conditioner
• 2 cups of plain water
How to remove static from clothing
Static makes your clothing cling to your body and makes it harder to fold right out of the laundry.
- Dryer sheets. Stop static electricity where it starts by throwing in fabric softener sheets or dryer balls in the washing machine along with your clothes. This will minimize the fabrics’ contact with one another. Already dressed? For a quick fix, rub dryer sheets over the clothes you’re wearing to remove static cling. These sheets will also neutralize the electric charge in your hair. You might even end up smelling like fresh laundry!
- Damp washcloth or towel. Placing a damp cloth in the dryer during the last 10 to 20 minutes of the cycle will help prevent the air from becoming too dry.
- Wire hanger. Even if you prefer plastic clothes’ hangars, keep a wire one around to get rid of static cling on your clothes. All you need do is rub it along the fabric surface – the hangar will take the shock without transmitting it to you.
- Apply a safety pin to your clothes. Attaching a metal safety pin to clothes can help discharge static buildup. Placed it in the inside bottom hem of your pants or shirt to keep it out of sight.
- Banish with baking soda. Did you know that baking soda acts as a barrier between positive and negative charges from creating static buildup? Simply add 1/2 cup of baking soda to your regular laundry cycle to help prevent static electricity in your laundry. Baking soda also softens the water, which means you’ll need less detergent to get the job done.
- Moisturize your skin. Friction between dry skin and synthetic clothing is one of the biggest sources of static shocks. Rub lotion on yourself when you get out of the shower and before getting dressed or rub it on your hands intermittently throughout the day. Dry skin contributes to static electricity and static shock, so lotions and moisturizers help to prevent static buildup on your body.
- Go without wool. Yes, those thick socks you got last Christmas (and anticipate once again this Christmas) from Aunt Judy feel so cozy. But auntie might not know wool acts as an insulator, letting your body build up a charge until – zap – you ground yourself by touching a doorknob. Cashmere works much the same. So, avoid such sweaters, even in sweater weather. A cotton hoodie and cotton socks make much safer choices.
- If your clothes are already full of static, try lightly misting them with distilled water and giving them a good shake. You can also purchase antistatic spays meant for clothing, but make sure to test the spray in a discreet area of the garment first to ensure it won’t damage the fabric.
What about your hair?
Static electricity is literally a hair-raising experience. When your hair becomes charged with electricity, it can make your usually tame locks look like they’re standing on end, or ready to fly away.
Why so? Like the rest of your body, your hair can build up electrical charges. If you wear a hat, for example, electrons can build up on the hat. When you take it off, the negative electrons may go with the hat, making your hair positively charged. As a result, your hair lifts up because your now-positive hairs are repelling one another, just like the magnets we described above.
As static hair has never been a popular style, and likely never will be, what can you do to rid of those infuriating frizzes?
- Gently rub your hair with a dryer sheet. You can also run it over your brush or apply to your pillow before going to sleep to help rid of static.
- Condition your hair daily in the winter. The conditioner does to your hair what fabric softener does to your clothes. It softens and helps trap moisture that fights static.
- Use hair oils. If conditioning alone doesn’t get static under control, apply a small amount of hair oil. This creates a barrier on your hair to prevent static buildup.
- Use a trace of lotion. As mentioned above, lotion can help rid of static buildup between your skin and clothes. After applying it, run your hands over your hair to control static there, too.
This may seem long-winded for a discussion of static electric shocks, but when you’re struggling through those harsh winter days, these shocks start to get irritating day in and day out, and just a few simple tricks described above can help you eliminate this annoyance.
Hopefully, this can help make your winter a bit more pleasant.