Hot and bothered by static electric shocks

Originally Published: February 28, 2003 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 22, 2013
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Hi Alice,

I have a question about static electricity. I constantly get shocked when I'm getting out of my car, touching people or even certain objects. The worst thing is I can't brush my hair because of static electricity. I actually have to rub a fabric softener sheet on my head and hair brushes. Please help me with this issue if you can.

— S

Dear S,

Static electricity may seem like a minor nuisance to some, but if you've ever shuffled across the bedroom carpet half-asleep in a bathrobe and slippers only to touch the bathroom door and get zapped so hard that your whole arm ached and your hair stood on end, then you know it can be a rude wake-up call. Luckily, there’s plenty more you can do to lessen the frequency of pesky static electric shocks besides rubbing fabric softener sheets on your head!

At home:

  • Use a humidifier. This can increase the humidity in your home. Static electricity can be more problematic in the winter or in arid climates because dry air and materials help facilitate the transfer of electrons. You can also use indoor plants and keep up with watering them to increase humidity.
  • Moisturize dry skin. Use lotion when you get out of the shower or bath. You can even try an anti-static hand lotion (available for the electronics industry).
  • Use hair conditioner. This will add moisture to your hair, reducing static.
  • Brush it out. Try spraying hairspray or a leave-in conditioner into a hairbrush before combing your hair. If you’ve been using hairbrushes made of synthetic materials, try switching to one made of a natural material such as boar bristles.
  • Change clothes. Since certain fabrics (usually artificial fibers like polyester or nylon) have a greater tendency to build up small electric charges, you may want to change your choice in clothing — cotton is less likely to cause static electricity.
  • Spray it away. Try using an antistatic spray, which can be applied to walls, ceilings, carpets, clothes, and more, to render materials non-static generating.
  • Go barefoot. This can help to reduce static buildup between your shoes and the carpet, and so can wearing aluminum foil to cover your shoes (though this might give people another kind of shock). You could also try searching for special conductive shoes made for people that work in the electronics industry if you’re willing to make a new fashion statement.
  • Wear a bracelet. Engineers or technicians who spend lots of time working inside computers (whose inner electronics systems could be damaged by a wayward spark of electricity) typically wear grounding straps on their wrists to make sure that they're not frying the computer they're supposed to be fixing. Grounding strips are usually sold in computer supply stores, and while they may not land someone on the pages of the latest fashion magazine, they'll definitely help beat the shocks to one's system.

For the car:

  • Ground yourself. Try touching metal objects with another metal object, such as a key, rather than your hand. The key acts as a mini-lightning rod, allowing the charge of static electricity to go into it rather than into your finger. This would work well when getting into your car, and can also help with household objects such as doorknobs. You could carry a coin or a thimble with you at all times to touch grounded metal objects with.
  • Keep using fabric softener sheets. Give your car seats a rub down with a dryer sheet every so often to reduce static electric shocks.
  • Grab the handle first. Before you slide across a seat to exit a car, touch the metal door handle first so that a charge won’t build up.

Static electricity is a natural phenomenon that happens because of electrons — tiny negatively charged particles orbiting around the atoms of which all matter are comprised. When two objects are brought in close proximity to each other — such as a brush and your hair, electrons can be "stolen" from one object to the other. The object that loses electrons then has a positive charge and the object that takes the electrons will have a negative charge. The difference in charges not only allows a zap of static electricity to jump from one object to the other, it also tends to hold them close together like oppositely charged magnets. This is why pulling a sweater over your head can sometimes cause strands of hair to cling to your sweater — and even stand up straight over your head, particularly if you have long, straight or dry hair. Hopefully after trying some or all of the above suggestions, static electricity will become less of an issue for you in your daily life.

Good luck on your journey to conquer static electricity!

Alice

February 25, 2013

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I have this problem too! Thank you for the suggestions! I will give them a try!
I have this problem too! Thank you for the suggestions! I will give them a try!