One certain sign of winter, besides the cold temperatures, is the shock you get when touching doorknobs or light switches. Learning how to get rid of static electricity can stop those annoying zaps, keep your hair from standing on end when you brush it, and put an end to static cling on your clothes.
This guide explains the cause of static electricity in your house and how to control it. There’s an easy homemade anti-static spray recipe at the end, too.
What is Static Electricity?
Sitting in our well-lit, climate-controlled homes it’s hard to remember that for thousands of years, static electricity was the only form of electricity people knew.
Static electricity gets its name because it remains in place — it’s static. The electricity which powers our homes and devices flows along a conductor, earning its name as current electricity.
What Causes It?
Static electricity is the imbalance of positive and negative ion charges. Some things have positive ion charges. Others have negative ion charges. When things with opposite charges are pulled apart, electrons jump from one to the other. This transfer leads to an imbalance, and this imbalance leads to you feeling a shock.
Is it Dangerous?
Static shocks can be painful and surprising, which is why most of us want to get rid of static electricity in our homes. They aren’t usually dangerous, but there are a couple of exceptions.
Static Electricity and Electronic Devices
Electrostatic discharge (ESD) can damage electronic devices, although this is becoming increasingly less common. Manufacturers now insulate semiconductors and other sensitive components to protect them from ESD during use.
So, these days, the risk of static electricity damaging electronics is mostly limited to any time the internal workings are exposed. Computer repair technicians and workers in phone assembly plants wear antistatic devices for this reason. At home, it’s not much of a concern — unless you’re trying to repair your equipment.
Static Electricity and Common Household Items
Solvents are flammable. Aerosols are flammable. Several common household items are flammable — many of which are surprising. You don’t need to walk around your home worried about things like flour or potato chips causing explosions, but you do need to know how to control static electricity around some substances.
Static electric shocks are essentially miniature lightning bolts jumping between you and other things. So, the more flammable those things are, the greater the risk that ESD will cause a fire.
Static Electricity at the Gas Pump
Gasoline is designed to explode — that’s how it powers our cars’ internal combustion engines. But did you know that just one gallon of gas is equivalent to 14 sticks of dynamite?
Many people think using a cell phone while pumping gas is to blame for station explosions. This is a myth that’s been busted. Getting in and out of your car can create static electricity. Reaching in to grab your phone, so you can check messages while the gas pumps, can generate between 10 and 20,000 volts of static electricity.
You don’t need to be touching the pump or covered in gas splatters for static to cause an explosion, either. Gasoline vapors are highly flammable, too, even in cold temperatures.
To protect yourself and others from such dangers at the pump, touch the metal of your car door when you get out and before you begin pumping. Once you’ve done that, don’t get back into your car or reach into it for any reason.
How to Get Rid of Static Electricity
You’ve probably noticed that static shocks and cling get worse in winter. That’s because warmer air holds more water, which collects on the surface of things.
Winter air is dry, so there’s no humidity to disperse the buildup of static electricity. So, the easiest way to control static is by adding moisture or some other barrier to surfaces.
Static Cling On Clothes
Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon don’t hold onto moisture, so they quickly contribute to an ion imbalance. But even some natural fibers like wool or silk — both of which contain moisture — can lead to static, too.
To prevent static electricity on clothing you need to either create a barrier between the fabric and other surfaces or discharge static that has built up.
- Air-dry clothing. Tumbling around in a hot metal dryer drum creates static buildup. Allowing clothes to air-dry prevents static cling. If done indoors, it also adds moisture to your home’s air which will help reduce static indoors, too. Check out how to line dry clothes without wrinkles.
- Use dryer sheets or fabric softener. Both dryer sheets and fabric softeners leave an unnoticeable coating on clothes. This coating is made of surfactants (usually petroleum-based) which act as a barrier to prevent the buildup of static. Rubbing a dryer sheet on clothes you’re wearing has the same effect.
- Use wool dryer balls. Add a few wool dryer balls when tumble-drying clothes. Since wool attracts static, the balls will discharge any static buildup on your clothing from the drying process.
- Use vinegar to prevent static buildup. Adding white vinegar to your washing machine’s rinse cycle helps prevent static cling. This works best with non-synthetic fabrics. There’s no magic involved: vinegar helps remove oils and other build-ups on natural fabrics, so their fibers retain more moisture. (Find out more why you should use vinegar in the laundry.)
- Attach a safety pin to your clothes. Sticking a metal safety pin in clothes can help discharge static buildup. Insert it in the inside bottom hem of your pants or shirt to keep it hidden.
- Run a wire hanger over clothes. Even if you prefer plastic or velvet clothes hangers, keep a wire one around to get rid of static cling on your clothes. All you need to do is rub it along the fabric surface — the hanger will take the shock without transmitting it to you.
- Moisturize your skin. Friction between dry skin and synthetic clothing is one of the greatest causes of static shocks. Applying body lotion immediately after bathing helps your skin retain moisture and prevents static buildup. Reapply it on your hands throughout the day, especially after washing them, to control static electricity.
Static In Hair
You’ve no doubt noticed static on your hair when you’ve brushed it, or after you’ve pulled off your winter hat. If the air is humid enough, static quickly disappears. When it’s cold and dry, though, it sticks around. On those days, it’s good to know how to get rid of static in your hair.
- Condition your hair daily in winter. Conditioner does to your hair what fabric softener does to your clothes: it softens and helps trap moisture that fights static.
- Use hair oils or serums. If conditioning alone does not get static under control, apply a small amount of hair oil or serum. These leave-in substances create a barrier on your hair that prevents static buildup. They’ll leave your hair shiny, too.
- Use a metal comb or natural bristle brush. Plastic and synthetic materials cause static. Using a metal comb or boar-bristle brush helps discharge it. If you must use a plastic comb, spritz it with hairspray first.
- Run a dryer sheet over it. Just as dryer sheets stop static cling in clothes, they’ll also control it in your hair. In the winter, keep a used one in your purse or pocket. You can reuse it dozens of times before it needs replacing.
- Use a trace of lotion on your hands in a pinch. As mentioned above, lotion can get rid of static buildup between your skin and clothes. After applying it, run your hands over your hair to control static there, too.
Control Static In Your House
To eliminate static shocks when you grab doorknobs or reach for other things in your house, you need a two-pronged approach. First, properly humidify your air, then address the surfaces that cause a static buildup.
Add Moisture to Dry Air
Keep your home’s relative humidity at least 30% during winter months — though 40-50% is ideal. There are many ways to improve indoor humidity. Some of the easiest are:
Use a humidifier. If you do not have a whole-house humidifier as part of your HVAC system, room humidifiers can also work. Cold mist humidifiers are safest. Many can also diffuse essential oils to add fragrance, too. Keep them immaculate with regular cleaning to avoid mold and mildew problems.
Leave liquids simmering on the stove. Winter is the perfect time for soups and stews. Allowing them to simmer on the stove while you’re home is a great way to add moisture to your indoor air. If you’re not hungry, simmer plain water instead.
Get Rid of Static on Carpets and Sofas
In addition to improving your home’s humidity, you also need to control static on home surfaces.
Stop wearing rubber-soled shoes. Since rubber is an excellent 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 wearing socks indoors. (Adopting a no-shoes rule will 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.
Use an anti-static spray. You can buy a static remover spray at most stores in the laundry product aisle. Spray it on carpets, sofas and soft furnishings, even drapes. Be sure to read the instructions before use, especially if someone in your home has allergies. Or just make your own.
Homemade Static Control Spray
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
Use static control spray daily in your home throughout winter, and more often as needed. Since it contains water, do not apply it to leather, silk, or other materials that could get damaged. As with any home cleaning product, store the unused portion out of the reach of kids and pets.