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Endesa - Electricity, Gas, People

How to avoid getting shocked from static electricity

Publicado el (EN) 29 Enero 2018
Cosas que no sabías sobre la electricidad estática

Static electricity is everywhere. It surrounds us and we don't even perceive it. We’ll tell you how it influences your daily life and how to avoid sudden shocks.

You touch someone and you get shocked. It’s as normal as life itself, and its scientific name is the triboelectric effect, also known as: static electricity.

How is static electricity produced?

Everything is made up of atoms—absolutely everything. Atoms have a nucleus with positive particles (protons) surrounded by other negative particles (electrons). If the number of protons and electrons of an atom is the same, the charge is neutral.

However, if two atoms enter into friction, one of them can lose or gain negative charges. The imbalance that is created at that time is static electricity.

Those shocks when touching someone are nothing more than a current of electrons passing to an object with a positive charge to re-establish the electrical balance.

Why does it shock people?

It’s usually because of the excess electrical charge that accumulates in insulating materials through which electricity does not circulate very well. When this insulating material enters into contact with any other object that has a positive charge, it releases electrons, and this is what causes that dreadful shock.

When you read the list of the most common insulating materials, you’ll remember that sweater and those shocks. Some materials with poor electrical connectivity are: wool, nylon, polyester (which nearly all carpets are made of), pet fur, and human hair.

In the case of shocks from static electricity while brushing one’s hair, this is usually due to using a brush instead of a comb.

Another important factor is the sole of our shoes: if they are thick and made of rubber, you’ll be insulated from the ground, making you more vulnerable to shocks.

In addition, it must be taken into account that in the summer there is more static electricity because the air is drier. Even when it’s not summer, the air can get much drier inside if you have the heating or air conditioning always turned on. 

How can you avoid receiving shocks of static electricity?

These small discharges don’t represent any danger to your health, so you don’t need to worry. However, they can be uncomfortable, so here are five tips:

  • Don’t wear thick-soled shoes, and if you're at home, it's best to go barefoot.
  • Use a humidifier if you're in a particularly dry environment (below 20% relative humidity).
  • Avoid nylon and polyester clothes: and as far as possible avoid carpets, which are an enormous source of static electricity.
  • When getting out of your car, hold onto the car frame.
  • If you have long hair and you receive shocks from time to time, use a comb instead of a brush.

What is static electricity used for?

Static electricity can occasionally be highly useful. Devices capable of charging a cell phone battery have been developed with the static electricity generated as you walk.

Have you ever asked yourself how lightning bolts are formed? By static electricity. Clouds are electrically neutral, but the electrons in them tend to gravitate toward the bottom due to their attraction to the ground. They congregate on the bottom of the clouds until the accumulation is so great that the air converts into a conductor that helps the electrons fall to the earth in the form of a lightning bolt.

The animal kingdom is full of examples, such as spiders’ webs, a static electricity conductor material that is thus able to attract nearby insects.

Carpets are one of the main reasons that explain static electricity shocks.