We often experience static shocks throughout our lives. They happen when we open a door, brush a metal cabinet, or grab a wire. Sometimes it’s barely noticeable and other times it can hurt. Is there any way to avoid them?
First, it’s important to understand what causes the static shocks. All materials have an electrical charge in them. These materials also like to maintain a balance between negative charges (electrons) and positive charges (protons). If one material with a higher level of protons or electrons touches a different material, they will each try to even out their electrical charges by transferring protons and electrons through an electric current. The resulting jolt of electricity is a static shock. Some materials can easily disperse static electricity that builds up, and in these cases, you likely wouldn’t feel the discharge. But other materials, metals in particular, can’t dissipate the electricity too quickly, and thusly will build up an electrostatic charge. Touching these results in the familiar pop sound we hear and jolt we feel.
Static discharges typically range around 5000 volts. Some severe cases have been recorded at more than 15,000V. Most people don’t feel the discharge if it is less than 4000V. Fortunately, static shocks don’t really pose any health threats. They are primarily just an annoyance. However, if you are near flammable gases or liquids, an electrostatic discharge can actually spark a fire. This is why gas stations recommend turning off your cell phone when pumping gas and discharging yourself before operating the pump.
How can you prevent these annoying little shocks? In your home, running a humidifier can reduce the shocks. If you don’t have a humidifier, leave an uncovered, wide dish of water nearby. This will evaporate and increase the moisture content of the air. Static builds up more easily in cool, dry areas, particularly in centrally heated environments. You can also try using an anti-static bracelet. These bracelets operate on the principle of passive corona ionization. As the bracelet nears a conductive material, it discharges ions between you and a conductive material gently, preventing a concentrated discharge of electricity.
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