Why do you get shocked when you touch a door handle, window frame, or another person? Everything is made of positive and negatively charged atoms. When two objects interact with each other (e.g., shoes over carpet), the charged atoms move from one object to the other. As the materials move apart (e.g., when you lift your feet off the carpet), the atoms also move and may create extra positive or negative atoms (SMS 2013).
As materials continue to gain extra positive or negative atoms, static electricity builds. Although these extra atoms usually dissipate, static electricity sometimes increases to the point you get shocked. Although most people don’t feel a shock between 2,000 and 4,000 volts, some people are more sensitive to static electricity and may feel lower-voltage shocks (SMS 2013).
Static electricity is also known to build more rapidly when the air is dry, especially during cold weather (SMS 2013). The most-common ways to avoid static shock include (Kurtus 2009):
- Being aware of your clothing. Avoid shoes with rubber soles because rubber is a great insulator and easily captures extra atoms. Wool and polyester are also great insulators and can rub against other fabrics to generate a static charge. Because bedding can also create static, consider cotton bedding over synthetic fibers and wool.
- Humidifying your home. Adding a humidifier to your home will increase the amount of moisture in the air and decrease your chance of static shock.
- Treating your carpet. Having carpet in your home versus wood or tile floors greatly increases your chance of static shock. Use cotton rugs or rub your carpet with fabric softener sheets to prevent static buildup.
- Moisturizing your skin. Dry skin, especially dry hands, increases your risk of static shock. Keep moisturizer with you and moisturize your skin before leaving the house.