Tired of getting static shocks
July 2, 2010 11:09 PM   Subscribe

It's one of those either-or situations: either you help me stop getting/giving static electricity shocks or my wife will divorce me.

Since I moved with my wife to the U.S., I can't stop getting shocked by static ALL THE TIME. To add insult to the injury, a lot of times when I touch my wife, she's the one getting shocked. BY ME. She said she will divorce me if I don't stop with the shocks.

First I thought it was the car, so I made a few tests with a different car. SHOCK! Then I figured it might be the shoes, so I changed them as well. BZZZZZ! "Well, maybe it's California!", but then I traveled to Mexico, Finland. Even in those countries, as soon as I left a car or touched a metal knob, I would get shocked again. Sometimes, when I leave the car I don't get shocked (Yay!) but when I touch my wife we both do.

Funny thing is that, when I still lived in my country of origin, one with a tropical weather, nothing like this ever happened, at least not on the same scale. It only started after I moved to the U.S.. To be fair, I don't believe the country itself is against me, but I am starting to think the dry weather has something to do with it. This is the only common thing between Mexico, California and Finland.

Sadly, the best I can do is scream at the weather, but I can't change it. I have tried a bunch of other stuff, like not wearing synthetic materials and sticking to rubber-soled shoes, to no avail. This is only happening to me, not to my wife. Can the chemical composition of my body have anything to do with it?

Help me, I'm going (BZZZZZZZZZZ) mad.
posted by dcrocha to Science & Nature (29 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried running humidifiers around the house to make yourself more moist? Do you wear moisturizer?
posted by amethysts at 11:12 PM on July 2, 2010

I have the same problem, mostly during the summer months. No one else that I know experiences this to the extent that I do! I'll be trying moisturizer to see if that helps at all...it's so frustrating! Thanks for posting this question.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 11:16 PM on July 2, 2010

I get shocked all the time, too, on days it doesn't rain. The dry weather has a lot to do with it. Try shoes with leather soles (rubber produces the opposite effect of what you're going for – it's an insulator). To discharge your static electricity, touch your key or something metal to another metal surface, like a stair railing. That shouldn't hurt, and it'll spare your wife.
posted by halogen at 11:25 PM on July 2, 2010

Indoors, you can get a humidifier like amethysts recommended above.
posted by halogen at 11:26 PM on July 2, 2010

Ground yourself on something before touching your wife.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:32 PM on July 2, 2010 [4 favorites]

I have read that a fix for static cling is to attach a safety pin to your clothing. It seems like this could be a potential solution for you.
posted by kitty teeth at 11:39 PM on July 2, 2010

either you help me stop getting/giving static electricity shocks or my wife will divorce me

Tell her that your electrified body is a feature, not a bug. ;)
posted by amyms at 11:46 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Putting dryer sheets in the dryer when I do my laundry has cut down on the shocks I get day-to-day from static electricity.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:01 AM on July 3, 2010

@halogen I have tried the key trick, sometimes it hurts, sometimes it doesn't. However, the discharge is so strong that a couple of sparks can be seen!
posted by dcrocha at 12:24 AM on July 3, 2010

@amyms Trust me, I have tried, but the situation is more like this now.
posted by dcrocha at 12:27 AM on July 3, 2010

One trick I've used to discharge static when getting out of my car is to use a knuckle to touch the car after I get out. If the buildup is really strong, it'll still sting a bit, but not nearly as much as with a finger.
posted by kmz at 1:25 AM on July 3, 2010

You and your wife should touch your rings together before touching each other! That would be kind of neat and probably make for less pain...
posted by aubilenon at 1:39 AM on July 3, 2010

Fingernails are good for discharging static with less pain. More resistance, I guess. I flick the car door with my fingernail on the way out, before touching anything else.

I also avoid handrails: brushing along them all the way down seems to be an excellent way of building up plenty of charge.
posted by emilyw at 2:53 AM on July 3, 2010

Plumbing fixtures make an excellent ground, through which to discharge static electricity. They connect to huge underground networks of pipes, mostly made of conductive metal.
posted by grizzled at 6:14 AM on July 3, 2010

You mentioned trying to avoid wearing synthetic materials, but out of curiosity - could the common thread between Mexico, CA & Finland be that you're wearing long pants vs. the shorts you wore in your tropical country of birth? I've definitely had pants that "shoof" against themselves when walking and build up static charge more easily.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:16 AM on July 3, 2010

Rub your clothes and hair with dryer sheets before leaving the house. Wear lotion, especially after washing your hands. Use conditioner. If your home has carpet, get rid of it.
posted by ishotjr at 6:29 AM on July 3, 2010

I came by to suggest the conductive ankle straps that taz's article talks about, though the article says they may not work well if the ground is a good insulator.

I go primarily barefoot, and thus I never get staticky; I'm always grounded :) When it's dry (rare in FL, but happens occasionally) my husband tends to shock me a lot, grumble grumble. The suggestions to go with a non-rubber sole are really good ones; it's likely the rubber sole that's your worst enemy here.

I realize this isn't something many people will enjoy, but you could try walking around barefoot and keeping a pair of slip-on shoes to put on when you need to wear shoes. So, for example, getting out of ya car, you could put your bare foot to the ground, then grab your shoes and put them on before going anywhere. Very easy way to stay grounded with (what I think is) minimal effort.

I wonder if you could put a piece of metal through the sole of a rubber shoe, so the metal touches both the bottom of your foot and the ground--maybe a rivet--that could possibly keep you grounded.
posted by galadriel at 6:41 AM on July 3, 2010

1. drink lots of water. I shock a lot more when I'm dehydrated.
2. get a humidifier - shocks like it dry.

I've never tried this, but I know people who work on computers can get a grounding strap they wear like a bracelet that stops them from shocking the computers they work on (which could break them), sounds like it might be worth trying.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:34 AM on July 3, 2010

Anti-static straps used by people working on computer hardware are grounded by plugging them into a mains socket that's turned off. Not really practical for daily use.
posted by emilyw at 9:37 AM on July 3, 2010

Another anecdote (but hey, you said you were desperate) start using hair conditioner. You'll keep your hair from building up static electricity, if nothing else. Generally clean dry things are going to aggravate this. Try to put a bit of oil/wax on objects you commonly touch. Rub dryer sheets (which are just wax on a piece of polyester) on your carpet and car interior, lotion and conditioner on your body, use fabric softener on your clothing, etc.
posted by fontophilic at 10:50 AM on July 3, 2010

There was something on this on Car Talk recently, and they recommended using conditioner in your hair (as above). It's easy and cheap, so definitely worth a try.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:05 AM on July 3, 2010

To get rid of static from the carpet, we do this: Put an ounce or two of liquid fabric softener in a spray bottle. Fill with water and shake. Mist the carpet once a week or so. Works like magic. If you're concerned about the smell get Ultra Downy brand. Works great, smells like not much.

Use a double dose of liquid fabric softener in your laundry. (The liquid stuff works better than sheets at cutting down static.)

If you don't have carpets I can't help you.
posted by Ookseer at 11:16 AM on July 3, 2010

It is the dryness. I grew up in Alaska, where static is a huge problem. Now that I live in the Pacific NW it's not a big deal, except in air conditioned offices (where the air is dry).

There is stuff called Static Guard that you can buy in a big spray can. It will be somewhere in the laundry detergent aisle at the store. The can is blue, and has an orange cap. Spray it on your clothing, and it magically dissipates static electricity. I don't know how, but it really works!

In a pinch, tuck a dryer sheet into your pocket(s).

Always use dryer sheets in the laundry.

Avoid wool clothing, as wool can build up a static charge.
posted by ErikaB at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2010

Here's a trick that occurred to me during graduate school, and my wife claimed that it helped her with this problem.

Your body is more or less a conductor, so when you accumulate a static charge the charge sits on your surface, on your skin --- a conductor has no net charge inside. Now on an irregularly-shaped conductor, like your body, the charge density on the surface isn't the same everywhere. The charge distributes itself so that everywhere the electric field is perpendicular to your skin's surface. If your surface were a perfect plane it would have the same charge density everywhere. Places where you are concave tend to have less surface charge and lower electric field than flat places. For instance, imagine you have free charge on your arm and bend your elbow: as they draw closer, the charges on your bicep will repel the charge on your forearm, forcing them to repel and flow somewhere else. Eventually your forearm and bicep touch and the whole area is inside the conductor, and must have zero free charge and zero field. By the same sort of analogy, the parts of your surface that are the most convex accumulate the most charge and have the strongest electric fields.

Where are you the most convex? At your fingertips, right where you're most likely to notice a big shock.

So my suggestion is: when you think a shock is coming, don't extend your fingertip towards another object with pointy bits, like the complicated part of a door handle or the edge of a very edge of a grocery shelf. Instead touch the palm or the back of your hand to a flat part of the other object. Since the electric field is weaker around your flat parts, you are much less likely to break down the air and draw a spark, but the contact is still enough for you transfer charge and become grounded.

All the other advice about humidifiers and dryer sheets and hair conditioner is probably good too, but what I'm telling you is you're less likely to zap your wife if you pat her on the bum first.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:03 PM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Funny thing is that, when I still lived in my country of origin, one with a tropical weather, nothing like this ever happened, at least not on the same scale. ... Can the chemical composition of my body have anything to do with it?

Based on some very intriguing stuff in taz's link, I would say it could have to do with something your body is doing to cope with living in a non-tropical climate.

From taz's link:

Another case took place in 1920, when prison inmates in upstate New York suffering from Botulin food poisoning were found to be "electrified." They were able to attract paper, create sparks, etc., even when partially submerged in a bathtub.

Botulism disables muscles by blocking the production or release of acetylcholine at synapses and neuromuscular junctions.

I would explain the 'electrification' of the inmates by guessing that their bodies attempted to deal with the paralysis of their muscles by drastically ramping up the firing rate of the nerves leading to those muscles, and that because nerves work by polarizing and then depolarizing themselves, abnormally high levels of this process charged up their skin to abnormally high voltages (some of the details of a potential mechanism remain obscure to me, here).

In your case, I am imagining a similar sharp rise in nerve activity (and muscle activity, unlike in victims of botulism) as part of your attempt to cope with unaccustomed cold. In other words, chills and goosebumps, leading to similar charge accumulations.

So I would suggest turning up the thermostat and keeping yourself as warm as possible at all times for a day or two and seeing if that helps. If it is part of the process of your adaptation, it should eventually subside.

I note that you are originally from Brazil. If you happen to be from the Teresina region, I might have a little more to say.
posted by jamjam at 1:39 PM on July 3, 2010

I have this problem every winter. In the first few weeks, it's very painful but then I learn to touch something with my elbow or wrist first. Large radius of curvature = smaller shock, not to mention the fact it's a less sensitive area of the body.

That said, I'd prefer not to have the problem in the first place. (Plus I still get many major shocks throughout the winter. "Major" = "painful enough that my whole arm tingles for several minutes") I've considered attaching a grounding strap to my shoe. Or a metal chain on my ankle. Probably just a foil insert that wraps around the bottom of the shoe in a strip would do it.
posted by DU at 6:26 PM on July 3, 2010

taz's link originally by billb.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 3:55 AM on July 4, 2010

I used too work in an office that got really staticy every winter, so that I'd get a huge shock every time I opened a door or touched anything metal. I avoided the shock by touching a ring to the doorknobs before grasping them, the shock would jump between the ring and the door, and then it would be safe for me to open.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:49 AM on July 5, 2010

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