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January 23, 2012 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Why do my headphones give my ears little electric shocks in the winter, and how can I avoid it?

It's happened with many types, earbud, over the ear, etc. Happens whether they're plugged into a device or not. I'm sure it's something to do with the cold and the dry air and the static, but I like to listen to music while walking outside (especially in my earmuff-like over the ear headphones) and they sometimes just give me little tiny shocks. It's probably not dangerous, just very unpleasant and distracting. Is there any way I can stop this from happening?
posted by custard heart to Grab Bag (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That used to happen to me a lot, and it seemed to be correlated to whether I had my device in a pocket of my wool coat where it could easily bounce around. (That's consistent with my memory of grade-school experiments generating static electricity.)

Moving the device to my shirt pocket-- cotton, and more stable, so no repeated rubbing-- made the problem go away. Your wardrobe and experience may vary.
posted by willbaude at 10:07 AM on January 23, 2012

Clothing static is definitely possible. I got a new coat last winter, and it did this very thing with my in-ear phones. It's stopped now, though I'm not sure if the coat is less staticky now that its been worn a bit or if I've trained myself to always take my earphones off before removing my coat.
posted by Wulfhere at 10:49 AM on January 23, 2012

Yeah I think it's clothing static, and I've had it bad enough that it caused my iPod to reboot. Experiment with different coats and different cases for the device your headphones are plugged into. If the cord itself is what's rubbing against the fabric, maybe run it inside your jacket instead of outside (or vice versa)? It sure is unpleasant though.
posted by mskyle at 12:01 PM on January 23, 2012

Oh, how interesting! I've been assuming that the correlation has been with the temperature, since it happens way more when it's colder here. But when it's colder I switch from my acrylic to my wool coat. Will definitely experiment!
posted by custard heart at 4:52 PM on January 23, 2012

Dry air conducts less electricity than moist air. Cold air holds less moisture than warm air. So in the winter, when the air is dry, electrical charge cannot dissipate through the air as readily, and accumulates. Sometimes the charge gets big enough to cause a spark. I'm sure some fabrics also are more prone to this than others, but either way, it is more likely to be a problem in the winter.
posted by aubilenon at 5:10 PM on January 23, 2012

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