Why does my friend get violent static shocks way more often than I do?
December 4, 2012 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Why is my business partner always on the receiving end of painful (but hilarious) static shocks in our office, yet I seem to be unaffected?

So it's hilarious to shuffle your feet for a few seconds and then deliver a nice static shock to an unsuspecting co-worker. But my business partner can't seem to stop conducting these static shocks.
He's very conscious about not shuffling or dragging his feet - but when we're walking up the office stairs (carpeted with an extremely low/none pile carpet, as is the whole rest of the office) at the top of the stairs he'll touch a wall or a railing or a marker and get a violent shock, whereas I get off scotch free.
We can't figure out what's different that makes him such an extreme conductor of static electricity while I conduct so much less. We're the same height (he's about 15 - 20 pounds heavier, we dress the same-ish, and we're about equal parts "bass ass" and "dumb ass").
posted by Detuned Radio to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Clothing choice, hair consistency, skin oils. I have this same problem and it sucks
posted by MangyCarface at 12:55 PM on December 4, 2012

Different shoes would be my guess. Shoes with a smooth bottom (dress shoes) would build up a better charge than athletic shoes, for example. Also, does he have longer hair? That one's a long shot, but just a weird guess on my part. :)
posted by Eicats at 12:55 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do both of you wear rubber soled shoes?

Are you more...humid than he is?
posted by oceanjesse at 1:00 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I noticed this in childhood, that some people get more shocks than others. Irregardless of where I am on that spectrum, I've developed an unconscious habit of discharging on grounds, by tapping them when I walk by, so doorknob sparks are rare for me.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:09 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does he wear more polyester/nylon clothing than you do?
posted by jferg at 1:11 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

+1 for clothing. I've found shoes in particular usually make the biggest difference.
posted by Vorteks at 1:23 PM on December 4, 2012

Best answer: Does he drag his feet more than you do? I don't know if this actually affects static, but I feel like when I drag my feet more while walking on carpet, I become more prone to shocks...
posted by ohmy at 1:30 PM on December 4, 2012

Just treat your carpet with anti-static spray.
posted by ryanrs at 1:34 PM on December 4, 2012

Try exchanging shoes and do a quick run up the stairs to see if that is the problem? Some types of rubber will discharge static quicker than others.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:37 PM on December 4, 2012

Also: cloth seats! Maybe his task chair is regular cloth and yours isn't? I know I have a horrible time with my cloth-seat car and always have to discharge the static by tapping my keys on the door of the car before I touch it, or I get an awful shock.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2012

Best answer: Static gets generated by differing materials rubbing together, combined with an insulator to prevent the charge from slowly leaking away -- if it's walking, it's probably a combination of his sock/shoe combination.

Also, in particular the stairs: if you use the handrail more than you're partner, you're dispersing the little charge as you go, while the person not touching the wall or anything else has enough time to build up a nice charge. Or if your clothes are more flowing, your clothes may be brushing away those excess electrons as you walk. For example, fuel delivery trucks have a chain that drags on the ground to disperse any charge that the tires might build up; maybe you're "dragging a chain", so to speak.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:38 PM on December 4, 2012

If I don't use dryer sheets with my laundry, I get shocks all day long from our office carpet.

I can discharge some of my static charge by putting hand lotion onand lightly brushing my clothes with my slightly lotioned hands. That might be worth trying, too.
posted by vickyverky at 1:41 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a wool coat with a polyester lining. Whenever I wear it, I have to immediately ground myself after I take it off. My headphones will sometimes have static because of the electrical discharges as I take it off. So another +1 for clothing, but not just synthetics- wool as well. The best thing to do is to try to discharge the static as frequently as possible, by touching various metal objects as he walks along.
posted by Hactar at 1:44 PM on December 4, 2012

It could definitely be clothing choice. I could hardly wear my earbuds with my old polyester winter coat because of the constant static shocks to the inner ear, but now that I've switched coats it hasn't happened.
posted by fermezporte at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2012

I'm with StickyCarpet, I grew up in Arizona and California, static shock capital of the world. I discharge unconsciously all the time! Usually with my right foot.

Eventually, you get tired of it, and remember to discharge.

There are anti-static wrist bands. I used them in the server room, but I wonder if they'd be useful outside a computer environment.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:01 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I find that using an elbow to touch (say) a metal door handle before I grab hold of it with my fingers helps.
posted by rongorongo at 3:21 PM on December 4, 2012

Response by poster: So just to chime in with some more compelling information:

It's happening to 3 guys in the office, and they all happen to be on the same side of the building. And it suddenly started happening about 2 weeks ago and has been relentless.
Could it be something about the direction that part of the office faces? At this time of year? I'm no meteorologist, but could it be something with the barometric pressure because of the amount of sun that side receives this time of year (we're in Utah (Salt Lake City))?

Other hair-brained ideas are as follows:
-overhead powerlines
-outdoor power meter on that side of the building
-suddenly-developing super powers
-curses from voodoo and/or Santeria.
posted by Detuned Radio at 4:00 PM on December 4, 2012

Best answer: It's the weather. Humid air squelches some of the static. Cold, dry air is much friendlier to static. Try the lotion as mentioned above, static-guard spray, etc.

However, you could start telling them that certain colors affect static, or to stop wearing socks, or other tomfoolery, just for fun.
posted by theora55 at 4:42 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: power lines and meter have nothing to do with it, it's all down to materials (for building up a charge) and contact/humidity (for dissipating it prior to getting a zap).

at my current contract it took me ages to work out why I would sometimes get shocks all the time and sometimes never - shock days were (casual) Friday, when I'd be wearing runners instead of boots.
posted by russm at 5:00 PM on December 4, 2012

Best answer: If your coworker wants to ground himself painlessly, he can touch a metal object (a doorknob or filing cabinet, say) with a metal object like a key. The arc happens from metal to metal, not skin to metal, so it's not painful.

I pick up a charge when I sit in my desk chair at work, and I've gotten into the habit of touching my wedding ring to my file cabinet when I get up (which probably looks like a weird good-luck ritual of some sort).
posted by BrashTech at 5:24 PM on December 4, 2012

Best answer: Dry air (as happens in very cold dry climates) definitely makes static a bigger issue.

If you really want to get to the bottom of this, put together a quick survey and send it out to everyone:

Shoes: Rubber soled____ Plastic soled _____ Leather soled ______ Other (please explain) _____

Socks: Synthetic _____ Cotton ______ Wool _____ Wool/synthetic blend ______ Other (please explain) ______

Pants: Wool ______ Cotton (denim) ______ Synthetic ______ Other (please explain) ______

Shirt: Wool _____ Cotton ______ Synthetic _____ Other (please explain) ______

Laundry: I do ___ do not ___ use dryer sheets.

You will find the problem occurs because of a mismatch in materials. Think about what happens when you rub a balloon (plastic) against your head (hair - equivalent to wool).

It could be synthetic pants whisking against wool socks, plastic-soled shoes against a mostly wool carpet, etc. Also, dryer sheets are anti-static, and using them will greatly reduce static shocks.

To solve the issue, the affected parties can switch up their clothing composition, or start using dryer sheets. If you want to be generous and somewhat silly, you could buy them all anti-static wrist bands which are typically used by people working on sensitive electronics equipment.

Or just buy a few cans of anti-static spray (found in the laundry detergent section of most grocery stores) and distribute them around the office. That stuff works miracles.
posted by ErikaB at 5:27 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can be wearing the same damn thing - dry in a towel and barefoot - standing next to my husband in the same room and get zapped while he gets nothing. I get zapped by shopping carts, iphone cables, paperclips, pretty much anything that could cause static zaps me. Some people just seem to be prone.

ErikaB, thank you so much for the links!
posted by viggorlijah at 8:49 PM on December 4, 2012

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