Help me not get painful static shocks to my hands at Costco please.
December 19, 2012 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I get painful static shocks to my hands where they touch the cart as I'm pushing it around at Costco. As far as I can tell this happens while wearing various kinds of shoes, although I haven't experimented rigorously. Help me devise a method to prevent this that I can realistically implement during impromptu trips to the store.

I don't know much about static electricity, so if I've left out a variable necessary to design a solution, let me know. I will ride this thread like a pony to get to the bottom of this if necessary. It really hurts!

Ok here goes: Wheeling a cart around at Costco (which I need to go to sometimes - I understand that never going there is in itself a solution, but is not the one I'm looking for), I get painful static shocks to my hands, which are resting on the handle of the cart. I assume it has to do with the cart's wheels somehow building static as it rolls across the floor but I know nothing about electricity so tell me if I'm wrong.

My shoes are usually some sort of rubber sole... today's culprit was these. ("Poly-rubber" sole.)

The cart's handle is metal with a plastic part covering most of it. Even if I keep my fingertips away from the metal, I get shocks from the plastic part.

I don't know what the floors are made of.

I am not an exceptionally staticky person as far as I know, but I must be the only person getting shocked at Costco, because other people aren't throwing their hands up and squeaking pained obscenities every few feet as they walk. Seriously, it really hurts.

The problem was constant some months ago. My solution was to grab a sweatshirt from the car and use it to shield my hands from the surface of the handle; that seemed to work mostly, but was awkward; the shirt would fall, etc. Then the problem seemed to go away for a while, enough that I got in the habit of going again. Today it's back. I had to abandon my cart and left the store. Perhaps dry winter air makes a difference?

Would wetting the soles of my feet (by stepping in a puddle) make a difference? What about wetting the wheels of the cart? Lotioning my hands? Praying to Xenu? All options taken into consideration. Only thing is, it has to be something I can realistically do as I go into the store. I thought about trailing a wire from the cart onto the floor to serve as a grounding antenna, but realistically (1) I'm not going to remember to bring wire and (2) come on.
posted by fingersandtoes to Shopping (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried touching the cart with a conductive metal before actually touching it?

A key would probably work.
posted by topoisomerase at 6:18 PM on December 19, 2012

Wear a metal bracelet and make a habit of brushing it against the metal first. Some place I worked I got into a habit of touching doorknobs with a quarter as I opened the door.
posted by sammyo at 6:25 PM on December 19, 2012

Response by poster: I'm continuously touching it because I'm pushing it around the store. The shocks come at unpredictable intervals during this touching/pushing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:26 PM on December 19, 2012

Response by poster: Would this work in a continuous touching setup? Like if I just put a quarter in my hand while I was holding the cart? Why would it work?
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 PM on December 19, 2012

This previous question about someone's hands swelling in a Costco might be of interest.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:28 PM on December 19, 2012

Wow. This exact thing happens to me and ONLY at Costco! I even considered writing a an AskMe about it here but never got around to it.

Googling came up with lots of results. Looks like we're not the only ones. Here:

"The culprit is the rubber wheel. It's literally scraping across the floor and building up electricity, flowing through the metal cart and then you're the discharge."

More articles.

From some of the articles it appears that Costco (and Sam's) is aware of the problem and are/will be installing anti-static wheels. Not sure if that's across the board, though. But next time mention it to management.

The squeaky wheel - or in your case static-y wheel - gets the grease (or brand new anti-static wheels!).
posted by Sassyfras at 6:39 PM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

My local Kroger has two kinds of shopping carts; one shocks me and the other doesn't. I carry one of these to dispel the shocks my car likes to give me but I have to hold it continuously against the shopping cart for it to work in the store. So I don't have a solution but you're not the only one.
posted by workerant at 6:54 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is sort of left field, but could you maybe get someone to make you a padded rectangular cover that you could wrap around the handle of the cart lengthwise and affix with Velcro? It would be washable and portable and it offers the added bonus of helping protect you from all the germs that are on carts too.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:57 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Wear gloves. These will insulate you from the cart and make you a less appealing path to ground for the charge.
posted by zippy at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

How about wearing rubber gloves? Seems like it might work. Or maybe some fluffy gloves that you've rinsed with a generous amount of static-killing fabric softener. Or gloves with a leather palm treated with something waxy or oily. Have a news paper (remember those?) with you, and wrap it around the cart handle. Those are some things I would try.

In general, yes, static shocks are much more prevalent when the air is dry, so winter is probably a factor.
posted by Corvid at 7:23 PM on December 19, 2012

At my local excessively-large grocery store, I find I get shocks from pushing the cart a lot in the winter, but I can significantly reduce them by making sure I touch both the plastic handle and a metal part of the cart when I'm pushing it. I am not a scientist, so I have no idea why that would make any difference, but it does for me. I have small hands but the cart has a metal bar (part of the kiddie seat?) just in front of the plastic handle, so I just hold both at the same time.
posted by valleys at 7:24 PM on December 19, 2012

This happens to me too. I feel for you. I keep a pair of lightweight fleece gloves in my purse and put them on as I enter the store. Not the most elegant solution, especially in the summer, but better than a sweatshirt.
posted by arianell at 7:55 PM on December 19, 2012

This has happened to me at the grocery store before, and in a pinch I placed one of those thin, clear plastic bags (usually found in the produce department) over the handle of the cart. They don't have these bags at Costco, but you could stuff one in your pocket before you went to the store. It does look a little funny, so in the future I might try one of the other tricks mentioned here!
posted by feidr2 at 12:14 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This happens to me on some carts, at some supermarkets and other shopping places with carts, but - here's the key - only when I'm holding onto the plastic part that wraps around the metal handle, even if I'm touching the metal with my thumbs. I get periodic shocks as I'm pushing the cart.

If I place my hands wider and hold onto only bare metal, I don't get the shocks. I assume the conduction is high enough and capacitance low enough when I hold onto the bare metal that I'm fine. Sometimes I can rotate the plastic C-thing on the handle so that I make the right kind of contact to not be shocked.

So, experiment with your hand placement, especially to place them wider to hold onto only bare metal.
posted by WasabiFlux at 1:00 AM on December 20, 2012

To avoid this you need to maintain a continuous connection to the trolley. That way, there's a continuous discharge. The simplest way to do this is using a Wrist Strap.

You'll look like a nutter, but no more zappy zappy!
posted by veedubya at 2:30 AM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: Can you clip a metal chain pet leash to part of the cart, letting the chain drag slightly on the floor?

This should ground the cart and get rid of the shocks.

(n.b. when you see trucks on the highway with a short strap or chain dangling down, this is what they're for -- dissipating road static.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:37 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Veedubya, you get the honorable mention, in that you seem to have found the solution that's designed for my problem, but it's disqualified by the "come on" factor. Costco is enough of a freak show without me contributing that particular visual. Plus sometimes I need to wander away from the cart and elbow my way through a throng to get a sample of ravioli, you know? *Elbow flex*

Pet leash is intriguing - I know it'd work, it's just a question of if I could remember to bring it into the store each time.

I'm going to experiment with antistatic fabric softener sheets as a first measure.

Thanks, you guys are all awesome!
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:52 AM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: Came in late to say what I see WasabiFlux said - this is the plastic handle. Find one without a handle (metal only) and I suspect this will largely if not totally disappear.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:27 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I went to Costco for the first time since posting this question. I did what WasabiFlux said and kept my hands on the metal instead of the plastic. TOTAL SUCCESS. Not a single shock, and I was even wearing the same shoes that I referenced in my post. Thank you so much!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:00 PM on January 24, 2013

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