Mitigating static electricity
December 26, 2016 3:07 PM   Subscribe

I live in the mountain west. It's pretty dry here all the time... quadruply so in the winter. I work from home, and constantly shock myself whenever I sit down at my desk. Pretty much year round walking across the carpet and sitting down at my desk will shock me. During the winter merely shifting in my chair will shock me. What the heck can I do to mitigate this?

I can't wear a static leash all the time, nor will I wear special shoes (nor does it seem to matter what if anything is on my feet). I don't really care about the shock feeling, but I would like to stop resetting my USB hub everytime I touch my keyboard mostly. Humidifying the air is mostly out the question, we have a humidifier, but I would need a thousand of them to make a dent. Is there an anti-static mat big enough to put a desk and chair on? Is there some sort of static discharging thing I could touch when I leave and return to my desk? (I've tried touching the desk's metal frame, but it does not appear to help). Even while typing this question my pinky finger zapped the metal edge of my keyboard. Hope me :(
posted by so fucking future to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why is humidifying out of the question? Are you in apartment? How many sq ft? Your air isn't going to be any drier than the close to zero humidity that many of us in the northern parts of the world deal with in winter.

I spend my entire winter here in Chicago living up to my astrological sign, Aquarius, by bearing water to my two ever thirsty humidifiers in an overheated (we don't control the heat) 600 sq ft apartment. I can maintain about 30% humidity in the winter even with my window cracked to let in fresh air.

Mostly my goal is to get the apartment humid enough to prevent dry coughing, cat zapping and dry nose nose bleeds.

You just need to get an appropriate humidifier(s) for your space. Also positioning one right next to your desk could really help.
posted by srboisvert at 3:42 PM on December 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Have you tried grounding your desk's metal frame?

You can get huge antistatic mats. I used one very similar to the first result while working at a computer shop. I would think that you could get away with putting the mat on your desk under your keyboard/mouse/etc. Have the mat right at the edge of the desk so your hand touches it before you touch the keyboard.
posted by gregr at 3:57 PM on December 26, 2016

If you own your own home look into a whole house humidifier - couldn't live without mine. Moist air feels warmer, so you can run the thermostat a couple of degrees cooler to offset the expense of the humidifier and water usage.
posted by COD at 3:58 PM on December 26, 2016

Anti-static mats are available in various sizes. You can try grounding your bench but that is hazardous unless it is grounded through a 1 megohm resistor. Gregr's idea of setting bench on mat should work. Have you tried just touching an antistatic strap when you get to your bench?
Different shoes can be very different static-wise. have you tried bare feet? Bare feet with static mat will probably do it.
I assume your pc is grounded through the plug.
posted by H21 at 4:08 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I stopped using a clothes dryer, I discovered that I suffered far fewer static shocks. In addition to having clothes that aren't super staticky, hanging wet clothes in your living space helps to humidify it.

Also, do you have long straight hair? I have a theory that mine creates static when I let it hang loose -- something about it rubbing up against itself all the time. I have no idea if this is a logically sound idea, but might be something to explore.
posted by mcduff at 4:21 PM on December 26, 2016

I've found that moisturizing my skin helps. I put lotion on my shins and shoulders/upper arms (where my clothes are looser and there's more fabric movement relative to my skin) as well as my hands. It hasn't eliminated shocks entirely, but it has really helped me.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 4:47 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have low relative humidity in your office space raising the humidity is the most cost effective (and comfort increasing) method of reducing static build up and therefor eliminating discharges. You can see in this paper [Static Electricity & Relative Humidity; Alan McCartney] the massive effect a change from 10 -> 55% relative humidity has on the retention of static charges. The paper also notes that moderate relative humidity levels can be essential to enabling some anti static (actually charge dissipating) surfaces to function.

Short of increasing the humidity, using an antistatic desk blotter mat can help mitigate the shocks and the effects of static discharges on equipment. Anti static mats work by changing the charge relaxation time by having a high resistance but still conductive surface. So when you touch the desk blotter your accumulated charge drains without the potential rising to high enough to cause a spark. Linoleum desk pads are also are anti static though need to be bonded for best effect.

In a heating clime running a humidifier is essentially1 free; the energy used heats the space offsetting some of the energy used by the central heating or baseboards. You can even try increasing the humidity to a certain extent without buying anything just by boiling water on the stove. If you heat with wood leave a pan with water on the heater.

Plants will also move water from the soil to the air. NASA has apparently determined that the Areca Palm is the best indoor air purifier and humidifier. A 1.8m example will dump 1l of water into the air everyday.

An indoor fountain will also humidify as will showers (leave the door open and don't run the fan) and to a lesser extent not draining your bath water until your next bath.

H21: "You can try grounding your bench but that is hazardous unless it is grounded through a 1 megohm resistor."

Taking a conductor from your desk to any bonded metal in your home like a metal water pipe is perfectly safe. Safer actually than having a large unbonded hunk of metal with electrical devices on it in your home. If you don't mind something a little hacky you can just run a wire over to any receptacle faceplate screw if your outlets are grounded.

However this won't stop you from accumulating static electricity and getting shocked. It will however mean that if you discharge to a bonded metal (like the case of a computer) you won't then get shocked by your desk and vice versa unless you accumulate more charge.

mcduff: "n addition to having clothes that aren't super staticky, hanging wet clothes in your living space helps to humidify it. "

Also in winter clothes dryers replace conditioned air with dry outside air lowering the relative humidity of your living space. A liquid fabric softener can be used instead of dryer sheets which will mitigate some static accumulation in clothing.

[1] ignoring the differences between the cost of electricity vs other heating methods
posted by Mitheral at 7:20 PM on December 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

We had a whole house humidifier put in when we replaced our furnace in Denver and it is the best ~$500ish we've ever spent on the house. If that's an option, I thoroughly recommend it. We don't have carpet, so I don't notice the difference in static that much (although now that I think about it, I do get shocked at work on occasion in carpeted rooms), but the dramatic reduction in nosebleeds and morning dryness has been huge.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:17 PM on December 26, 2016

You don't need a leash and you don't need special shoes. You can just put an anti-static heel strap on your favorite shoes. You put the strap on your shoe and tuck the static line into the top of your sock so it touches your skin.
posted by JackFlash at 8:41 PM on December 26, 2016

Taking a conductor from your desk to any bonded metal in your home like a metal water pipe is perfectly safe. Safer actually than having a large unbonded hunk of metal with electrical devices on it in your home.

You want to be careful and think about what you are doing here. Typical appliances like electric stoves and ovens are grounded. But you may want to think twice about directly grounding a workbench if you are a technician working on electrical devices. That is because when you touch the grounded bench, your body is now the path to ground if you accidentally also touch a live wire or other equipment fault. That is why static mats and benches are typically grounded through a meg-ohm resistor.
posted by JackFlash at 9:00 PM on December 26, 2016

There are some edge cases cases where bonding a metal desk is a problem but generally bonding a conductive work surface poses no risk and mitigates a bunch of other hazards. If there is a risk the OP should already know because they'd have to be careful not to set any metal cased bonded equipment (or really any equipment or appliances with a functional 3 prong cord like computers, metal desk lamps or metering equipment) on the bench lest they accidentally bond the desk.

OP if the nature of your work means becoming part of the ground path is something you should be concerned with please install GFCI protection on any of the circuits used at this desk. GFCI receptacles are cheap insurance against being electrocuted this way.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 PM on December 26, 2016

Mix a small amount of liquid fabric softener with water in a spray bottle. Spray the carpet around you.
posted by bongo_x at 10:49 PM on December 26, 2016

Bongo_x has it. If you don't want to mix your own you can purchase anti-static spray such a this: [link]. Spray the carpet and your chair, it works for about a week. I live in Colorado and can attest to its effectiveness. The spray is a bit pricey but it lasts several seasons. Simple solution (heh) that is easy to live with.
posted by cosmac at 6:59 AM on December 27, 2016

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