Can static electricity start a fire in my bed?
January 27, 2006 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Can static electricity within one's bedding be harmful?

This may sound so stupid but my level of scientific knowledge is pitiful.

My husband and I recently bought all new bedding, including high-quality cotton sheets, a down comforter with a soft flannel cover, and a Serasoft blanket. The first night, when moving around in the dark, I noticed an alarming amount of static electricity in the blanket, visible as bright white "pops." It's been that way every night, in spite of rubbing a dryer sheet on the blanket, and I just feel a little paranoid. Google searching revealed a lot of links on static electricity related fires at fuel pumps, and one man who scorched some things with static in his clothing, but nothing bed-specific.

We're not going to catch on fire are we?
posted by justonegirl to Science & Nature (13 answers total)
it isn't going to hurt you or anything but isn't it at least super annoying? I'd replace some stuff just to get rid of the damn noise.
posted by soma lkzx at 12:08 PM on January 27, 2006

Put a cheap humidifier in your bedroom, it will go away.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:15 PM on January 27, 2006

unless you have a fuel pump in your bedroom, you don't have anything to worry about. It's annoying, but not a fire hazard.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 12:21 PM on January 27, 2006

You are not going to catch on fire (dryness in the air is likely causing it -- blue_beetle is correct), but I have to ask because I'm very curious to know (and no snark intended) - why did you go to all the trouble to put all that cotton and down on your bed and then invite a polyester blanket to the party? That's just silly.
posted by contessa at 12:23 PM on January 27, 2006

Not likely you'll catch on fire. Achieving and sustaining open flame combustion requires not only fuel, air and an ignition source, but that you get the fuel to a temperature where it provides sufficient out gassing of fuel vapors to mix with air in sufficient quantity to sustain open flame.

That is why it takes awhile to get a wood fire going, and you generally have to start with some kind of kindling or starter fluid, which can reach the out gassing stage. Even then, if you look closely at a wood fire, or even a candle, you'll see that what is actually burning are the gases being emitted by the wood (produced by destructive distillation of the wood), or in the case of the candle, the vapors of the liquefied paraffin vapors traveling up the wick by capillary action.

Freak accidents involving seemingly spontaneous combustion do occur, but generally only in situations where there is already an aerosol mixture of fuel and air. Examples of this are where a high level of a combustible dust is present (coal mines, grain elevators, sawmills and industrial plants), or where some volatile gas or fluid is present in sufficient concentration (gasoline spills, methane or natural gas, etc.) Assuming your bedroom is not subject to these kinds of conditions, your risk is nearly zero.

Still, it's unpleasant, and may be easily mitigated. Raise the humidity in the bedroom. Treat the blanket with anti-static spray, or wash it and apply a good dose of liquid fabric softener in the final rinse. Or, better yet, get a nice wool blanket...
posted by paulsc at 12:29 PM on January 27, 2006

Nope. The chance is of that happening is for all intents and purposes zero.
posted by teece at 12:40 PM on January 27, 2006

Thanks to everyone for all the advice. I will definitely get a humidifier and also look into the anti-static spray.

Contessa, I normally wouldn't have considered a polyester blanket but frankly, I didn't even notice that was what this one was made of until I looked it up online. It's the softest blanket I ever felt -- little did I know it'd react so, um, violently with my other bedding.
posted by justonegirl at 12:41 PM on January 27, 2006

It's not a bug, it's a feature!! Static electricity under the covers was one of the few joys of my childhood in chilly, dry Michigan.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:04 PM on January 27, 2006

Recommendation: don't be eating chili on cold, dry nights.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:28 PM on January 27, 2006

Also, if you sit in bed, lean forward to get your head under the blanket, then sit up straight so that the blanket pulls along your head, you can get truly magnificent sparks flying from your fingertips to the blanket. Or nose to blanket, if you're not cautious. Great fun!
posted by five fresh fish at 6:29 PM on January 27, 2006

I once broke a cell phone by reaching for it from an extremely staticy hotel bed. There was a huge spark as I touched it and half the buttons just broke.

I second the humidifier suggestion.
posted by i love cheese at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2006

I second the no-farting suggestion.
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:49 AM on January 28, 2006

Your risk is pretty low, but I find it worth mentioning that some mattresses are HIGHLY flammable. I've seen various footage that scares me still. Mainly a small fire devouring a mattress in under 5 minutes.

Third the no farting, and the humidifer. Definatly do something about it. It's all fun and games until you short out your alarm clock or bedside phone. Frankly, just remove the blanket from the mix, and use it elsewhere in the house.
posted by Phynix at 2:27 AM on January 28, 2006

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