Does anyone have a relatively safe & painless method to discharge all the static electricity I'm building up these days?
February 17, 2004 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have a relatively safe & painless method to discharge all the static electricity I'm building up these days? [more inside]

I've got a new office, and I love it... except for some reason, I build up a LOT of static electricity when I'm working at my desk. Touching the doorhandle has regularly become a somewhat painful proposition, like willfully grabbing a joybuzzer that's been amped up with a few D batteries. We're talking the sort of static charge that's accompanied by a flash of blue light and a loud pop, almost every time. And yes, I know I'm in no danger from it, but I'd love to find out a way to discharge the static electricity before I grab the metal doorknob and willfully shock myself yet again. Oddly, touching my desk or bookshelf to ground myself before grabbing the door handle hasn't worked yet. A related question, given my static buildup, do I need to worry about doing damage to my PC or stereo by touching them when I'm in my negatively charged state? Any advice from anyone who's dealt with this shocking issue themselves, or any of you science buffs out there, will be very much appreciated.
posted by .kobayashi. to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
Anti-static chair mat.
posted by TimeFactor at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2004

Here's a previous static abatement Ask MetaFilter discussion. You may find an appropriate solution therein.
posted by Danelope at 9:30 AM on February 17, 2004

I carry around a half dollar with me. Whenever I need to touch something that might cause a shock, I use the coin to bridge the gap instead of my fingers. It puts the electric arc far enough away from my finger tips that it's not a problem.
posted by Jeff Howard at 9:32 AM on February 17, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks. Lots of good stuff on preventing static electricity in the last discussion. Most focus on using humidifiers, which on one hand is sensible, as I'm in a dry area. Of course, that dry area is Phoenix, AZ, and I'm in an all glass building. It's mid-February, and the building is hot already; adding humidity might make it unbearable, particularly in the summer. Using a half dollar, or a key, to keep the shock away from my fingers is probably the way to go for now. That does nothing to protect the PC or stereo though, so I'll still need to get creative about that (I'm a lowly grad. student; the anti-static mat is a good idea, but unless I can convince the department to spring for one, it's out of my budget).
posted by .kobayashi. at 10:10 AM on February 17, 2004

You can absolutely do damage to your computer, stereo, or other electronic equipment. I've seen people damage $50K videotape decks just by touching them after they've been charged with regular static electricity.

I'd touch the PC's case first (with a half-dollar if necessary; neat tip, Jeff Howard!); it's grounded.

You used to be able to get a little wrist cuff that had a grounding strap clipped to it, but I haven't seen 'em in office supply stores for some time.
posted by Vidiot at 10:55 AM on February 17, 2004

1 part fabric softener
10 parts water
squirt bottle

spray your chair and the floor liberally.
cuts the static, freshens the air.
posted by rhapsodie at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2004

One caution about the use of keys to discharge static electricity is that a single key works just as well as a large coin, but a key-chain of keys is slightly less useful unless you hold them so they are functionally one large mass of metal.

Electricity is sneaky, and can take advantage of the gaps between the keys, or the gap between the dangling keys and your hand, to deliver a slightly less intense shock.
posted by jeffhoward at 11:02 AM on February 17, 2004

To add to Vidiot's comment - a couple weeks ago a friend of mine zapped between his finger and the touchpad on the laptop. Touchpad very very confused - when drawing a square with it in Paint, the result on screen was more of a hysteresis loop.
posted by whatzit at 11:50 AM on February 17, 2004

rhapsodie - is the 1/10 fabric softener spray cat-safe, at least after it dries?

I've been using my keys-and-keychain as my static front-guard, and the light shows from my mailbox and steel lamp have been absolutely spectacular. Sometimes, the sparks are still strong enough to conduct a painful shock to my hand anyway, but it's still better than having those blue bolts going straight to my fingers.
posted by brownpau at 12:22 PM on February 17, 2004

The air in your office is too dry. You are probably using non-forced air heating.

Buy a humidifier. That's all you will need. It's winter, people are using heating. The probably will probably go away in the summer.

Check that your chair isn't a bad source of static. We are pretty much about to throw away a NICE looking seat because every time it is sat in your hair pretty much stands on end.

Also, I enjoy having an anti-static mat at my soldering and computer repair stations, however, these take a LONG time to drain static.

For the crazy, you can use ankle, shoe, and wrist straps to discharge static electricity. It's a bit like getting work done while on the phone, though.

As for the link Time Factor gave... it says:

Special chemical formulation allows cordless operation - no ground wires .

Which means it is total crap. Fact one about electricity is that it won't go ANYWHERE unless you have something to drain it. Which means you HAVE to have your anti-static stuff grounded, unless it prevents static rather than removes it.

Last idea: Fireworks factories have grounded copper bars under desks and large metal touch pads that are grounded. This is so the workers can touch them all the time (conveniently) and discharge any static before it becomes a problem.
posted by shepd at 1:05 PM on February 17, 2004

Response by poster: The air in your office is too dry. You are probably using non-forced air heating.

Yes, but as I mentioned earlier, I'm in Phoenix, AZ. The air in my county is too dry. We're hitting a high of 80 today. I rather doubt that its the building's heat system that's causing the problem. And soon, it'll be so hot, that a humidifier would just be oppressive (unless it were in context of some sort of portable swamp cooler, but my windows don't open, so that's not an option.)

I do suspect my chair. Those static-draining pads are pretty pricey, though. I wonder of one of those regular plastic chair mats might cut down on the problem enough that I needn't worry excessively about my electronics? To be more precise, I'm never mucking about with the insides of my computer: apart from turning it on & off, and inserting a disk once in a while, I'm only touching the keyboard and mouse.
posted by .kobayashi. at 1:43 PM on February 17, 2004

>I wonder of one of those regular plastic chair mats might cut down on the problem enough that I needn't worry excessively about my electronics?

It will generally make it worse (I've felt my hair raise just getting near those things at the local office store). That being said, I don't know how staticy your carpet is... Lesser of two evils, perhaps?

If you want to know if it'll make it better or worse for yourself, rub it against your hair (or a fur item). You'll feel if it is a bad choice or not. :-)

You want cheap? Buy this, put it under your keyboard and mouse (and maybe monitor). That way you'll always be in contact with it. Make SURE you clip the clip to your case, or another object that is permanently grounded (it's a waste of money if you don't). It's what I use.

That'll fix the problem for while you're stitting at the computer. However, once you get up, you'll be charged again, so you'll want to touch the mat for a few seconds before you go.

Anyways, lessee, Phoenix, AZ, eh?
posted by shepd at 1:55 PM on February 17, 2004

Response by poster: That looks like it could be the answer. Thanks, shepd.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:28 PM on February 17, 2004

.kobayashi., i once worked in a very warm, dry office full of malfunctioning computers. screens would blank, apps would freeze, boxes would reboot, etc. the static situation was just nutso. we went and got a couple of those cold water misting humidifiers and the problem was solved. it was a PITA to fill them each morning but they made no detectable comfort difference and added no heat to the room. you might want to give one of those a shot.
posted by quonsar at 5:51 AM on February 18, 2004

Re: my experience from the previous static thread. Getting a humidifier and spraying static guard took care of 85-90% of the problem (Las Vegas, NV).
posted by rushmc at 7:48 AM on February 18, 2004

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