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How to Prevent Static Electricity in the Winter

We are all just walking each other home. If we can be anything, let's be kind.

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What Causes Static Cling in the Winter?

Snap! Crackle! Pop! It's a great slogan for a breakfast cereal but annoying when you are taking off a sweater or trying to comb your hair. Static electricity pops up everywhere, especially during the cold, dry winter months. That's because dry air is harder for electrons to move through, thus allowing them to build up on surfaces, such as human hair or nylon carpets. Your body collects this electrical charge and, when you come in contact with a conductor, it discharges it, creating an electrical reaction - a spark of electricity that your body registers as a shock.

Air is a great electrical conductor.

Air is a great electrical conductor.

What's the Charge?

Some things are more prone to collecting electrical charges than others. When materials that are prone to giving up electrons come into contact with those prone to attracting those electrons, they produce static electricity. Air, dry human skin, leather, rabbit fur and glass easily give up electrons, making them highly susceptible to giving off a static charge when coming into contact with negatively charged materials such as wood, styrofoam and polyester. Human hair, nylon, wool, lead, cat fur and silk give off some electrons so, when conditions are right, they give off a charge as well. When materials with the same charge come into contact, they tend to repel each other, which is why flyaway hair can be so unruly.

If you want to avoid these re-volting experiences, try to keep the static charge as neutral as possible.

Some clothes give off more sparks than others.

Some clothes give off more sparks than others.

Combat the Cling

One winter, I got a pair of fleece pajamas. If my doorknobs had been able to collect the electricity I gave off, I would not have had to pay a utility bill that year. Since you can't avoid the outdoor weather, you can at least help change your indoor climate and manage the most troublesome materials.

  1. Dry air conducts electrical charges. Use a whole house humidifier or, at least, run a humidifier in several rooms, especially if you have polyester or nylon carpet.
  2. Dry skin also conduct a charge well. Use a body moisturizer daily, or, at least, moisturize your hands after every washing.
  3. We've all experienced dry, flyaway hair. In the winter, I use a leave-in hair conditioner with moisturizing ingredients such as coconut or argan oil to coat hair with light, non-greasy, static-reducing emollients and avoid using a hard rubber comb or brush. You can reduce static with water, but once it evaporates, you're back to gravity-challenged hair. (Hint: rub the conditioner into your hands and sweep lightly over a skirt or blouse that clings a little too tightly.)
  4. Choose low-static materials when getting dressed. Polyester, wool, silk, rayon and fur tend to collect static charges. Instead, choose cotton or leather. Even a cotton t-shirt under a wool sweater can help reduce the tendency to get zapped.
  5. If clothes accumulate a charge, reduce or remove it with an anti-static spray (a quick spritz of hairspray even does the trick) or rinse clothes with a fabric softener. In a pinch? Grab a fabric softener sheet and run it between you and the fabric. A metal hanger will work this way as well.