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Preventing Shocks from Static Electricity

  • Published: 2012-01-13 (Rev. 2017-01-09) - Contact: Ian Langtree at Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information on how to stop getting shocked from electrostatic discharges in your home car and wheelchair.

Definition: Static Electricity

A stationary electric charge that is built up on a material. A common example of static electricity is the electrical shock that we can get when we touch a metallic article. Static electricity is formed when we accumulate extra electrons (negatively-charged particles) and they are discharged to an object or person.

Main Document

"Static charge build-up is enhanced when the surrounding air is dry, especially when the weather is both cold and dry."

Information on how to stop getting shocked from electrostatic discharges in the home, car, and from synthetic clothing.

A shock from static electricity (technically known as electrostatic discharge, or ESD) is not a true electric shock but rather the pain from a hot spark jumping to or from your finger or other parts of your body.

Static electricity is generated whenever two materials are in contact with each other. For example, shuffling your feet across a carpet is a surefire way to generate a painful shock. If the materials are able to conduct electricity away then the static charges will dissipate, however, if the charges are separated faster than the material can dissipate them, the amount of electrostatic charge builds up.

Some people are more sensitive to these shocks than others. Shocks are usually only felt if your body is charged to over about 4000 Volts, and you touch something conductive (like metal objects, water, or other people).

Static charge build-up is enhanced when the surrounding air is dry, especially when the weather is both cold and dry. When the humidity level is low, static charge will build up no matter how hard you try to avoid it. Static electricity accumulates because an insulator prevents the accumulated electrons from flowing. That insulator can be your hard soled shoes or excessively dry hands.

Ways to Prevent Getting Shocked from Static Electricity Discharges:

  • Anti-static straps can be worn around the shoes which allows static electricity on your body to flow past your insulating hard soled shoes to the floor surface. Wearing leather-soled shoes also helps prevent a build-up of static charge in your body. Other body grounding devices available include; anti-static wrist straps, grounding heel straps and shoes, and conductive feet grounders.
  • Avoid wearing clothes that would rub two different fabrics like cotton or cotton blends together, as two cotton fabrics have different electron charges and when rubbed together they cause static electricity. Synthetic materials such as polyester clothes are the major culprits.
  • Hand cream can also increase the conductivity of your skin preventing a static buildup.
  • Touch a non-conducting surface first before touching a door handle, like the wall beside the door.
  • Supermarket trolleys are notorious for "generating" static electricity due to their insulated wheels. Try carrying a coin, house or car key, with you and touch it to something metal, such as shelves, to discharge any accumulated static electricity before reaching for those cans of food.
  • If the problem is in your house, raising the humidity level tends to help a lot. A home humidifier is will also help to decrease static electricity discharges in the house - try and keep the air humidity at or above 30% - though 40% or 50% would be even better.
  • A conductive layer of soapy detergent (like from a "bounce" fabric softener pad) sprayed or rubbed across a carpet can prevent the buildup of static from the carpet in your home. Wooden flooring and cotton rugs are the best floor covering for eliminating or reducing shocks.
  • When you get out of a vehicle, place your hand on the metal part of the door, hold it right above the window on the metal casing while sliding from the car seat. Do not let the door go until your foot touches the ground. You can also purchase an inexpensive metal impregnated rubber strap that attaches to your car and brushes the ground, thereby eliminating the harmful effects of static electricity build-up while you drive your car.
  • For women wearing clothing with silk linings, or pantyhose try rubbing a light layer of hand lotion onto your legs before you get dressed.
  • People working in areas where ESD can damage sensitive equipment, such as computers and components, often use products designed for static control or elimination, such as grounded wrist straps.
  • If you are getting shocked in bed try using pajamas and/or sheets made of different materials. Cotton does not develop as much static electricity as some artificial fibers do.

Wheelchairs and Static Electricity Buildup:

As mentioned above, static electricity is generated when objects of dissimilar substances move relative to each other. If one of the objects is non-conductive, such as the rubber wheels on your wheelchair, an electric charge can accumulate and produce sparks. To prevent the generation of the static charges or to drain off charges generated on an object, a conductive path must be insured. While, (to our knowledge), there are no grounding devices designed specifically for wheelchairs, it should not be a major problem to use a conductive device to achieve grounding. It is imperative, however, that all elements of the wheelchair system be grounded.

You might try using a key or metal rod to touch something else that is metal before you touch it with your hand, or before you touch someone else. Touching the rod to a metal object (not your wheelchair) should drain off the excess charges, allowing you to avoid a shock. It may be inconvenient, but it is one solution. Another solution is to use a small chain fastened to the wheelchair or powerchair frame allowing the other end to brush the ground or floor. For wheelchair users who are constantly getting "zapped" apparelyzed.com has an informative article regarding Wheelchairs, Static Electricity and Electric Shocks.

By taking the proper steps, you can reduce or prevent shocks from a buildup of static electric charges. There is little risk attached to electrostatic discharges, and in most cases they are just a nuisance, the biggest risk is that a sudden unexpected shock could cause you to have an accidental injury. For example, you might pull your arm back suddenly and hit it against something - or someone.

Related:

  1. What Are Body Electrolytes and How do They Work - Information on human body electrolytes including what they are and what can happen when an imbalance occurs - Disabled World
  2. New Way of Producing Electricity - Minuscule wires known as carbon nanotubes could lead to a new way of producing electricity - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. Electric Wheelchairs: Types & Reviews of Powerchairs - Information on types of electric wheelchairs and finding a suitable powerchair to suit the elderly or person with a disability.









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