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Static electricity: Cool dry air and what you wear is behind your electrifying touch

Mark Rigby, Tuesday June 13, 2017 - 13:27 EST
ABC image
Changing how you dress can help reduce static shocks. - ABC

Cool nights, cloudless skies, magnificent sunsets and a potentially unhealthy amount of static electricity build-up — welcome to winter in the Northern Territory.

As temperatures drop and humidity levels fall to half of what they are in January, some Territorians report that they become electric.

Aged care worker James Taylor, from Papunya north-west of Alice Springs, said the frequency and severity of his static discharges were a real problem for him and his patients.

"At the moment I'm like a walking defibrillator," he said.

"I'm zapping people every chance I get and it's not welcome."

He told that when he turned to social media to find a solution to his problem, he was shocked by the amount of people who shared his pain.

"It's good to get all this support because it's not just me."



Rubber-soles build up static

University of Melbourne physicist Associate Professor Martin Sevior said Mr Taylor's sudden electrification was predominantly caused by a lack of moisture in the air.

But he said Mr Taylor's choice of footwear was also a contributing factor.

"Because he's wearing rubber-soled boots he's building up more and more static electricity on him," Dr Sevior said.

"In the wet season that would get naturally conducted away by the moist air [because] it's a good conductor of electricity."

Solving static syndrome

Dr Sevior suggested leather-soled shoes could relieve Mr Taylor's issue, but said other options were available to sufferers of static syndrome.

"[Skin] moisturiser would certainly help too — if you have dry skin the static electricity builds up on the surface of your skin and gets zapped into people."

He said insulating fabrics like cashmere and wool, and even down vests, could also contribute to a build up of static charge.

"Any clothing with a bit of moisture in it will help [reduce static]."

Failing all other remedies, Dr Sevior said positively charged people could ground themselves before touching someone else.

"You'll still get zapped, but at least nobody else will."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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