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HUMANS AND SPARKS
©1997 William J. Beaty
The Cause, Stopping the Pain, and "Electric People"
Part 2: SOME CURES
The simplest cure: before touching a doorknob, a car door, etc., first
touch it with a metal car key. The fiercely hot spark will blast the tip
of the metal key rather than blasting your sensitive fingertip, and it
will painlessly discharge your body's charge. (Grip your keys firmly so
appears between the keys and your skin.) Once you've been discharged, you
can safely grab the doorknob. However, if you walk around some more,
or if you sit upon a plastic car seat, you'll again need to use the keys
To prevent sparks entirely, we must somehow stop the charge separation
process. This can be done by:
As with the car keys, the problem can also be prevented by discharging
your excess body-charge in some way that doesn't cause pain. This can be
- Changing your shoe soles to another type (try leather or ESD Shoes)
- Using a humidifier to raise the humidity in the room
- Spraying carpets, floors, and chairs with an antistatic coating
- Wearing metal-coated shoe soles (try alum. foil, but it's slippery)
The sparking problem is usually found in low-humidity locations, such as
in air-conditioned office buildings. High humidity prevents the
charge-separation which causes sparks. Raising the humidity in the
environment stops the sparking. High humidity makes the surfaces of shoes
and rugs slightly conductive, so the separated charges can instantly flow
back together. Usually all of the "static electricity" will vanish when
the RH is above 60%. If you live in a single house or apartment, use a
room humidifier. Or just boil away a few quarts of water on your kitchen
- Grabbing the metal car door as you climb out of the car.
- Holding your car keys, a coin, or a metal pen, touch it to grounded metal objects.
- Knocking your knuckles against doorknobs (fewer nerve endings, less pain.)
- Wearing a carbon fiber tuft or small brush on a wrist bracelet
- Wearing a metal thimble, touch it to grounded objects.
- Wearing a grounded wire connected to a
- Installing a balanced-polarity ionizer fan
(try the $50 static eliminator # MI9957, from
- Installing a conductive carpet, and wearing a conductive ankle-cuff connected to a metal shoe plate
Or, if we spray the floor with antistatic liquid, this can do the same
thing as raising the humidity. Antistatic liquids aren't magical, they
simply make surfaces slightly conductive so the charge-separation cannot
occur. Make your own antistatic spray by mixing a teaspoon of liquid
fabric-softener into a quart of water.
Here's an idea you may wish to try. If you connect a
carbon fiber tuft or small brush
to a metal bracelet and wear it on your wrist, the tips of the carbon
fibers will send your excess charge into the air. This technique is used
on airplanes to drain away thunderstorm charge. Of course the carbon
brush will not work as well as a wrist strap with a ground cord. But it
should greatly reduce the size of sparks you encounter when walking
around out in public. And at the same time, you can bump the carbon
brush against any doorknob or car door before you grab it. In that case
it will discharge your body entirely.
Electronics manufacturers use balanced-polarity air ionizers to eliminate
sparks. These make the air itself into a conductor, but also they're
expensive ($300 is typical.) NOTE: C&H IS SELLING ONE OF THESE STATIC
ELIMINATORS FOR $50, # MI9957
(3/2004.) ANOTHER NOTE: there's a wearable ionizer advertised by NPA, but no price given.
Manufacturers also sell conductive shoe-straps and ankle cuffs which
connect your body electrically to the floor. These are meant to be used
with special conductive carpets, and they won't work well (or work at all)
if the floor surface is made of wood, plastic, cloth, or other good
Shoe soles create the charge imbalance, so you can reduce the sparks by
avoiding particular types of shoe soles. For example, rubber soles
usually cause significant charge separation, while thin leather soles
cause far less. Damp salty leather is best. Or wear sandals made from
old tire treads (the black rubber is conductive.) Or wear no shoes at
all, only wear thin socks or go barefoot.
You might consider coating your shoe soles with heavy adhesive aluminum
foil. The foil halts the sparking because contact with metals can only
generate a tiny amount of imbalanced charge. Unfortunately the foil makes
your shoes dangerously slippery, and it leaves black scuff marks on
Simple solution: whenever sparking is possible, carry a metal object such
as a pen or a set of keys. Hold them firmly and use them to touch any
large metal objects. If the spark is blasting the end of your car keys,
then it isn't burning a hole in your finger. And right after the spark
has occurred, you can grab that metal without a problem.
For car-door sparks: if you touch the metal shell of the car as
you climb from your seat, there will be no high-voltage buildup and no
painful spark. This is good news for the passengers in your car who might
not be carrying any keys or coins.
Another solution: always knock your knuckles against doorknobs before
grabbing the knob. This won't stop the spark, but the spark is less
painful when it bores into your knuckle rather than into your delicate
fingertips. If you whack your knuckles hard, you barely feel the spark at
all. After all, you're EXPECTING the small pain of your knuckle impact,
and you are controlling the impact, so the pain of the spark isn't
uncontrolled and unexpected. For some reason, unexpected sparks hurt far
more than the ones you produce intentionally.
If you REALLY hate sparks, you might consider wearing a metal sewing
thimble upon one finger at all times. Touch the thimble to the doorknob
(or to other metal objects) and you'll feel no huge "zap." The spark will
still occur, but the pain is gone. Note that the metal of the thimble
MUST touch your skin, otherwise you won't stop the spark. If you want to
experiment with thimbles in the ends of gloves or mittens, put the
thimbles INSIDE the fingers of the gloves.
If you keep getting zapped at work, or if you keep crashing your computer,
consider wearing a wrist strap with a wire connected to an electrical
"ground." These are
inexpensive on ebay.com, typically less
than $10, just search for
keyword "electrostatic" and you'll find some. Buy the kind which has a
metal "alligator clip" to connect to grounded metal. While you wear a
grounded wrist-strap, your body cannot charge up at all. Or try an
anti-static ankle strap to connect your body electrically
to the floor. Really you are supposed to use these with conductive
grounded carpets, but if your floors are slightly conductive, the ankle
strap will help drain away your body's charge.
NEXT: Part 3: CAR-DOOR SPARKS