Static Electricity – What is it?

What is Static Electricity

We have all witnessed Static Electricity. Have you ever walked across a room and got a shock when you have touched a door handle? Taken off a jumper on a dry winter’s day and had a “hair raising” experience and who can’t remember playing with balloons by rubbing against your jumper and then sticking it to the wall.

Why do these things happen? I’m afraid you haven’t suddenly developed magic powers – it’s static electricity!

The Science Bit

Objects are made up of atoms. Inside an atom are protons, electrons and neutrons. The protons are positively charged, the electrons are negatively charged, and the neutrons are neutral.

Opposite charges attract each other. Like charges repel each other. Most of the time positive and negative charges are balanced in an object, which makes that object neutral.

Static electricity is the result of an imbalance between negative and positive charges in an object. These charges can build up on the surface of an object until they find a way to be released or discharged.

Friction transfers negative charges, or electrons. For example, when you walk across a man made carpet your body collects extra electrons. The electrons cling to your body until they can be released. As you reach and touch an object you get a shock as the surplus electrons are being released.

Problems caused by Static

Whilst it may be funny to laugh at your friend’s interesting hair, static can cause serious problems within industry. The Electronics Manufacturing, Data Storage, Printing, Packaging, Pharmaceutical and Textiles Industries are all recognising the issues caused by static and looking for remedies.

Whilst a person can generate in excess of 5000 volts before they are even notice they are highly charged in the form of being shocked, static charges can be a huge problem for small sensitive electronic devices. Some devices can be damaged or destroyed by as little as 10 volts.

The ESD Association estimates that 25% of all electronics damaged for unknown reasons can be attributed to static and the cost of ESD damage to the Electronics Industry to be $5 billion (USD) per year. Once an electronic device is exposed to an ESD event, the device’s circuitry may be permanently damaged causing the device to fail.

Dust or contaminates may also be attracted to your equipment surfaces and products by static.

Production is interrupted, production speeds are slowed, product quality is decreased and more rejects occur. Dust and other contaminates compromise product quality and productivity.


The good news is that there are a range of relatively easy and cost effective solutions to reduce the impact of static electricity. The most common include specialist floor coatings, anti static sprays, packaging and deionising equipment.

With a bit of planning static electricity can be easily eliminated in the workplace.