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Why is static electricity worse in the winter?

It's always a bit of a jolt – literally – when you walk across the room and then touch a person or an object and find yourself zapped. This can happen every now and again no matter what time of year it is, because the shock is simply just a charged buildup caused by our body gathering extra electrons from the surfaces around us.

If you walk across carpeting made of wool or nylon while wearing rubber-soled shoes, these electrons travel from the carpet fibers to the rubber surface. Then, the electrons spread out over the surface of our body, which can cause the resulting buildup to grow. 

The second you touch a metal doorknob or reach to turn on a lamp, the voltage of the buildup can grow to 20,000 volts or more. It's enough to break down the air resistance and cause that spark to jump the gap.

But how come it seems so much worse during the winter?

Because air is an electrical insulator, electrons can't pass through it very easily. By adding water vapor to the air, the water molecules within such make it easier for electrons to move through.  The amount of water vapor air can hold depends on the air's temperature.  Although wintertime air holds a lot less moisture than the summer, we are the cause of this situation when we heat up our chilled homes with the furnace.

Would you like to try and prevent these sparks from flying? There's a few simple ways this can be done:

•    Run a humidifier in the home to elevate the amount of moisture in the air that running a furnace eliminates; electrons will then move through the room more freely
•    Stick with cotton clothing, as it is one of the most electrically neutral fabrics a person can wear
•    Try touching metal objects a little more frequently than you would normally, when moving through a room – this can discharge the electron buildup sooner, before enough gathers to create a spark
•    As a last resort, you can carry around a metal object, like your house key or a small coin, and use this to touch the doorknob, lamp, faucet, or light switch before your fingers do. Although this will not prevent the jump of the spark itself, it will keep it from touching your fingers and causing that dreaded jolt

Electricity is a wonderful piece of science that has made our lives comfortable and easy, and by following these quick steps you'll be able to keep it where it belongs, rather than feeling anxious about every move you make around the house!

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