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Most people these days suffer from static shocks on a regular basis, at home or in their workplace. This article tells you what can cause the problems.

Static shocks, and how to avoid them

Why do we experience static shocks?

Why do I get shocks when I touch the door knob or filing cabinet?

I get shocks when I'm sitting, or get up from the chair - and I haven't walked anywhere!

Why do I experience shocks, when my colleagues do not?

Shocks when using a vacuum cleaner

Why don´t I get static shock when I touch a wall or a tree or door?

Do your personnel or clients complain of static shocks?

  • Manufacturing environments

  • Offices

  • Retail

  • Car parks

We can help you find the cause of static shocks, and possible solutions, with an Electrostatic Site Survey.

Please contact us to discuss a price and proposal.

Does the weather affect static electricity?

How can I stop static shocks?

I get shocks when I'm shopping - how can I stop this?

Are static shocks a health risk?

What about shocks when I get out of my car?

"Cable bug" and static related "insect bites"

Static electricity related incident report and other articles

See also Why static charge builds up on people

Why do we experience static shocks?

Many people ask about shocks experienced when they touch the door, filing cabinet, lift, or other metal object. 

Static electricity is generated whenever two materials are in contact with each other. All materials are made of electrical charges in the material atoms. In the universe there are equal amounts of negative electrical charge (electrons) and positive charge (protons). These generally try to stay in balance of equal amounts at every location. 

However, when two materials are in contact, some of the charges redistribute by moving from one material to the other. This leaves an excess of positive charge on one material, and an equal negative charge on the other. When the materials move apart, each takes it's charge with it. One material becomes charged positively, and the other negatively.  

If the materials are able to conduct electricity away the charges will dissipate and eventually recombine. In this case, static electricity effects may be too small to be noticed. However, if the charges are separated faster than the material can dissipate them, the amount of electrostatic charge builds up. Eventually a high voltage, and the effects of static electricity, may be noticed. 

If you experience static shocks while working in an area where flammable atmospheres (solvent vapours or dust clouds) might be present, seek advice immediately. There may be a fire or explosion risk. 


Read more about
why static charges build up on people

Man-made floor and shoe sole materials have been main factors in most cases of shocks we have investigated.

If you just changed your floor, and you're now getting shocks, it could be the floor covering is the main cause.

Why do I get shocks when I touch the door knob or filing cabinet?

Most modern shoes have highly insulating rubber or plastic soles. As you walk, static charges can build up on the soles of the shoes. This is especially true if the floor is also insulating. Some older nylon carpets are particularly good at generating static electricity. 

The charge on the shoes soles induces static electrical charge on your body, and this charge appears as a high voltage. Under severe conditions, more than 15,000 Volts have been recorded. It is quite common to experience 5,000V. In fact, many people do not feel a shock from a static electricity discharge less than about 2,000-4,000V. 

If you are indoors, the point can be proved by walking around for a while with no shoes on - you will probably not experience shock.

I get shocks when I'm sitting, or get up from the chair - and I haven't walked anywhere!

When you sit in a chair the contact between your clothes and the chair can generate a lot of electrostatic charge on your clothes. While you stay in contact with the chair your body voltage stays low. If you lean forward so you back moves away from the chair back, or if you get up out of the chair, then you take the electrostatic charge with you. Your body voltage can rise very rapidly to a high voltage as the charge is separated from it's counter charge on the chair. 

Furniture coverings can also be a major factor!

Tip - cotton is usually a low static material.

Shoe sole materials and outer clothing can be part of the problem.

Tip - cotton clothes are comfortable and usually give no static problems.

Tip - try different shoes to see if some give less problems. Leather soles are often good.


Why do I experience shocks, when my colleagues do not?

There are many reasons why this might happen. Firstly, some people are more sensitive to shocks than others. For most people, the threshold for feeling shocks is in the range  2,000-4,000V.

Secondly, you may be storing more static electricity than others. This depends on the size of your body and feet, and the thickness of your shoe soles! A bigger body, bigger feet, and thinner shoe soles, means more charge has to be stored to produce the same voltage. This gives a higher energy electrostatic discharge. 

Thirdly, you may be generating more charge than others. This may be due to the material of your shoe soles, or the way that you walk. If it happens when sitting, it may be due to the material of your clothes, and the amount of static they generate against your chair. 

Shocks when using the vacuum cleaner

When dust travels in the air sucked through a vacuum cleaner it impacts on the pipe walls and other internal parts. These impacts generate static charges on the particles and on the pipe walls. If these parts are made from plastics or other insulating materials they can charge up and give static shocks. Rotating parts such as carpet beaters can also charge up through rubbing action. If the suction pipe has a metal coil and is not earthed, this can charge up and give quite an energetic spark.

If there are flammable vapours (for example solvent fumes) present, these sparks could cause a fire or explosion risk. In larger vacuum cleaners (above about 1 m3) if the dust can give a flammable atmosphere, there may be a risk of fire or explosion in the dust collector.

Dust sucked into a vacuum cleaner can cause charge build-up and shocks

Shocks may not be felt if you touch materials that are not conductors

Why don´t I get static shock when I touch something like a wall or a tree or door?

Shocks are usually only felt if your body is charged to over about 4000V, and you touch something conductive (like metals or water, or other people).

If the wall or door is made of wood, concrete or some other material that has low or intermediate conductivity, any static charge on your body escapes slowly and usually does not cause a shock. If you touch metal, water, or another person when your body is highly charged, the charge is discharged quickly as the material is highly conductive. In this case you may feel a shock.

Does the weather affect static electricity?

Static charge build-up is enhanced when the air is dry. So, static problems and effects are often noticed in dry air conditions. The air outside can be very dry when the weather is cold and dry. Indoors, central heating or air conditioning can give very dry conditions which promote static electricity. Heating warms the air and reduces its humidity. 

Static shocks are often noticed in cold dry weather, especially when in a centrally heated environment, and may disappear when the weather gets more humid. Static shocks may also be encouraged under air conditioning in hot weather. 

You'll often find shocks are worst in the winter when the air outside is cold and dry. They may disappear in warmer damper weather.

If possible, keep air humidity above 30% r.h.

Tip - if the air in your room is very dry you could try keeping an open wide dish of water handy - this will evaporate and moisten the air nearby.

How can I stop static shocks?

Unfortunately cure is not always easy. Indoors, you can try raising the air humidity to 40-50% rh with a humidifier. (You can check the humidity with a cheap humidity meter from a gardening shop.) Also, look for shoes with leather soles. In the electronics industry, and in areas where electrostatic sparks could cause a fire hazard, people often wear specially designed static dissipative shoes to reduce electrostatic charge build-up on the body. It is less likely that problems will be experienced with non-polymer floors, such as cement or wood (although varnishes can cause problems). However, replacing the floor can be expensive!

It is possible to treat some floors with static dissipative treatments - but the benefit of this will probably wear off after a while. 

Furnishings and car seats can be difficult to treat - there are some antistatic sprays available you could try. Or, you could try rubbing the fabric with fabric softener sheets, or spraying them with diluted fabric conditioner.

I get shocks when I'm shopping - how can I stop this?

Once again, you build up electrostatic charge as you walk around. However, if you're pushing a trolley, the wheels of the trolley can also generate static electricity. As you walk around, you and the trolley both store charge and reach a high voltage. When you reach to touch something, you get a shock. 

These effects are made worse by the warm dry air in many shopping areas, and the floor coverings which are used. Even if they were treated against static electricity when installed, this treatment may have work off. 

As before, if you wear leather soled shoes while you shop, this may help. Otherwise, you could try holding a key and touching some metal rack with it, to discharge the static electricity painlessly before you touch things by hand. Some people have tried wearing an antistatic "friendship bracelet"

Sadly, the cure is probably in the hands of the shop facility managers, who may need to maintain or replace the floor covering or trolleys.  Usually they don't discover the problem until after the floor is fitted, and it's difficult and expensive to do anything about it.


If you're a plant lover, keep plants in the room in gravel filled dishes - and keep them regularly watered!

Static shocks can be a nuisance - but are not generally a health risk.


Are static shocks a health risk?

Fortunately there is little risk attached to such electrostatic discharges. In most cases they are just a common nuisance. The biggest risk is that a shock could cause you to have an accidental injury. For example, you might withdraw your arm suddenly and hit it against something. 

What about shocks when I get out of my car?

Many people experience shocks when they get out of their car. Often they believe that the car is charged - but this is not normally so.

Sitting in the car, electrostatic charges are generated on the car seat and the person's body, due to contact and movement between the clothes and the seat. When the person leaves the seat, They take half of this charge with them. As they get out of the vehicle, their body voltages rises due to this charge - a voltage of 10,000 Volts is not unusual. 

When they reach to touch the vehicle door, the electrostatic discharge and shock occurs as their hand approaches the metal door. 

The voltage build-up can often be avoided by holding onto a metal part of the door frame as you leave the seat. This provides a return dissipation path for the charge on your body.

If you have forgotten to hold the metal door part as you leave the seat, a shock may often still be avoided by touching the glass window before you touch the metal door. The glass may be conductive enough to dissipate charge, whilst preventing the rapid discharge which is felt as a shock. 

If you have your keys in your hand - let the spark discharge through the keys not to your fingers, and you won't feel anything!

To avoid shocks when getting out of the car -

HOLD the metal door frame before you get out

KEEP HOLDING as you get out, until you are fully out of the car.

It's easy with practice!


"Cable bug" and static related "insect bites"

Sometimes "insect bites" have been reported to be in fact caused by static electricity, usually under dry air conditions. We reserve our judgement on this one, but there's quite a few reports on it on the web.


Static electricity related incident report and other articles

Electrostatic Solutions Ltd. and Dr Jeremy Smallwood have no control over the following articles and web sites. We provide these links for the interest of our visitors and make no claims or recommendations concerning any information or advice provided by them and accept no liability concerning use of such information or advice.

Static shocks in supermarkets

ESD Journal article

Static shocks on treadmills

ESD Journal article

Static Electric Discharges and How To Prevent Them Zapping You

BBC page on static shocks and how to avoid them

Learn about static charge & static shocks

A great little article on static electricity from Science Made Simple.

Shirt static blamed for blast

The family of a 13-year-old boy from Cardiff who was badly burned in a fire on board a yacht suspect that static from his football shirt may have sparked a gas explosion.

Static electricity causing blaze that destroyed truck and a set of gas pumps

There's a good video on this page that show a fire starting when a fuel can is filled on the back of a truck.

Hospital bans Crocs shoes over static risk

Article on telegraph.co.uk.

Man's static jacket sparks alert

We don't quite believe this one!

Static Electric Discharges and How To Prevent Them Zapping You

BBC article on static electricity, shocks and how to avoid them.

Static electricity and floor resistance

IBM guidelines to minimize static electricity buildup in a data center.

Avoiding electrostatic shocks at car park ticket barriers

Electrostatic Solutions Ltd Technical Brief No 8. describes how a high resistance road can cause a car to charge up, leading to shocks experienced at the car park ticket equipment.

Static causes refueling fire (video)

This astonishing video shows an accident in which a woman started a fire when refueling. She sat in the car as the fuelling was in progress. After getting out, she would have been charged with static - and caused a spark and fire when she reached for the fueling nozzle. She's lucky not to have been badly hurt.

Static in the Call Center

Steve Fowler, Fowler Associates, Inc.

The control of body voltage getting out of a car

The overhead slides of a paper presented at the ‘Static and Textiles’ meeting 18 March, 1998 during the Institute of Physics Annual Congress in Brighton

Controlling Static Generation In Carpets

Darryl D. Allen, Desco Industries Inc

Static charges that generate from floors and carpets are not only an annoying and costly occurrence for office and factory employers, but can be easily controlled with existing carpets and tile floors.

The Cause, Stopping the Pain, and "Electric People"

A great article from Bill Beaty - I'm not convinced about "electric people" though!

“Stop Static” and Follow Safe Refueling Guidelines

Staying Safe At the Pump

API articles aimed at US consumers

Data centre humidity levels source of debate

Data center humidity control keeps computer components from failing, and energy from being wasted.

Static control

Carpet and Rug Institute Technical Bulletin

Cable bug

Trafford Council article

Is your House a High Static Environment?

Steve Fowler of Steve Fowler Associates offers advice to an enquirer.

Mystery bugs in offices?

Workers reporting "bites" but no biting pests around happens often enough to make life interesting in office building pest control.

Invisible itches: Insect and non-insect causes.

University of Florida article

Has your office caught the cable bug?

Office workers call Doncaster pest control to get rid of invisible bugs


Stop ESD damage in electronics manufacture

ESD Seminars and training


Avoid fires and explosions in process industries


Prevent shocks to personnel in offices, retail and other workplaces


Develop electrostatic applications


Test and Measurement


The ESD Guide

Our on-line guide to achieving a successful ESD Program.