2009-02-26 / News

I'm completely stuck on Jamestown

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

I forgot about static electricity.

I'm up in Jamestown for a midwinter visit. Before coming, I was excited about seeing my house, my kids, and my husband, too. But, nearly from the moment I walked in the door, a strange and unfamiliar condition took over my body and now I am getting shocked every time I touch something. This is causing me to rethink my original enthusiasm. Don't even ask about my hair—I look like Madeline Kahn in "Young Frankenstein."

I haven't had this problem since I started spending winters in the south. With the exception of clothes sticking together in the dryer, we just don't have static cling or bad hair down there.

I don't really understand much about electricity. I know there's something about atoms, protons and neutrons floating around that's causing this condition, but at this stage in my life, I'm far more interested in knowing how to stop it, than knowing what causes it.

When you do an Internet search for antistatic products it's amazing how many items come up. For example, there are dozens of items for people who work in the electronics industry. They make wrist straps, antistatic shoes; they also make antistatic heel straps that wrap around one's own shoes. I probably don't even have to say this: the options for women are just smaller versions of men's antistatic shoes, and the only woman I have ever known to regularly wear shoes that ugly was Olive Oyl. I guess those who work in the electronics field are not slaves to fashion.

The wrist straps got my attention— I was picturing a small, portable cure-all—but of course there's a hitch to that as well. They come with 6-foot ground wires that attach to an antistatic mat, which presumably lies under a desk chair in an electronics-related workplace. So, in order for the wrist bands to be effective, one must remain at their desks all day. Nope, I don't think that works for me either.

Good Housekeeping magazine had a few good tips for keeping static at bay. According to the magazine, static builds up in homes, especially when fireplaces, furnaces and heaters are constantly removing moisture from the air. One simple solution is to keep a humidifier going during the dry winter months. The magazine also recommends that keeping houseplants around puts more humidity into the air. When items are coated with even an imperceptible amount of moisture it neutralizes the electric charge that can cause shocks.

Static Guard has been around since the 1970s and is the most readily available product for keeping static down around the house. On their website mystaticguard. com, the company lists several uses and tips for their product. One is to spray combs and hairbrushes with Static Guard before combing hair. Another is to spray the floor and carpeting around computers and televisions to keep those areas static free. To remove pet hair from your clothing, the company suggests spraying the item with Static Guard, waiting a minute, then simply brushing the hair away. They also say this works for carpeting in houses with pets. Just spray the rug before you vacuum and the hair will come up easier.

I tried to find out how Static Guard works and one answer came from a blogger at MadSci who says the active ingredient in the product is dimethyl ditallow ammonium chloride. The blogger notes that tallow is the rendered fat of cattle, which is also used in soapmaking, candles and certain lubricants. So the product is essentially snuffing out the electric charge by covering it in a thin layer of grease.

Another website with helpful information is for Bounce fabric softener sheets. These tips are sent in by consumers who have come up with intriguing ways to use the dryer sheets. Go to bounceeverywhere. com to see testimonials from people who have found new ways to make their lives easier with Bounce. One woman says she takes the dryer sheets and uses them to dust her TV and computer monitors so the dust doesn't stick. Another woman keeps a dryer sheet in her pocketbook and uses it when she removes her winter hat—by rubbing it on her head she keeps her hair static free for the day. A woman, who identifies herself as a veteran flight attendant, says that she keeps dryer sheets in her purse to rub on her skirt if it's sticking to her tights and also rubs it on her hair to keep it from flying away.

I know I have been deficient in explaining how static electricity forms in this column, but it would take me reams of paper to give it the coverage it deserves. Instead, let me direct you to the website sciencemadesimple.com/static. html where the hows and whys of this annoying winter condition are fully covered.

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