Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
The new Washington
Post Weather website
Jump to CWG's
Latest Full Forecast
Outside now? Radar, temps
and more: Weather Wall
Follow us on Twitter (@capitalweather) and become a fan on Facebook
Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/ 4/2010

Winter: The season of static cling

By Ann Posegate

Wx and the City

* Cold and dry most of the week, then snow? Full Forecast *

While in a clothing store during a past winter, I overheard a young girl exclaim, "I don't like this sweater, it's too stackity!" as her sister was helping her try on a new sweater ... I'm pretty sure she was referring to 'static cling.'

What is the mystery behind the static electricity in our wardrobes, sheets, towels, hats and hair? And why is it worse in winter?

It all comes down to, well, the smallest thing it can come down to: atoms. Atoms make up everything we see, and some carry more electrons than they know what to do with, making them negatively charged.

Keep reading to learn more about static electricity and tips for your winter wardrobe ...

All atoms carry charged particles: protons (positive) and electrons (negative). Normally, these charges are balanced and thus the atoms are neutral. An imbalance occurs when an atom gains electrons, thus becoming negatively charged, or loses electrons, becoming positively charged. Opposites attract: when a positively charged atom meets a negatively charged one, electrons are shared, a bond is formed and the atoms become neutral again. This is happening constantly all around us, even though we may not notice.

Imagine that your boss gives you an extra workload today, and you are teeming with anger. You want to run, scream or punch something (or heaven forbid, someone) to get that energy out. Now imagine that a colleague walks by who is sulking, dragging his feet and overall down in the dumps. You reach out and touch your friend's shoulders, about to yell at him, and ... BAM! All of a sudden, you both feel refreshed, relaxed and normal again. In an anthropocentric sort of way, this is what happens to negatively charged atoms on dry, cold winter days.

Electrons, in the form of electricity, move very well through conductive materials such as water. When humidity is high -- such as during a typical D.C. summer -- electrons move more freely in the air and between objects. However, dry winter air is a poor conductor of electricity. Thus, electrons are more likely 'jump' from one charged object (or person) to another. Static electricity is not really static -- when we walk across a carpet in our stockinged feet, a charge transfers from the floor to our bodies, builds up in our bodies and jumps to the doorknob as we enter a room.

We've all had issues with static electricity through hat-hair, clingy skirts or pants, or clothes that have just come out of the dryer. What can we do about it? Here are a few tips:

-- Use a humidifier to increase the humidity of indoor air.
-- Wear clothes made of natural, rather than synthetic, fiber.
-- Add 1/4 cup vinegar or borax to the wash cycle when doing laundry.
-- More tips.

Best of luck to you and your "stackity" clothes this winter!

By Ann Posegate  | January 4, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Education, Posegate, Science, Wx and the City  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: The cold keeps coming
Next: Ann is off to Antarctica


The coolest part is sleeping under a wool blanket, then in the dark, quickly moving your feet around under that blanket.

Posted by: ennepe68 | January 4, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Actually pure distilled or de-ionized water is a rather good insulator. However nearly all water in the natural environment contains dissolved salts in the form of positive and negative ions. It is these dissolved ions which account for the conductivity of "water" [actually a dilute salt solution containing various positive metal, and negative bicarbonate, nitrate, and halide ions] in the natural environment environment.

For instance, "hard" water is actually a dilute solution of calcium and iron III [ferric] bicarbonates, with traces of other metals, nitrate and halide [predominantly chloride] ions and is a good conductor. The Culligan man "softens" hard water by removing or precipitating these ions, hence "soft" water is a far poorer conductor than hard water.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | January 4, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Another cool thing is the HUGE voltages that can be built up in the presence of normal static electricity (on the order of kilovolts - much greater than your household electrical socket). But because the *amount* of charge (as opposed to the potential energy of the charge) is so small, it's not deadly.

But it can be very damaging to bare, exposed electronics of various kinds. That's why you have to discharge yourself and stay grounded when you install memory, boards, etc. into a computer - especially during dry weather.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 4, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

My cats have so much static electricity in their fur that I can't stand to pet them in the winter! How can I get rid of it?

Posted by: heatherdc1980 | January 4, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

heatherdc1980: Try stroking the cats with a dryer sheet, if they'll stand still for it. I recommend Bounce Unscented, as my cat seems to like it pretty well.

Could the static electricity be the culprit behind all the lint I'm finding this year? I swear, I never saw so much lint - its all over everything I own. I am about to christen the '09-'10 season as The Winter of Lint.

Posted by: --sg | January 4, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2012 The Washington Post Company