Static electricity in the winter

Dear Tom,
I have a big problem with static electricity in the winter.
Mark Campbell, Chicago
Dear Mark,
The water content of the air is the issue. Static electricity results from charge separation through friction. All it takes is the act of walking across carpeting or sliding across the seat of a car. Charges separate most effectively in dry rather than moist air, since water vapor quickly grabs free charges that may be loose around us. When we heat our homes — a process that drastically lowers indoor relative humidity — static charges take off. Humidifying indoor air is one way to take care of the problem. Spraying carpeting with a light mist is another way. Carry a metal key. Touch doorknobs, handles, etc. with the key before touching those objects yourself. This will limit the discharges, but you may feel a slight tingle.

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