Since You Asked: Shocking question draws no static
I am hoping you can put your wise heads together and answer this one for me. I get a shock every time I touch an electrical outlet in my house, and even when I touch my car door to close it when getting out. This doesn't happen just once in a while, but virtually every time. Once I even caused the light on my coffee pot to go on just by touching it. It doesn't matter what shoes I'm wearing; rubber soles make no difference at all. If the lights are out, you can clearly see the spark traveling between my hand and the outlet. My husband occasionally gets a shock upon touching an outlet in the house, but not anywhere near as often as I do, though I have given him shocks. Can you tell me what's going on here, other than the fact that maybe I just have an electrifying personality, and more important — how do I stop it?
— Shelley B., Ashland
Are you related to Uncle Fester from "The Addams Family"? If so, we may be of no help here.
Shelley, it was obvious to us at first blush — stop sticking your finger in those darned electrical outlets! We learned the hard way as children, but it's a lesson that's stuck with us since.
It could be that the type of fabric you wear makes you more prone to building up a static charge than your husband. Or by habit perhaps he touches the wall and dissipates his static charge before touching the "outlet"? Barring a change in your personal style, we've got some easy suggestions for you.
The car problem is an easy one. Everyone builds up a static charge in a car in the winter. All you have to do to stop the shock is hold on to the metal door as you get out. Let go, shock free, as your body has left contact with your seat.
As for getting shocked indoors, by "outlet" we assume you mean a light switch? Regardless, wherever you are getting shocked when you touch something, use a coin or key or some sort of metal to touch the switch or doorknob first. The pain you feel from a static shock isn't the electricity, it's the arc or little lightning bolt. Distance yourself from the zap and you won't feel it.
Since you have such a problem, consider humidifying your home. Static loves dry air, which is why it is so much more common in dry winter air than moist summer air.
Oh, and those shoes? Contrary to popular misbelief, rubber is your enemy where static is concerned. Because rubber is an insulator (doesn't let electricity pass), all you are doing is helping your body build up a much larger static charge before you zap it out through your fingers. Go barefoot, Shelley! Or, though perhaps impractical around the house, you could try some steel-cleated golf shoes.
Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501