Why are static shocks so much worse in winter?

Font Size:

Have you ever gone to open your car door and received a small electric jolt? Or reached for a shopping trolley in the supermarket and the same thing happened? What causes these electric shocks?

Just like the ancient Greeks, we tend to think static electricity occurs from rubbing things together. As in the example above, if you walk across a linoleum floor at the supermarket you will build up a static charge which discharges when you touch the handle of a shopping trolley, and gives you an electric shock.

When you were at school you may have tried the science experiment where you rub a balloon on your jumper and it sticks to you; or you hold the balloon close to your hair to make it stand on end. You probably concluded that the act of rubbing something produces a build-up of electrical energy.

However, it’s not the rubbing that’s the important factor. It’s the fact that you bring two different materials into contact, thereby producing static electricity. All materials are built from atoms which have a positive core surrounded by electrons. Some atoms have a more powerful pull on electrons than others. You can see this when you put two different materials in contact, and one attracts electrons more than the other.

It is possible for electrons to be pulled from one material to another, and when separated, electrons will be pulled to the material that strongly attracts them. The result is that one of the materials has gained some extra electrons (therefore becoming negatively charged) while the other material has lost some electrons (becoming positively charged), thus creating static electricity.

When materials are rubbed together over and over again, the chances of more atoms taking part in this electron-swap are increased.

Materials can be ranked in order of the charge, positive or negative, they gain when rubbed. This list is called the triboelectric series. The materials that are further apart in this series will create an increase in static electricity when you rub them together.

So, static electricity is not just created by rubbing two materials together, but by the nature of the materials brought into contact.

Okay, so with static electricity now explained, have you ever wondered why it’s worse in winter?

According to Science Buddies, “the reason winters are more shock-prone has to do with the moisture in the air. In winter, static electricity builds up in our homes because the air is drier. In summer, however, water in the air can help dissipate the electrons that we pick up as we move around. But when the air is drier, the charge collects and clings to us, building up until … zap!”

Now you know!

Were you aware of the true cause of static shocks? Have you noticed that they are worse in winter?

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy


How to use less electricity

Learn how to use less electricity in order to save money on your bills.

The new diet drink you already have in your cupboard

If you're not predisposed to a cup of coffee, you may be about to change your mind.

Do copper bracelets actually help ease arthritis?

Many people say copper wristbands help ease the aches and pains of stiff and sore joints.

Written by Andrea


Total Comments: 2
  1. 0

    Well, that explains it. I’ve been getting a lot more shocks lately. I have to pull my sleeves over my hands before I touch certain things. My daughter is the same. We accidentally touched hands reaching for something on the coffee table and got a shock off each other. We have ducted heating so the air gets very dry.

  2. 0

    For anyone who gets large shocks like I did when exiting the car buy a negative ion generator, floods the car with neg ions and no more static shocks.



continue reading


Do life insurance payouts affect the Age Pension?

Geoff's death policy pays out to his children, not his wife. How does this affect the pension? Q. GeoffMy wife...


Grip strength linked to mental disorders

Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression can increase physical health risks and are a leading cause of disability. Globally,...


Tobacco and childcare drive cost of living increase

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose 0.9 per cent in the December quarter. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics...

Age Pension

Retirement system ‘uncertain for almost all retirees’

Australia, a nation of almost four million retirees, has one of the world's best retirement systems. The 2020 Mercer CFA...


The big question: How much do I need to retire?

Life expectancies continue to rise, and with that comes a host of challenges. For governments, there's the increasing cost to...


Understanding the true cost of retirement

The Australian government spends billions on boosting retirement incomes. The two biggest costs, the Age Pension and superannuation tax concessions,...

Age Pension

Adequacy of retiree nest eggs

YourLifeChoices conducts several surveys each year to gauge the financial, physical and mental health of our 260,000 members. The aim...

Age Pension

Age Pension payments in 2021 – what you need to know

World heavyweight boxing champion, Olympian, ordained minister and successful entrepreneur George Foreman returned to the ring at the age of...