How to Make Static Electricity

Four Methods:Making an ElectroscopeCreating Charges Using Plastic ChairsCreating Charges Using CarpetUnderstanding the Chemistry behind Static Charges

Have you ever produced a static shock either on yourself or someone else and wondered what caused it? With a little bit of knowledge regarding the chemistry behind static electricity, you can easily create static charges on a variety of objects around you every day!

Method 1
Making an Electroscope

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    Tie a piece of sugarless puffed cereal to the end of a thread. You can actually test how well certain objects develop electrical charges (static) by making a homemade electroscope.[1] To make a simple electroscope, tie a piece of puffed sugarless cereal to a thread and hang the thread off something such as a table or paper towel rack.
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    Rub a comb or inflated balloon with a piece of wool. Plastic combs and wool are two of the more common household objects that hold a great static charge. Since wool is a great way to develop a charge with plastic materials, you can rub the wool against the comb or balloon to develop a charge. Rub the two materials together for ten to fifteen seconds.[2][3]
    • You may want to mark the portion of the plastic material you’re rubbing because the strongest ionization (movement of electrons in the atoms which is the cause of static) will be at this point.[4]
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    Bring the comb or balloon near the piece of cereal. After charging the comb or balloon, slowly bring the spot you rubbed toward the cereal. When you get close enough, the material will start attracting the cereal.[5]
    • Since the materials are insulators, you can turn the object so the far side of the object from the charged side faces the cereal, and the attraction will cease.[6]
    • You can do this same test with a slow steady trickle of water such as with a faucet. Holding the charged spot of the balloon near the stream will pull the water slightly toward the balloon.[7]
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    Try the experiment with other materials. Many other common things around the home are great for creating static. Dry human hair, dry human skin, leather, fur, glass, nylon, wool, and aluminum all shed electrons easily.[8] Additionally, teflon, silicon, vinyl (PVC), polyurethane, styrene (styrofoam), polyester, gold, brass, silver, copper, and hard rubber all gather loose electrons easily.[9] Try rubbing objects from the first category against objects from the second category, and then test which ones create the most static.
    • For instance, most people know that rubbing a balloon against your hair will create static. Notice that dry human hair comes from the first category and that rubber—which is the actual material from which latex balloons are made—is in the second category.

Method 2
Creating Charges Using Plastic Chairs

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    Sit in a plastic desk chair. Polyurethane is a popular material for many desk chairs, especially in classrooms, and the material quite easily gains a negative electric charge.[10] Have a seat in one of these plastic desk chairs.
    • Though plastic chairs are some of the more common polyurethane items we interact with, you can achieve similar results by sliding down dry plastic slides in a park or other comparable interactions.
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    Avoid contact with steel components. Contact with components such as the steel legs of the chair will give you a ground, which means that as you try to build the charge, it will flow evenly out of you rather than building up. Avoiding contact with the grounded components will help you retain the charge.
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    Scoot back and forth in your chair for about thirty seconds. Friction between the objects transferring electrons will speed up the process, so start scooting around in the chair. For best results, also go side to side, keeping your back against the chair.
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    Stand up carefully without touching any metal. After scooting around for several seconds, you will likely have a built-up electrical charge. If you feel the static attraction as you peel away from the chair and hear crackles as you stand up, this is a good sign!
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    Reach out and touch your target. Now that you’re positively charged, you’re ready to reach out and zap something. If the target is yourself, you can touch any conductive material, such as a metal doorknob.[11]

Method 3
Creating Charges Using Carpet

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    Find a carpet or rug. Polypropylene and polyester are common materials in rugs and carpeting.[12] This makes carpeting containing these materials great for gaining negative electrical charges.[13]
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    Rub your feet against it while wearing socks. The same as with other methods, friction between the items will help you build up an electrical charge. Continue rubbing for approximately thirty seconds.
    • Socks made of materials that easily gain positive charges will work even better. Try wearing wool socks.[14]
    • As with most static experiments, this works even better during dry winter months because humidity helps to eliminate static.
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    Reach out and touch your victim. The closer your victim is to you, the better. You'll lose the charge if you have to move around too much. You should also avoid touching any metal, or you'll end up shocking yourself instead.

Method 4
Understanding the Chemistry behind Static Charges

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    Understand atoms as the base units of elements. Everything we interact with on a daily basis is made of atoms. Atoms are the base unit of every element on the periodic table—meaning breaking any pure element such as gold or oxygen into smaller pieces would make it no longer the respective element.[15]
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    Learn what atoms are made of. Every atom from hydrogen to uranium is composed of atomic particles called electrons, protons, and neutrons. What makes each element different is simply the number of each particle inside the atom.[16]
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    Learn the electrical charge of atomic particles. One of the things that sets the types of atomic particles apart is the electrical charge of each. Electrons have a negative electrical charge, whereas protons have a positive charge and neutrons have a neutral charge.[17]
    • The charge of each particle is balanced such that atoms with equal numbers of protons and electrons have an overall neutral charge from the two having each other out.[18]
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    Understand the structure of an atom. Another thing that sets the atomic particles apart is their location in the atom. Protons and neutrons are tightly bound together at the center of every atom is what is called the nucleus of the atom. Electrons, however, are arranged in rings that revolve in high speeds around the nucleus.[19] This makes it much easier for an atom to lose electrons from the outermost ring encircling it than it does for the atom to lose the protons housed in the nucleus.[20]
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    Learn what an ion is. When an atom sheds electrons, it’s always by losing them to another atom. When an atom loses electrons, that means the atom then has more protons in the nucleus than electrons around it. This results in an overall positive charge to the atom. Inversely, the atom that gains the electrons from the shedding atom then has more electrons revolving around it than protons in the nucleus, and this means an overall negative charge. Charged atoms are called ions.[21]
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    Understand what causes the static electricity. You can think of ions as similar to magnets. Oppositely charged ions attract (and ions of the same charge repel each other) the same way that opposite poles of magnets attract one another (and like poles repel one another). Static electricity is simply the discharge caused by the imbalance in the positive and negative charges in atoms.[22]
    • You can see examples of both the attraction and repulsion forces with the standard static balloon experiment. Blow up a balloon and rub a side of it against your hair for ten seconds. The rubbing causes your hair to shed electrons into the balloon. Your positively charged hair stands up because each positively charged atom in the cells of your hair repel one another. You can then take the negatively charged balloon and hold it to the wall. It will stick to the neutrally charged wall via forces of attraction until enough of the extra electrons have dispersed into the wall to negate the force.[23]
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    Learn the objects most likely to transfer electrons. Now that you know the process that leads to the electrical imbalances which cause static electricity, you just need to know what objects mostly easily build such a charge.
    • Certain objects are much more prone to shedding electrons. As mentioned, dry human hair is one. Other materials in this category include: dry human skin, leather, fur, glass, nylon, wool, and aluminum.[24]
    • Materials that easily collect loose electrons include: teflon, silicon, vinyl (PVC), polyurethane, styrene (styrofoam), polyester, gold, brass, silver, copper, and hard rubber.[25]
    • This means that causing friction by rubbing items from the first category against items from the second category is a great way to charge each. This is why polyester clothing has so much static cling and why certain combs cause hair static.[26]


  • Humidity makes it more difficult for items to develop electrical charges. This is why we see more static electricity during really dry winter months.
  • You can use a humidifier to cut down on static around your home.
  • You can actually discharge static as a safety precaution in some situations, such as by touching a metal part of your car when you first exit your vehicle before starting to pump gas. To discharge the static electricity without shocking yourself, hold your key and touch the key to the metal instead of your fingers.
  • Touching a doorknob with the back of your knuckles will discharge static in a less painful because there are fewer nerve ending there than in your fingers.

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Categories: Science for Kids