Taking the Charge out of Static Electricity

Working with building managers of all kinds of facilities from schools and universities, to office buildings and industrial locations, I am often called in to help facilities reduce costs, green their cleaning operations, and/or promote sustainability. But very often I am called in to help managers with a “shall we say” unusual issue. One of those that comes up quite a bit is to help reduce static electricity in the location.

Static electricity, especially in an industrial facility, can quickly become very serious. Virtually every electronic item we use today has some type of computer system on board. Static electricity can cause a variety of problems to computers and electronics with computers in them. What often happens is it damages chips and circuit boards. Worse, static electricity can also erase the information stored on the device.

And in an industrial location specifically, there have been incidents of static electricity causing dangerous explosions. This means understanding what static electricity is, how and why it happens, and steps we can take to prevent it are of utmost importance. But first, let’s start with a general understanding of what static electricity is all about.

Understanding Static Electricity

Static electricity exists when there are unequal amounts of positively and negatively charged particles present. Virtually all solid surfaces contain significant amounts of positive and negative charges. All is fine until an imbalance of the two charges occurs. It does not matter if these surfaces are electrified in any way or not. *

When two materials are in contact – let’s say you and a door knob – electrons can move from you to the doorknob or vice versa. You may be positively charged and the surface negatively charged in unequal amounts. When these two energy charges are connected, a zap occurs, otherwise known as static electricity.

We should also mention that the “static” in static electricity is a misnomer. There is nothing static about static electricity. It can quickly move along surfaces causing a static electric charge to be released whether the surface is touched on one side or another.

Steps to take to Reduce Static Electricity

Very often, static electricity is most prevalent in the cold winter months. This is because what is known as electrostatic discharge (ESD) occurs most frequently when the humidity drops below 50 percent. While adding more humidity in the indoor environment will not eliminate all static electricity, many times it can help. In a residential setting, this can easily be addressed just by selecting a humidifier.

In a commercial facility, because they are typically so much larger than a residential setting, adding humidity to the air can be a bit more complicated. What can be done in such locations, however, is to add humidification equipment to the building’s central heating system.

Things get all the more complicated in an industrial location. What if the facility has docks with large doors that must be opened and closed throughout the day? It’s very hard to control the indoor environment in such situations. Further, materials, products, boxes, etc., may be flowing in and out of the location all day. These items will bring their own electrical “charges,” making reducing static electricity all the more difficult.

However, we have ways to address this problem and one of them is called mats, or more specifically, anti-static floor mats.

The Matting Option

An antistatic mat looks like most any other floor mats except for one thing: very often they have an electrical cord that comes with them. However, this is not always the case. Some mats are made with special foams that help discharge the static. There are also mats designed specifically for industrial applications that will have similar foam backings to dissipate the charge.

As to the cord, it is referred to as a “ground cord,” which can be connected to the grounding in an electrical socket. This helps neutralize the positive and negative charges, helping to minimize or eliminate static electricity.

Several matting manufacturers offer anti-static mats. In fact for industrial locations, it is often one of their best-selling mats along with anti-fatigue mats, designed to protect the health of workers that must stand for long periods of time.

Other Options

While this applies more to an office facility than an industrial location, we do have more options. For offices that are carpeted, right after the carpet has been cleaned using the extraction method, an antistatic spray can be applied to the carpet, which aids in dissipating static charges. It is best to do this after cleaning. The extractor should remove most soils which can reduce the effectiveness of the antistatic spray. In many cases, the antistatic spray can last for several months, depending on use and foot traffic where sprayed.

There are also anti-static floor finishes available. These can be applied to hard surface floors both in an office setting as well as the industrial part of a facility.   These finishes have what is called a conductive substance that helps dissipate any static charges. When applied correctly, the antistatic properties remain in place for months, even after several cleanings, buffing, and burnishings.

Bottom Line

Here is what we need to know when it comes to static electricity. It is not just an unwelcome shock or inconvenience. Static electricity can cause real problems, damage computers, and other electronics and even cause explosions. Because of this, we must take steps to minimize or eliminate it.

Fortunately, there are options. And because this can be such a serious problem, we can expect the matting industry, cleaning chemical manufacturers, as well as the floor coverings industry to develop more products that help end the charge and keep the working environment safe.


Ron Segura is founder and president of Segura & Associates, an international janitorial consulting company based in the U.S. He has over 45 years of experience in all segments of the cleaning industry with ten of those years spent overseeing the cleaning of over 4.5 million square feet for The Walt Disney Company. Ron can be contacted through his company website at https://www.seguraassociates.com


*”Misconceptions of Static Electricity”, Science Education Center.