What is Static Electricity?

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What is Static Electricity?
Photo by Hilary Halliwell from Pexels

Have you ever taken off a sweater and felt a shock as it went over your head? Or maybe when you took off your hat, your hair seemed “afraid” because it was standing straight up. If you’ve ever experienced something similar to these situations, you’ve most likely experienced the effects of static electricity.

What is Static Electricity?

It results from the imbalance between negative and positive charges in an object.

Atoms provide the framework of a physical object and contain protons, electrons, and neutrons. Each carries an electric charge.  An electric charge is a basic property of matter that is carried by elementary particles.

Quarks and leptons make up matter. Quarks are the class of elementary particles that combine into protons and neutrons while leptons include electrons. They form atoms of the elements of the periodic table which include hydrogen, oxygen, and iron.

Protons have a positive charge while electrons have a negative charge. Neutrons don’t have a charge and are neutral.

Charges collect on an object’s surface and remain until they’re released or discharged. Discharge sometimes happens through a circuit which is a closed-loop that electrons can travel in such as a battery.

The rubbing of certain materials against one another transfers electrons. It’s like the shock you may experience when you walk across the carpet. This resulted from the release of surplus electrons.


  • Negative to positive charges are attracted to each other.
  • Positive to positive or negative to negative charges repel each other.
  • Balanced positive and negative charges make an object neutral.
What is Static Electricity?
Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

Triboelectric Series

Scientists ranked materials according to their ability to hold or give up electrons. Ideally, if you rub two materials together, the one higher on the list should give up electrons and become positively charged.

  • your hand
  • glass
  • your hair
  • nylon
  • wool
  • fur
  • silk
  • paper
  • cotton
  • hard rubber
  • polyester
  • polyvinylchloride plastic

Conservation of Charge

When static electricity is introduced, no electrons are made or destroyed while no new protons appear or disappear. The electrons travel from one place to another and the electric charge stays the same.

Static Electricity and the Shock of the Electrons

The next time when you feel a shock when you touch a doorknob, have a “hair raising” experience, or walk across carpet remember it’s the movement of surplus electrons. They move because these things have the same positive charge and repel each other.