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Static Electricity

The Triboelectric Series of Materials

Some materials create more static electricity than others. Since static electricity is the collection of electrically charged particles on the surface of a material, various materials have a tendency of either giving up electrons and becoming positive (+) in charge or attracting electrons and becoming negative (-) in charge. The Triboelectric Series is a list of materials, showing which have a greater tendency to become positive (+) and which have a greater tendency to become negative (-). The list is a handy tool to determine which combinations of materials create the most static electricity.

  • What are materials in the Triboelectric Series?

  • What are the best combinations of materials?

  • What are acceptable combinations ?

Triboelectric Series

Common materials are listed according how well they create static electricity when rubbed with another material, as well as what charge the material will possess.

Become positive in charge

The following materials will tend to give up electrons when brought in contact with other materials. They are listed from those with the greatest tendency to give electrons to those that barely give up electrons.

Dry human skin Greatest tendency to giving up electrons and becoming highly positive (+) in charge
Leather  
Rabbit fur Fur is often used to create static electricity
Glass The glass on your TV screen gets charged and collects dust
Human hair "Flyaway hair" is a good example of having a moderate positive (+) charge
Nylon  
Wool  
Lead A surprise that lead would collect as much static electricity as cat fur
Cat fur  
Silk  
Aluminum Gives up some electrons
Paper  

Neutral

There are very few materials that do not tend to readily attract or give up electrons when brought in contact or rubbed with other materials.

Cotton Best for non-static clothes
Steel Not useful for static electricity

Become negative in charge

The following materials will tend to attract electrons when brought in contact with other materials. They are listed from those with the least tendency to attract electrons to those that readily attract electrons.

Wood Attracts some electrons, but is almost neutral
Amber  
Hard rubber Some combs are made of hard rubber
Nickel, Copper Copper brushes used in Wimshurst electrostatic generator
Brass, Silver  
Gold, Platinum It is surprising that these metals attract electrons almost as much as polyester
Polyester Clothes have static cling
Styrene (Styrofoam) Packing material seems to stick to everything
Saran Wrap You can see how Saran Wrap will stick to things
Polyurethane  
Polyethylene (like Scotch Tape) Pull Scotch Tape off surface and it will become charged
Polypropylene  
Vinyl (PVC) Many electrons will collect on PVC surface
Silicon  
Teflon Greatest tendency of gathering electrons on its surface and becoming highly negative (-) in charge

Best Combinations

The best combinations of materials to create static electricity would be one from the positive charge list and one from the negative charge list.

Skin and polyester clothes

A common complaint people have in the winter is that they shoot sparks when touching objects. This is typically caused because they have dry skin, which can become highly positive (+) in charge, especially when the clothes they wear are made of polyester material, which can become negative (-) in charge.

People that build up static charges due to dry skin are advised to wear all-cotton clothes, which is neutral. Also, moist skin reduces the collection of charges.

Combing your hair

Human hair becomes positive (+) in charge when combed. A hard rubber or plastic comb will collect negative (-) charges on its surface. Since similar charges repel, the hair strands will push away from each other, especially if the hair is very dry. This is called "fly-away" hair. Since the comb is negatively charged, it will attract object with a positive charge--like hair. It will also even attract material with no charge--like small pieces of paper.

Fur and plexiglas rod

Rubbing a plexiglas rod with rabbit fur or wool will give the rod a negative charge. Although the rod can be used to pick up scraps of paper, the fur and wool quickly lose their charge.

Moderate combinations

When two materials that tend to give up electrons are rubbed together, the one with the greatest tendency will moderately become positive (+) in charge. Likewise, when two materials that tend to attract electrons are rubbed together, the one with the greatest tendency will moderately become negative (-) in charge.

Silk and glass

Rubbing a glass rod with a silk cloth will charge the glass with positive charges. The silk does not retain any charges for long.

Saran Wrap

Unrolling a piece of Saran Wrap or similar plastic wrap creates negative charges on the sheet. It will tend to stick to neutral items.

In conclusion

Various materials have a tendency of either giving up electrons and becoming positive (+) in charge or attracting electrons and becoming negative (-) in charge. The Triboelectric Series is a list of materials, showing the relative tendency to become charged. This list can be used to determine which combinations of materials create the most static electricity.





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