You walk across a thick, plush carpet and when you are about to touch the light switch …OUCH! A tiny spark jumps between the switch and your finger. You’ve just been shocked by static electricity. In this incident, you may receive as much as 30,000 volts, which is quite scary compared with the 220 volts you get from a typical electrical outlet; luckily the current is very small, which makes it quite impossible for you to get vaporized by the static. But it has plenty of force behind them, in the form of a high voltage.
A shock that is irritating to your finger may be a deadly jolt for sensitive electronic components. Shooting a stream of electrons through your motherboard can damage it and cause permanent damage. So if your environment is plagued by the static electricity problem, you should address it immediately.
Your first step when dealing with static electricity is to know whether it’s the most probable cause of computer crashes. Static electricity may be difficult to detect and diagnose, because it isn’t visible. A spark isn’t needed to cause problems; just sending a sharp spike from your body to the computer case can be enough. In some cases, a touch won’t be necessary, because passing within a couple of inches of the case may have a bad effect. So watch for these conditions:
- Air loses humidity when hotter, so the problem may be worse during winter.
- Insulated shoes especially those with rubber soles will build up more charges.
- Rubber tile flooring and thick carpets can cause static electricity buildup.
When you’re wearing synthetic clothing and discover that the material seems to cling to your body, perhaps you have a static buildup and it may increase the chance of computer crashes.
- The most important step for solving static electricity problems is to properly ground your computer. This provides a clear path to transfer the static electricity away from your computer’s sensitive components. Always plug your system into a three-prong outlet, and check to see if the outlet is wired properly. You can use an affordable outlet tester, available at electronic and hardware stores, so you can be sure the outlet is adequately grounded. Plug the tester into the wall outlet, and you’ll see a pattern of lights, which will tell you whether you have a wiring problem. If there is, ask an electrician to fix it.
- If you are in an area with low humidity, it can be a good idea to install a humidifier, or something more ornamental, like an aquarium or interior fountain.
- If you can’t change your environment, ground yourself before working with a computer. You can get wrist rests and mouse pads that have grounding straps. It would be a good idea to connect the grounding strap to the computer, assuming it is grounded properly, with a metal screw. It would be easy ground yourself every time you reach for your keyboard or mouse by first touching the wrist rest or mouse pad.
- Place an anti-static carpet or chair mat under your chair.
- To have the best protection from static electricity, wear a grounding strap on your wrist. It is a good idea when working with electronic components and will protect your computer even in the most extreme situation.