RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Winter is notorious for chapped lips, sore throats, the winter blues, and perhaps most annoyingly (and sometimes embarrassingly), static cling. This shocking phenomenon happens when the air is filled with invisible, electrically charged particles called positive ions. The low humidity levels and dry air of winter create perfect conditions for those ions to thrive, which is why static cling is more prevalent this time of year. To prevent skirts riding up their legs or hair from standing straight up or the occasional surprising electrostatic shock, many people reach for static-zappers in the form of aerosol treatments or laundry products found in the grocery store. But many store-bought static solutions contain chemicals that may contaminate your indoor air and could lead to breathing problems. Luckily, there are alternatives.
Kick static to the curb using these safer (and often cheaper) methods.
• Eliminate positive household charges. Synthetic clothing, toys, plastics, building materials like vinyl, and other modern materials are well-known for their susceptibility to electrostatic charges, explains green-living expert Annie Bond in her book, Home Enlightenment: Create a Nurturing, Healthy, and Toxin-Free Home (Rodale, 2008). A vinyl-sided home filled with plastic toys, synthetic carpeting, tons of electronics, and polyester clothing is sure to harbor more static electricity than a brick home with wooden floors scattered with natural-fiber accent rugs and closets filled with wool and cotton clothing. Replacing your siding is probably not an option. But whenever you're selecting clothing, bedding, or other materials for the home, choose wool, cotton, linen, or silk over rayon, acetate, acrylic, nylon, and polyester to reduce static cling.
• Ditch dryer sheets. Laundry-product companies have brainwashed us into believing we need to buy dryer sheets to get rid of static, but that just isn't the case. Even worse, research out of the University of Washington found the sheets spewed toxic chemicals and caused breathing problems and irritated skin. To save money and protect your health while knocking out static in your clothing, add ¼ cup of white vinegar to your wash's rinse cycle.
Read on for more ways to handle static cling.
• While you're at it, banish fabric softeners. Chemical fabric softeners do help to get rid of static cling in clothes, but research has found they also contaminate your indoor air quality. Many common, scented fabric softeners emit plastic chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can lead to hormone disruption, inflammation, and respiratory problems. If you want to keep using fabric softeners, sidestep the conventional brands and look for unscented, plant-based ones instead, such as those offered by Seventh Generation or Ecover. You can also help combat static by adding ½ cup of baking soda to your wash cycle.
• Shake it like a Polaroid picture. If you can't hang your clothing out on a line to dry, shake it out as soon as you pull it out of the dryer to prevent static from setting in.
• Look for warning labels. If you're tempted to buy a product promising static relief, check the label and you may find the above options look more appealing. While laundry products aren't required to list their ingredients, they do have to list warnings if the product is dangerous. Take Static Guard, one of America's most popular products that promise to get rid of static. The label warns that the product is an eye irritant and flammable. According to the U.S. Health and Human Services Household Products Database, the flammability factor is classified 4, or "severe." The label also reads, "Never spray and pull garments apart at the same time, as this action creates static which is in itself an electric charge and may in rare instances cause a spark of electricity which could possibly ignite." Yikes! You've eliminated static, but now you have another problem: You're on fire.
Published on: January 18, 2010