With the cold days of winter rapidly approaching, we will be spending more and more time indoors. Because of this, it is important to understand what role the composition of our home textiles plays on our health and emotional well-being. Some of the most beautifully decorated homes are resplendent in a variety of natural fiber textiles. Not only do these materials lend texture and a sense of wholeness to a living space, but they also can significantly contribute to one’s positive sense of well-being for a scientific reason: the reduction of static electricity.
As the temperature drops outside and the moisture content in the inside air falls, the potential for static electricity rises. Most of you have experienced the unpleasant feeling of walking across a carpeted room and zapping yourself on the kitchen faucet. Why is static such a problem in the winter? The answer: low humidity, warm indoor air, and the chemical composition of the materials inside your home.
The Triboelectric Series is a list of common materials that become charged when they come in contact with other materials in the list. For example, dry skin is on the positive end, and polyester is near the negative end. When dry skin rubs against polyester, what do you get? Static cling. This is because the materials readily give up or attract other electrons and become charged. Synthetic carpet and drapes (which pick up charge from the hot dry air coming from the heating vents) are big culprits in generating and holding large static charges because they are made mostly of plastic, which is at the far negative end of the Triboelectric list.1
The large static potentials that are held by our synthetic drapes, upholstery, and carpets also produce an abundance of positive ions. Studies have shown that an excess of positive ions in the air interferes with various physiological processes, producing symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, depression, anxiety, and sluggishness.2
Do these symptoms sound familiar? If you’re anything like me, in the winter, I turn into an unmotivated, sometimes melancholy couch potato. Could it be that the large number of synthetics I have in my house is contributing to my seasonal depression? Absolutely.
So what can you do to create a healthier living space this winter?
First, try to ventilate your home with fresh air at regular intervals, even if it means opening the windows for just a brief amount of time during the warmest part of the day. This allows much-needed negative ions back into the air that circulates through your house, particularly if you have a forced air heating system. The abundance of negative ions is responsible for the wonderful sense of well-being that you get when you walk along the ocean or hike in the mountains. Negative ions are found in natural fresh air, but when winter approaches and we keep our windows closed, we fail to replenish the air with beneficial negative ions. The synthetic materials continue to generate positive ions, the ion imbalance increases, and the air inside becomes stale and oppressive.
Second, try to choose natural materials like wood, cork, and natural linoleum instead of synthetic carpets and naturally pigmented clay plaster and milk-based paint rather than vinyl wallpaper. Also, select a water-based or natural oil-based wood finish in lieu of a polyurethane or acrylic-based one for your wood flooring and furniture.
If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to replace the flooring in your home, there are a couple of quick and inexpensive solutions for synthetic carpets. First, you can try covering the carpet with a large cotton area rug. This will help eliminate the contact between static producing surfaces. Second, you can spray down your carpet and drapes with a 10% soap solution and water for a temporary reduction in static. Plain water works, too, but it evaporates quickly. Note: we don’t recommend applying anti-static agents on your carpet because they don’t last long and usually contain toxins.
Finally, avoid wearing synthetic materials if possible. Cotton is the material of choice for its resistance to static, so bundle up in layers of cotton clothing. Reducing the number of synthetic materials on your skin and in your home will keep you warm, happy, and much more static-free during the winter months ahead.
1. For a complete list of the Triboelectric Series, see “Triboelectric Effect,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triboelectric_effect
2. The Role of Ions in Body Chemistry, http://blog.watershed.net/2009/05/25/the-role-of-ions-in-body-chemistry/, from The Negative Ion Report: The CBS Nightly News, Feb 14, 1995.