Use Natural Textiles for a Happy Winter

Photo of a stack of three striped pillowsWith 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,”
2.    The Role of Ions in Body Chem­istry,, from The Neg­a­tive Ion Report: The CBS Nightly News, Feb 14, 1995.

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