How Can I Keep Static Electricty From Zapping My Computer?

How Can I Keep Static Electricty From Zapping My Computer?

Dear Lifehacker,
The air in my house is really dry, and I’m worried that static electricity will zap my computers into oblivion. Besides buying expensive humidifiers what other options do I have?

Electrified Reader

Photo by ericskiff.

Dear Electrified,

That’s a great question because, though it doesn’t happen often, one misplaced spark can take down your entire PC. Touching metal just before you reach for your computer will discharge any static electricity you built up walking across the room, but that solution means everyone in the whole house has to remember to do it.

Helium’s Les Jacobs points out that cheapie bedside humidifiers will do in a pinch. You could always snag one of these from a local discount store and keep it in the same room as the electronics you want to protect. Jacobs says don’t expect these kinds of units to last very long, though. To get the most bang for your buck, use only filtered water and make sure you clean the heating element with vinegar on a regular basis.

Of course, there’s always the tried-and-true method of placing a pot of water on a room’s radiator or heat vent to wick water into the air as the warm air passes over it. The hive mind over at Ask MetaFilter came up with several more economical alternatives to dehumidifiers, including effusing the room with anti-static spray or buying crepe-soled shoes to wear around the house. Be sure to check out the whole thread for even more ideas.

Depending on the size of your room and just how dry the air in it is, you might need to experiment with different methods to see what works best for you.


Thanks, Kory!


  • Has anyone actually destroyed a computer in this way? Sure, if you’re tinkering with the innards of it, it can do some serious damage. But I’ve had heaps of zaps over the years (the computer lab in the Electrical Engineering department (of all places) at by Uni was really bad for this – the carpet/aircon combo or something) but have never disabled a computer this way. Why? Because there tends to be a big metal shield around them. I.e. the box. I’m not certain about peripherals (mouse and keyboard) but I suspect they either have decent grounding via USB, or no exposed metal to worry about. A zap on the case of your PC shouldn’t matter in the least, as it goes through the case, to the ground.

    In fact, if I’m opening my computer to work inside it, the first thing I do is to touch the case (which the power plug is still plugged in), as that is a safe way to ground myself.

  • vik, I’ve seen a few PC’s die this way. Static leccy embeds itself down to the component level of the motherboard, builds up & builds up then, one day, one more ‘zap’ and it gets released through the whole system.

    Your lab would have much better earthing than a normal house, so mitigates the short ‘build up’ cycle that I’ve mentioned above. The lab would have proper fine wire earthing that’s designed to catch static discharge, along with normal ‘circuit earthing’ – which is all houses have.

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