What causes static electricity when you take your hat off?

What causes static electricity when you take your hat off?

It’s winter – which means it’s prime time for hair that stands on end when hats come off.

Of course the static doesn’t last long and hair gets right back to normal. But did you ever wonder exactly what’s happening to cause hair to do that?

Your beanie hat, your hair, and the science of matter

ScienceMadeSimple.com gives a great explanation for static, especially helpful if you want to teach your little boy or girl why hair stands up all funny after taking a hat off. Here’s the gist boiled down for you.

You probably remember from science class that everything around us is made up of atoms. Inside atoms are protons, electrons and neutrons.  Protons have a positive charge and electrons are negative (neutrons have no charge).

Your hat or hair has no charge when the number of positive and negative charges in its atoms are equal. In this case, there’s no static happening.

But when two things rub together, some electrons move from one item to the other. This changes the balance, and one item can end up with more or less electrons.

Now, remember that opposites attract, and like charges repel.

When your hat rubs on your hair, your hair gives up electrons to your hat, so each of your hairs has the same positive charge. Each hair is repelling the others, trying to move as far apart from each other as possible. Thus, they stand up and separate, leaving your son or daughter looking like a little prickly porcupine.

Why do you notice static more in the winter?

Yes, you probably wear a hat more in the winter, so that’s one reason. But it also has to do with the air. In the winter, the air is typically drier, and the charge from the electrons can stick around more. When the air is humid, the electrons will dissipate more quickly, so you don’t notice the static as much.

Other times you get static electricity:

  • When you scuff your feet across the carpet and then touch the doorknob
  • As you come down the slide at the playground (this is my favorite – I love seeing the kids reach the bottom with a fluffy porcupine hairstyle, completely different from how it looked on the way up!)
  • Try rubbing a balloon on your hair and then sticking it on the wall
  • And of course laundry all stuck together when you take it out of the dryer

Try explaining static electricity to your preschooler and let us know how it goes!

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