By Rich Fitzmorris —
The summer months offer relief from the laundry monster ‘static electricity’ because in general, humidity is high enough to combat the charges generated between textiles and a converting source. But winter brings the ‘shocking’ return of static to our laundries.
During winter months, most of the country experiences low moisture and relative humidity. It is under these conditions that laundries experience a high degree of static electricity. However, if we understand the cause of static and some possible solutions, a laundry operation can eliminate most, if not all, of the sparks that fly.
Static electricity is simply the accumulation of electrical charges on a limited area. These charges are atoms having a concentration of positive charges in the center and an equal amount of rotating negatively charged particles. When two different materials come into contact and then become separated, one will contain more electrons than the other – generating static electricity.
It’s during the drying or ironing operations that static electricity develops. When the textiles become dry, there is no moisture to bleed the charge away from the textile. That’s when we experience fabrics sticking, or the clinging of the dried items, and of course static shock.
Remember, natural fiber cotton is generally not as bad as synthetic materials when it comes to generating static shock. In the case of 100% cotton and some other natural fibers, static is not generally an issue because of their ability to hold enough moisture and therefore bleed off the charge before it develops.
However, over the years, polyester has been introduced into what used to be all cotton textiles. So now, through washing/drying and processing, the percentage of polyester increases which also increases static tendencies.
Don’t Over-Dry Fabrics
This is the simplest way for laundry personnel to reduce the static attack. When removing polyester and synthetic linens from the dryer ‘slightly’ damp on the hems, moisture can be your friend.
Use an Anti-Static Compound
The use of an anti-static compound can help reduce static because it causes static to discharge during the drying process. These compounds are generally cationic detergents, which equalize the negative charges. There is one drawback to using anti-static products or even softeners on polyester and synthetic goods. They can lock in many types of stains and make their removal very difficult.
In my opinion the most effective way of combating static is the best neutralizer of electricity known – the earth! The earth provides a ground for every charge, negative or positive. By grounding your laundry equipment properly, static is simply discharged into the ground.
During the winter months static electricity can cause problems with ironers, folders and small piece folders. Textiles that are affected by static conditions include blended bed sheets, blended blankets and 100% polyester goods. Bed Sheets that are either non conditioned or slightly conditioned in a dryer can generate static depending upon the speed and temperature of the ironer chest.
Folding equipment can add static to processed goods. Static bars are often used to curtail static. However, in very dry conditions, they may not remove all static. When running dried or semi-dried blankets run through a blanket folder, the static which is built up between the textile, medal cross plate, belts and the rubbing of these pieces against each other causes friction, therefore static.
Small piece folding equipment can have the same issues. However, the remedy is no different from dryers, ironers, or sheet and blanket folders. The professional who grounds the equipment should be aware of where static is being generated – usually where belts and brackets meet. Depending on the equipment, there could be several locations. Grounding can usually be successfully completed using copper wire, connectors and a copper rod that is driven at least 3 feet into the ground.
I cannot stress the importance of making sure your equipment is properly grounded. This will alleviate much of the static generated in your laundry. So make sure you seek out a professional who is qualified to help you ground your equipment properly and send winter’s laundry monster packing.
About the Author
Rich Fitzmorris is a veteran of the laundry industry. Rich retired after 42 years at Sunburst Chemicals. Although he headed up various Sunburst business sectors throughout his career, prior to retiring, Rich was Senior Vice President Professional Textile Chemistry where he oversaw the company’s Large Laundry Division, laundry product development and chemical technology. Presently, he is putting his experience to work consulting in the areas of industrial and commercial laundry wash processes, chemistry, production, utilities, formulas and cost reductions.
Rich Fitzmorris can be contacted at RFitzmoris62@gmail.com or (612) 845-6268.
Electricity Image Credit above right: (C) Can Stock Photo Inc./eric1513