I came to work the other day wearing a polyester blouse that was clinging to me in all the wrong places. It was a cold, dry day, which didn't help, and I had just taken off my nylon parka, which crackled as I removed it. In addition to the unattractive cling, I was getting shocked every time I touched metal.
This has happened to me before—ever have to peel a sock off your pants?—but this time, I headed down to Reviewed's laundry labs to solve the problem.
Why it happens
Here's the short answer, without discussing sub-atomic particles. When fabrics rub together (for example, in your dryer), negative charges can develop. When the negative charges on your clothes meet the relatively positive charges on your skin, your clothes stick to you until the negative charges are released.
Discharging the charges
So, how do you get rid of the negative charges? If you're already dressed when you notice the static, there's still a lot you can do to get rid of the cling.
1. Wet your hands, and rub them lightly over the surface of your clothes.
This is a short-term solution, obviously, but okay if you have no other option.
2. Slather some moisturizer on your skin.
Doing this may help keep your clothes from shocking you. But if your shirt is clinging all over, then you'll need a lot of moisturizer.
3. Brush a dryer sheet over your clothing.
Because it might leave a residue, try this only on the wrong side.
4. Attach a safety pin to the garment, or slide a metal hanger over it.
A piece of metal can dispel the electric charge that is causing the static.
5. Apply an anti-static spray.
These sprays solve the problem in seconds, and you can buy one in a travel size to keep at your desk. Don't worry—it doesn't stain.
Preventing static cling
While those ideas might work for you once you've left your house, it's important to know how to keep static cling from happening in the first place.
1. Run a humidifier in the house in cold, dry weather.
This works well while you're home, but doesn't help once you go out.
2. Remove your clothes from the dryer when they're slightly damp.
Over-drying exacerbates static cling.
3. Use liquid fabric softener in the wash.
The fabric softener penetrates the garment, lubricating the fibers. Dryer sheets work on the surface, so may not be as effective.
4. Dry natural and synthetic fabrics in separate loads.
Synthetics may not need to go in the dryer at all. They dry quickly if you hang them up.
5. Use wool dryer balls.
These can cut static by attracting moisture from the load, and can separate clothes so they don't keep rubbing against one another.
6. Make you own aluminum foil balls for the dryer.
They're noisy, they don't soften the laundry, and they can put extra wear and tear on clothes. But they're cheap and easy to make, last a very long time, and they're very good at discharging static.