Why Doesn't Static Electricity Kill You?

Static electricity has a high voltage, so why are those electric shocks merely annoying instead of deadly? Everyday Einstein explains

Lee Falin, PhD
3-minute read
Episode #046

Unfortunately many scientists weren’t very impressed with this law when it was published. The German minister of education is infamously quoted as saying about Ohm that “...a physicist who professed such heresies was unworthy to teach science.” Others called Ohm’s work “a web of naked fancies” and “the result of an incurable delusion.”

Eventually Ohm was vindicated, he and his law became world famous, and had a statue built in his honor at the school where he was a professor of physics. So let that give you some comfort the next time one of your science teachers makes disparaging remarks about your homework..

I’ve Got the Power

When we’re trying to quantify how dangerous electricity is, people generally don’t look at how strong the electrical force (aka, the voltage) is. Instead, they look at how much electricity charges through you each second (the current) to determine how harmful it is.

You might have heard people say something like "It isn't the volts that kill you, it's the amps." This is another way of saying "It isn't the voltage that kills you, it's the current." However the current is only part of the story. In order to really know how dangerous a source of electricity is, you have to consider the amount of electricity that source has available, which we call electrical charge:

Electrical charge (measured in coulombs) can be thought of as the quantity of electrons available to flow.

Static electricity has a high voltage, but a very low electrical charge. So while those electrons want to tear across your body like there's no tomorrow, there just aren't enough of them to do any damage.

On the other hand, the electrical socket in your home has a relatively low voltage, but an unlimited amount of charge, making it much more dangerous than the high voltage of static electricity.


About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech. 

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.