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Static Electricity in Cars

Static Electricity in Cars

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Science Fair Project Description

Accidents have been known to occur at gas stations, when on especially dry days, static electricity is discharged as a driver exits or enters his car. This is especially dangerous at gas stations, as the sparks that occur during discharge sometimes lead to explosions. This science fair project was performed to investigate the amount of static electricity discharged between car seats and clothing. The science project experiment involved using a car seat made of fabric and leather. The clothing materials tested were cotton, polyester, nylon and silk.
Complexity level:6
Project cost ($):20
Time required:1 hour to prepare, 1 hour for science fair project
Material availability:A car with leather seats and another with fabric seats, are required
Safety concerns:Ensure that this experiment is conducted ina  well ventilated, safe place, with no flammable substances /gases present.


Leather car seats produce more static electricity compared to fabric seats.


Static Electricity

The accumulation of static charges on the surface of a body creates static electricity. The electric charges will be discharged when contact is made with another surface.

All matter consists of atoms. The atom has a nucleus at its core, which consists of neutrons and protons while electrons are located outside the nucleus. The tribo-electric series ranks the ability of an atom to retain or release its electron.

An atom that releases its electrons and becomes positively charged will be located on the positive side of the tribo-electric series whereas an atom accepting an electron will be negatively charged and will be located on the negative side of the tribo-electric series.

The process of rubbing 2 surfaces of insulating materials produces static charges. The rubbing action creates friction between the materials which will aid in the generation of static electricity. This will result in electrons being transferred from the atom, releasing electrons to the material containing the atom that receives the electron.

Scientific Terms

Static electricity, electric charges, atom, nucleus, neutron, proton, electron, triboelectric


The materials required for this science fair project experiment:
- 1 balloon
- 1 copper plate 200mm x 300mm
- 1 ground connection
- 1 jumper wire with crocodile clips  at  both ends
- 1 fabric car seat
- 1 leather car seat
- 1 polyester cloth
- 1 cotton cloth
- 1 nylon cloth
- 1 silk cloth
- a flat tray
- 1 ruler
- 1 large sheet of paper
- 1 paper knife


1. For this science fair project, the independent variable is the type of materials tested – namely fabric and leather car seats against cotton, polyester, nylon and silk cloths. The dependent variable is the number of paper pieces picked up by the balloon. The constants (control variables) are the size of the balloon, the number of times the balloon  is rubbed on the material tested, the direction of rubbing, and the weight of the paper bits.

2. The copper plate is connected to the ground connection using the jumper wire.

3. 200 pieces of paper measuring 5mm by 5mm  are cut out  from  the same sheet of paper. The pieces of paper are discharged from all electrical charges, by placing them on the grounded copper plate. They are then transferred to the flat tray.

4. The inflated balloon is discharged by rolling it over the grounded copper plate.

5. To start the science fair project, rub the balloon with the cotton cloth 5 times. Place the cut pieces of paper on the cloth car seat. The paper pieces will be attracted to the balloon. Count the number of paper pieces sticking to the balloon and record the quantity in the table given below. Discharge the paper pieces on the copper plate and return them to the tray.

6. Discharge the balloon again by rolling it on the  copper plate. Repeat  procedure 5 by placing the cut pieces of paper on the leather car seat. Record the number of papers collected .

7. Repeat procedures 5 and 6 by rubbing the balloon 5 times over the polyester cloth, nylon cloth and silk cloth in turn. Count the number of paper pieces collected and record  your findings.



The results showed that  the car seat made of fabric or covered with cotton shirts  produced the least amount of static electricity. The leather car seat produced more static compared to the fabric seats.

Car seat material

Number of paper pieces collected















The chart below summarizes our findings.

static electricity discharge cars science project


The hypothesis that  leather car seats  produces more static electricity compared to fabric seats is proven to be true.

The static charge present on surfaces is higher during periods of low humidity. They pose a great danger at gas stations where flammable gases are constantly present. A sudden spark caused by the rubbing of a person’s clothing against the car seat while the person gets out of the car could be extremely disastrous.

Also consider

The science fair project can perhaps be repeated using a comb instead of a balloon.

Would different car seat materials (eg. seats made from cloth or Vinyl or PVC) produce different results?Reference:


Static electricity -

Static electricity -

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