(Lansing State Journal, Feb. 9, 1994)
Static electricity is a buildup of electrical charge.
When materials touch, some of the negatively charged electrons get transferred from on material to the other. This leaves one of the objects negatively charged and the other object positively charges.
If the two materials are rubbed together even more charge is moved because this increases contact.
For example, when we put clothes in a dryer they are tumbles and rub against one another. This moves charge around and some of the items become negatively charged and some become positively charged. When we remove the clothes we often find socks clinging to the backs of sweaters or shirts. This is because opposite charges attract and the socks have received a charge opposite to that of the shirt.
Another time we see the effect of static electricity is when we pull a wool hat off our heads on a cold winter day. The wool hat gives a charge to the hair as it rubs against it. Pieces of the hair not have the same charge. Since like charges repel, each strand of hair is forced away from the hair next to it when the hat is removed, resulting in the classic "bad hair day."
We see the effects of static electricity most during the winter when the air is much drier. This is because tiny water droplets in the air can prevent charge from building up.
During the more humid months these tiny drops constantly collide with everything around them. When they run into an object that is charged, some of that charge is transferred to the droplet. When the water returns to the air it carries that charge with it, leaving the object with less charge.
During the dry winter months there is much less water in the air and therefore charge can build up much more easily.