With every passing day, the importance of ESD-safe fabrics gets more pronounced. Having workstation cleaning materials like towels that can generate electrostatic discharge (ESD) increases the risk of workplace hazards. This brings the big question: are towels essentially anti-static?

The generality of everyday towels doesn’t have anti-static properties. Regular towels are insulative. But upon sustained rubbing with other materials, these towels – especially those made from synthetic fabrics – can produce dangerous electrostatic fields. However, there are specialized anti-static towels streamlined for use in workstations with significant exposure to electronic charges. These anti-static towels are renowned for their capacity to dispel static charges instead of dangerously accumulating them.

As said, anti-static capacities are not easily obtainable in towels. What precisely makes a towel anti-static? How do these towels work? How and where can they be deployed for best results? These are some of the nuggets this article generously shares.

What are anti-static towels?

Anti-static towels are increasingly being adopted in electrostatically sensitive fields like the semiconductor industry, where a build-up of static charges can trigger costly damages and explosions.

Anti-static towels don’t build up static charges like a regular fabric material. They quickly dissipate such charges to the ground and air. 

You may be wondering why this is even important. 

I will tell you.

Why anti-static towels are a game-changer?

Work environments that see a lot of electrostatic charges, like the semiconductor industry, have been ravaged by the unhealthy management of built-up static charges for years.

Reputable international researches have revealed that at least 67% of electronic components get destroyed by inappropriate charge interaction consequent to improper personnel outfitting. But here is something even more worrying. 

In 1984, studies by American researchers revealed that at least $18 billion was lost in the electronics industry due to inappropriate management of electrostatic charges.

How?

A single static charge is as innocent as a lamb. It does no harm. You don’t see it, and it is completely noiseless.

But by the time substantial quantities of static charge accumulate, a supposedly slight spark around a flammable material – say you have gasoline fume around – can result in catastrophic explosions. 

When you continuously wipe electrostatically sensitive material with workstation cleaning materials like regular towels, these static charges build up in the towel instead of being dispersed. 

More than destructively interacting with electronic equipment around, such built-up charges can transform into a fireball when a spark happens in the workstation around flammable substances. 

But if you were using specialized anti-static towels, the charges on the towel are disbursed almost quickly as the towel picks them up.

How do anti-static towels work?

To better understand the technology, let us start by examining how electrostatic charges are formed. These static charges arise when the negative and positive charges on a material’s surface are not even. 

As related to towels, these charges readily build up when you rub your towel against the surfaces of electronic equipment. Static charges can also build up in work environments with significant air conditioning (or dry air heating) in shut-off spaces with minimal ventilation.

To dissipate such picked-up charges, the commonality of anti-static towels is made from polyester enhanced with an embedded carbon fiber line. Now, here is where it gets fascinating.

This fiber line produces a Faraday Cage, effectively creating an earthed protective screen around the area of contact between the towel and the equipment (it is rubbed on). 

This screen prevents an accumulation of these static charges, forcing them to be dissipated into the ground, air, or earth as the case may be in that work environment. 

Rid of such charges, the towel is less prone to damaging equipment in the workstation that is sensitive to electrostatic phenomena.

In some cases, specialized anti-static towels have very minimal ion composition and contain far fewer extractable. This way, these towels pose less electrostatically–related hazards when used on surfaces that are very responsive to abrasion.

What standards must anti-static towels meet?

Not every towel qualifies as anti-static. Notably, for a towel to pass as anti-static, it must be EN 1149 compliant. 

The EN 1149 is a standardized European framework for manufacturing gloves and other protective apparel that can dissipate charges. This is a preemptive protocol to curb instances of incendiary discharge in electrostatically delicate workstations.  

The best anti-static towels commonly meet the EN 1149-3 standard, and some are also IEC 61340 compliant. The latter measures propensity to ignition owing to the exposure of electrostatic discharges to combustible materials.  

What can you combine anti-static towels with?

For maximal safety conditions to be achieved in work environments fraught with electrostatic discharges (ESD), anti-static towels should be combined with other protective apparel like anti-static gloves and ESD-safe shoes. Let us briefly look into this.  

Anti-static Gloves – why you would need them

When interacting with sensitive equipment in such workstations mentioned above, it is wise to gird your hands with ESD-safe gloves. 

These are essentially anti-static gloves. These gloves protect the hands and fingers while you operate in sensitive work environments, elevating the workplace’s safety. 

This is because as we move about interacting with equipment, we constantly – albeit gradually – charge ourselves statically. 

A static sensitive electrical component or substance can be damaged or destroyed if the charge is transferred to it. This might result in a hidden fault.

But when furnished with ESD-safe gloves, the voltage is discharged as soon as we touch conductive materials.

ESD-safe shoes – and why you need them

Anti-static heel straps or ESD-safe shoes are your best bet for protecting your legs from electrostatic charges. 

Best practices recommend your feet must be protected in high-density charge environments, as typical of electrical and engineering settings where delicate electronic equipment is deployed.

Do you need to use anti-static towels all the time?

Of course not! Anti-static towels are not general-purpose towels that you can readily deploy for sanitary and domestic duties. 

Preferably, wear such anti-static shoes in instances where there is pronounced danger from static electricity. 

This is characteristic of working with ignitable chemicals, such as solvents and paints. It is also recommended to leverage anti-static towels as the electronic components you are interacting with become increasingly sensitive to the charges in their environment.

Overall, use anti-static towels when working in assembly plants, component handling, electronics, electromagnetic settings, and mechanics-related applications.

Are anti-static towels machine washable?

Yes, the bulk of anti-static towels in the market today can be readily laundered by your washing machine with minimal damage. 

Are anti-static towels expensive?

No, anti-static towels don’t come at a premium. You can get an anti-static towel anywhere between $3-$6. You can even get anti-static towels imported from China for as low as $0.18.

BEST ANTI-STATIC TOWELS 

We went all out to test some of the best anti-static towels. Here are our picks. 

Kinetronics Anti-Static Microfiber Cloth

The Kinetronics ASC-BP is specially made for mopping photographic films. Strutting premium microfiber cloth, this anti-static towel is furnished with highly efficient conductive fiber stripes.

These fibers knit every 4mm, efficiently dispelling static charges. If you have used towels parading anti-static properties frequently, you would have been amazed at how soggy they yet get.

We didn’t notice this with this Kinetronics towel. What is more, upon letting air in, it doesn’t dramatically dry out. It felt gentle in our hands, and we didn’t have much to worry about when we used it on transparent surfaces.

Nikon 8072 Microfiber Cleaning Cloth

It takes someone who produces lenses to master the delicate art of maintaining them, doesn’t it? Therefore, we didn’t expect less of the excellence we saw from the Nikon 8072 Microfiber Cleaning Cloth. 

This is an anti-static towel from Nikon, made from microfiber material, and can put up with the rigors of heavy usage. It is worth noting that this towel works well on cleaning electronic surfaces and lens optics like telescopes, binoculars, and your spotting scopes. 

This is scratch-proof, so you don’t have to fidget about streaks when using this towel.

Resources

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