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More on humidity and static electricity

Our recent tech tips on how to handle static charge build up are producing more questions. In response to our tip that humidity is a great way to help reduce static charges (inSync 2/22/00) an inSync reader in Japan asks…

“But isn’t humid air bad for electrical components? I live in Japan where it gets so humid in the summer that all my tapes develop white mold on the sides over time. In the winter it’s very dry. I’m afraid to put a humidifier in here for fear of corrosion of electrical components. On the other hand, my lute cracked right down the middle last winter when walking from room to room. What to do?”

Perhaps it wasn’t clear in the original Tech Tip, but the solution is not that “more humidity is better.” Too much moisture in the air can cause problems with electronic equipment and certainly will cause problems with tape. There is an acceptable range of humidity that works well for both electronics and delicate wood instruments. Humidity can fall below this range and, while we don’t notice much discomfort, static charges become more commonplace. Even humidity above an acceptable norm isn’t always uncomfortable to us. We mostly only notice it when the temperature is very high or very low. The recommendation would be to use a humidifier in the winter when things dry out, and potentially, use a dehumidifier in summer when there is too much moisture in the air (although the condenser in most air conditioning units will pull enough moisture out of the air to do the job). The actions you take depend upon the climate you live in. Further, while there is some overlap between what is acceptable for electronics, wood, and magnetic tape, they do not all have the same tolerances. It’s usually best to keep tape (and microphones) in a dryer climate than what would be ideal for delicate woods (it’s also important that tape remain cool). It just happens there is an overlapping range where all of these things (and our bodies) are reasonably comfortable. As stated in the previous Tech Tip on this topic, if you keep the humidity in your studio in the range of 50% to 75% you should generally be okay. Notice some static? Raise it up a little bit. See some fungus growing on your tape and you might want to try lowering it a little. Of course, you can always store your tape in a separate, climate controlled vault, but that’s probably a little extreme for the typical project studio.

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