You want to build a computer or replace some of the parts.
However, you’ve heard that if you don’t ground yourself, your hardware could get damaged with a single touch.
While many online forum members say touching bare metal would suffice to ground yourself when building a PC, there’s much more to it.
PC components are expensive, and you’ve probably spent a lot of time searching for the best match for your needs, so you don’t want to lose it just because of a simple mishap.
Read this guide to properly ground yourself and minimize the risk of damage, shocks, and spark to zero.
From why electrostatic discharge happens to how you can prevent it by using the right clothes, tools, and working space, we’ve included everything you need to know when grounding yourself.
Why Is It Important To Ground Yourself?
It’s important to ground yourself while building a PC because, otherwise, you may fry your computer, harm its fragile components, or experience shocks due to electrostatic discharge (ESD).
This phenomenon occurs from a process called triboelectrification.
When an object with a positive charge (such as human body or wool) rubs or contacts a neutral or negatively charged object (your PC), they transfer electrons back and forth to each other.
The result is the buildup of electrostatic energy that can leap into your hardware circuits, hence halting their functions.
By grounding yourself, though, you evacuate the excess charges to the earth, balancing the voltage between your and the components.
The discharge doesn’t happen, and your computer parts will stay safe.
Read on to see how you can ground yourself or take other measures to prevent static electricity buildup.
Start With Safety Precautions
Anti-static wrist straps are the first thing that pops into your mind when it comes to grounding yourself.
Although essential, these straps are not all you need when replacing or installing computer hardware.
If you want to lower the risk of electrical discharge to zero, you must first take some precautions.
1. Create A Safe Workbench
Before anything, place your unit on a solid, non-plastic surface like a wooden desk, your kitchen’s countertop, or maybe a wide flat timber.
Avoid laying a tablecloth or any woolen object on the top, and if you have pets, keep them out of the area.
Remember how rubbing a balloon to your hair or sweater made it stick to other objects when you were a kid?
These items can do exactly the same thing by causing electrostatic charges to your computer, but this time, it’s no game as you may get yourself or your furry friend killed.
Blankets and towels are also a no-no!
In addition, never use whippy equipment such as a pillow, wobbling, or rolling table since it can cause your tower to fall, resulting in disastrous outcomes.
The last caution about your workbench is to wipe any water drops, debris, and grease away from it.
2. Buy An Anti-Static Mat
Want to do it like a pro?
Invest in an anti-static mat, so you don’t have to worry about the above considerations.
These rubber pads come with a wire and alligator clip to drain static buildup from whatever you place on it, hence grounding your tower and sensitive hardware.
We’ve gathered some of the best anti-static mats to ease your search process:
1. Bertech ESD Anti-Static
2. Rosewill Anti-Static Mat
3. StarTech Anti-Static Mat
4. HPFIX Silicone ESD Safe Mat
3. Change Your Clothes
Eliminating woolen items isn’t limited to your work surface as you have to apply the same rule to your clothing.
Avoid putting on wool or synthetic fabrics by any means, and instead, use cotton shirts and jeans.
Another practical trick is to wash your clothes using dryer sheets to keep the potential static charge as low as possible.
Also, you have to remain fully barefoot.
4. Gid Rid Of Rugs
When we say no wool, we mean it, and the floor covering is no exception!
Remove any rugs, carpets, and mats from the floor, and if that’s not an option, move to a room with tile, wood, or ceramic flooring.
If you don’t have such a place in your home, try wearing rubber or plastic sandals, slippers, or shoes.
It’s the only case where you can bypass the barefoot principle.
Be careful not to wipe your feet on the floor in this case, as it can cause a static charge just like it did in the balloon experiment.
5. Moisturize The Air
This step only applies to those who live in a dry climate because it leads to a higher chance of static electricity buildup.
Use a humidifier, if you have one, to boost CO2 levels in the environment.
Alternatively, run a fan in your room with a piece of damp rag on its grills. (Use a cotton rag or place the fan far from your working desk.)
These water molecules get into the source of static electricity and work as a conductor to congregate the separated electrons.
This reduces the static electricity to some extent.
It’ll be helpful to check the humidity with a hygrometer and make it stay within the 40–60% range.
Again, this is not a necessary investment as you can simply turn off the fan after a few minutes.
6. Disconnect The Power
Once you’re ready to get your hands on the case, unplug it from the outlet, and detach everything that comes with a wire, including peripherals such as your mouse, keyboard, printer, webcam, etc.
You should even remove the sole HDMI and VGA cables, even if they’re not connected anywhere.
Then, turn off your power supply unit to block any current flowing to your computer.
There’s a little switch at the back of your tower for this option (just slide it to the “O” side or right position).
To ensure the button works, check the LED light on your motherboard to see if it changes from green to red.
If you don’t have such a PSU switch, this video will show you how to create one:
7. Put Your Hardware In Anti-Static Bags
Another safety measure is keeping your to-be-installed components into anti-static bags to keep electrostatic buildup at bay.
These are plastic bags coated with polyethylene that can protect your hardware from the potential triboelectric effect.
They’re mostly available in pink, silver, and black colors.
Here are a few options you can buy:
1. ANTISTAT Moisture Barrier Bags
2. Daarcin Antistatic Resealable Bags
3. SiForce Store Anti Static Bubble Bags
Different Ways To Ground Yourself
After preparing the environment, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and ground yourself.
And you have several options to do so:
1. Wear A Wrist Strap
- Wrap the wristband around your non-dominant hand and ensure its metal pin contacts your skin.
- Depending on the model, fasten the associated wire to the band if it’s not already.
- Attach the other end of the wire (the alligator clip) to a non-painted metallic surface.
(It can be a screw on your case internal hardware, the fan grills, the PSU, or any uninsulated metal in the case).
Note: Make sure to buy a wired strap since the wireless options aren’t effective.
Here are a few items to consider, which you can find on Amazon.com:
1. ARCTIC EAGLE Anti Shock Wristband
2. Vastar ESD Anti-Static Wrist Strap
3. Rosewill Anti Static Wrist Strap Band
4. Jekewin Anti Static Metal Bracelet
2. Touch A Bare Metal Occasionally
As a secondary safety measure, plug in your computer with the PSU toggle off.
Then, touch any conductive equipment before your first contact with the PC to dissipate the static buildup of your body.
You can also repeat this step every couple of minutes during your PC building or hardware installation process.
Any metal object, such as a nearby radiator, door handle, a nail on your wall, or an uncoated pin inside the tower, can work.
However, don’t use this method as a sole way of grounding yourself since it’s not 100% responsive.
Doing so doesn’t completely dispel electrons to the ground but only equalizes them between you and the PC.
It passes them on to the metal object and then restores them once you touch it again.
3. Make Your Own ESD Strap
If you don’t want to pay for a commercial anti-static band, don’t have the time to visit an electronics store or wait for an online shop to deliver your purchase, you can make a DIY wrist strap instead.
Keep going with our instructions:
- Pick a non-plastic band, wire, or any type of string you can tie around your wrist. (It can even be a paper loop or your favorite rubber bracelet.)
- If the selected band isn’t metal, use a piece of aluminum foil and glue it down to the inner side of the strap where it touches the skin of your wrist.
- Use a conductive wire and bind it to the foil (it should be long enough so you can attach it to the PC and work without it getting in your way).
- Attach an alligator clip to the other end of the cord, and if you don’t have one, simply fold the wire lengthwise to create a loop.
- Then, secure the loop or the clip to a bare metal part in your computer chassis.
4. Use Your Laptop Charger
The DC plug at the end of your laptop charger is a ground conductor, meaning it can dissipate your static electricity to the ground.
If you don’t have access to an anti-static band and cannot manage to make one, give this method a shot.
Plug your charger into an outlet near where you’re going to assemble the PC parts.
Just touch the other end’s outer metal every few minutes.
5. Test With A Multimeter
This step is especially helpful if you’re grounding yourself using DIY methods because it ensures no electricity is flowing through the case and that you’ve successfully grounded yourself.
If you have a multimeter and know how to work with it, it’s worth checking your PC with it.
Don’t bother buying one, though, since the chance of error in any of the above methods is minimal.
Here’s a quick guide:
- Turn on the multimeter.
- If the multimeter doesn’t come preset, navigate to its VDC configurations to choose an appropriate voltage range so it can read your computer voltage. (If you live in the US, set it to 110–115 Volts.)
- Insert the black probe into a ground wire pin and the red one into the unit you want to test.
- Read the numbers on your multimeter.
Other Safety Cautions While Building Your PC
In addition to the safety measures you can take before getting your hands on the tower, there are some principles to follow while you’re assembling the hardware.
Some of them include:
- Never ever touch the gold pins, solder joints, exposed board circuit, or metal surface of the essential components (grab their edges instead).
- Other than the specialized anti-static band, remove any bracelet, ring, or metal accessory from your body.
- Work with dry hands to avoid electric shocks, and if you’re using a humidifier, make sure the environment is cool. Doing so prevents vapor liquefaction and the associated electrocution.
- Don’t eat or drink while working on your PC because food particles can drop on the circuits and act as a shock trigger.
- If you’ve decided to touch metals or your charger’s plug rather than wearing an anti-static wristband, make sure to do so before touching any new component in the unit.
FAQs On ESD And Grounding Yourself
1. What PC Parts Are The Most Vulnerable To Static Electricity?
Your motherboard, CMOS, CPU, computer cards, resistors, and LEDs are the most vulnerable to static electricity.
The CMOS, for example, holds a near-zero current.
When the static electricity accumulates on this part, it has zero chance to unload the current and will destroy the circuit upon your first touch.
Electronic components in a computer are decreasing in size to accommodate more useful pieces inside the chassis.
As a result, the transistors are placed more tightly inside the CPU, heightening the risk of damage.
2. What PC Parts Are Safe From Static Electricity?
Parts that are safe from static electricity include:
- BJT devices
3. How Dangerous Is ESD?
ESD is very dangerous to PC components and almost harmless to the users.
It’s only dangerous for humans if it occurs near a flammable material and leads to a blow-up, blaze, or burn.
They’re the most common cause of fires in repair shops, aerospace factories, and automotive plants.
4. How Can Static Electricity Damage My Computer?
Static electricity can damage your computer in multiple ways:
- Instant breakdown of essential chips. Your computer chips such as memory, RAM, and the processor can become completely inoperable right after the assembly.
- Partial or deferred failure. Sometimes, your system gets affected by the static electricity, but the signs of deterioration develop days or even weeks after the discharge. This type of latent death mostly occurs on motherboards.
- Socks and fires. Coupled with an ignition source such as electrical energy, heat, and smoking light, and under certain circumstances, an electrostatic discharge can result in a spark or explosion. This, in turn, can harm the whole unit or set off fires in your working space.
5. How Much ESD Can Harm Your Equipment?
Only about 100V of electrostatic charge can harm your equipment, but the number may vary depending on what component you’re dealing with.
Your RAM, for example, is super sensitive and can get fried by only 10V of static.
Damaging the CPU is even more probable, with only 5V of static.
However, since these failures aren’t associated with sparks, shocks, and fires, you may not notice them until you turn on the computer.
To perceive the discharge, you need at least 3,000V of static.