Introduction: $5 Static Electricity Generator

I've made several static electricity generators before and they've always been a project that draws a lot of interest. They're quite fun to play with and are capable of some really cool tricks. Besides simply zapping your friends (and yourself) they can make dust particles and sand behave wildly as they are attracted to the static charge. They can also attract streams of water, charge pieces of paper so they can be stuck to the wall, and used for a wide variety of magic tricks. Here is a gfy of a static generator in action:

The above video demonstrates the process for building this project and a text version will follow in the steps below. This is my 3rd version of a static electricity generator and the least expensive, but also the weakest. My last version which can be seen here provides a much stronger charge, but as a result can be painful to use as the shock is quite intense. The version presented in this instructable provides a charge just about the same strength as a regular static charge you probably remember from running around on carpet in your pajamas.

The USB Ionizer which is the primary component of this project can be found here (this is an affiliate link, admins let me know if this breaks any rules and I'll be happy to remove it):


  • USB Ionizer
  • Insulated Wire
  • Heat Shrink Tube
  • Hot Glue
  • Flux Core Solder & Soldering Iron
  • 1.5v Button Cell Batteries
  • Electrical Tape

Step 1: Dissembling the Ionizer

Picture of Dissembling the Ionizer

These ionizers come apart hilariously easily. If you were to actually use them as intended I imagine the case would crack open on you within a week. A pair of needle nose pliers easily splits it open to let us get a look at the circuit board. As a side note, I wouldn't recommend actually plugging one of these into a USB port on a computer. High voltage and PC components really shouldn't mix.

Looking at the last two images I have of the board you can see I've marked it into two sections. The first half nearest the USB port is a circuit that converts the DC current from a USB power supply into AC, which is then fed through a tiny transformer into the second half of the board. The second half contains a chain of 4 consecutive voltage multipliers which require AC to function, but at the end feed high voltage DC into the white output wire.

The circuit is already exactly as needed to output a static charge, but it'll need to be modified to run on batteries to suit my purposes.

Step 2: Adding Input & Output Wires

Picture of Adding Input & Output Wires

To change how this board will be powered the first step is to remove the USB terminal. Two tabs on the side are pried off which then only leaves the four connecting pins preventing it from coming free. Touching a soldering iron across all four at the same time allows it to drop away.

On the opposite side of the board there are markings to indicate which terminal is the positive input and which is the ground, marked V+ and GND respectively. I soldered a wire into each of these terminals which will be the connections for my batteries.

In the last image you can see I'm working on the opposite side of the board, where I've desoldered the short white output wire and am reattaching a new, much longer one.

Step 3: Insulating the Circuitry

Picture of Insulating the Circuitry

I'll need to protect this board from the high voltage it will be generating or it may very well fry itself. Before covering it up I first hot glue the wires to the back side so there's more holding them than a tiny dot of solder. I then slide a section of heat shrink tube over the whole unit and use a gentle flame to bring it down to a form fit. The ends don't completely seal closed so I fill that space in with hot glue. These ionizers come with an indicator light to let you know when they're on, so I did shave off a bit of the heat shrink to reveal the LED.

Step 4: Powering the Generator

Picture of Powering the Generator

The USB power supply that these devices were made to run on provides 5 volts of DC. It's a bit tough to find a battery that supplies 5 volts, but usually electronics can operate on a small margin off from their intended voltage. Three 1.5 volt button cell batteries can be combined to provide 4.5 volts which is close enough.

To attach them, I strip a short section in the middle of the ground wire (still leaving a long insulated tail attached) and fold it over to make a protrusion that will be used to press against the negative terminal of the batteries. I hit the exposed fold of wire with a bit of solder to keep it together.

The batteries are then stacked between the two input wires, with the positive input contacting the closest positive battery terminal, and the ground contacting the opposite negative terminal. Some electrical tape holds the stack of batteries together and keeps the wires pressing against the terminals.

If desired, a switch could be spliced into the positive input wire to turn this device on and off, but I've opted for it to be on by default. To turn it off, I insert a small shim of plastic between the batteries to break the connection.

Step 5: Conclusion

Picture of Conclusion

The device is now fully functional. To use it to charge your body (or any conductive object), the output wire must be touching your skin, while the long tail end of the ground wire must be in contact with the surface you're standing on. More conductive surfaces will allow the device to work better, as it will more efficiently be able to build a charge differential between yourself and the surroundings.

For my past generators I have made velcro connections to attach the output wire to my body, as well as strap the ground wire to the bottom of my shoe. If you'd like to see how I went about that modification you can check out my last instructable on the subject.

That's it! I hope you enjoyed reading about this project, and be sure to leave my some pictures in the comments if you try it yourself!


ninjaknine (author)2017-11-28

is this dangerous to touch people? will it shock them?

SoofiyanA (author)2017-08-28

can i use this method to generate static electricity on a steel rod?



; D

padawan101 (author)2016-09-12

how long do the batteries last

FinalPiggy4 (author)2016-05-29

What type of wire did he use. Sorry if I sound like an amateur.

FinalPiggy4 (author)2016-05-29

Hey where did you get the wire and what type did you use?

tommylu2000 (author)2016-04-20

Does the ground go on the shoe or can you use the output on the shoe too
Since lonesoulsurfer did it the other way

McUsher made it! (author)2016-04-13

Works weaker than i thought, but different shoes made a difference. Need to run more tests. I used the same built as lonesoulsurfer a 2x3V battery holder, but i used GRND to attach to the shoe, not like lonesoulsurver, but like stated in the Ible.

Thanks a lot for the instructable.

lonesoulsurfer made it! (author)2016-03-22

Made one and works a treat. I didn't use the larger aluminium pads that you used, just went with some copper plates which work very well. I also used 6v to run the circuit. The battery pack holds 2 3v button batteries and has a built in switch.

Great build and very easy to do

prohamgineer (author)2016-03-20

PC where placed inside the same cabinet that also housed a CRT, so I wouldn't be too worried about pugging it into a USB port. Just don't be poking around at PC components with the end of the HV cable

NojoTurkie (author)2016-03-18

Since it's less powerful than your large generatir, I'm assuming this one is electronics friendly? meaning it's won't fry anything as easily. I love your builds, keep it up!

No, it can still damage sensitive electronics in thee same way that a natural static shock can.

locofocos (author)2016-03-15

Control-F, "Pikachu", 0 of 0


locofocos (author)2016-03-15

Control-F, "Pikachu", 0 of 0


Ayush Sharma (author)2016-03-09

I Really Liked the Way your Presented your Project and Main part, From a USB Air Purifier? Amazing. Therefore , I Featured this Ible on my site too >

Jovi123 (author)2016-03-09

Hey nighthawk could u make one for me

blinkypoet (author)2016-03-08

Neat project!

Question: instead of converting to battery, would it be possible to plug it into one of those USB phone wall charger things instead?

ThomasK19 (author)blinkypoet2016-03-08

Sure. This is the power source they were made for.

blinkypoet (author)ThomasK192016-03-08

Thanks! I'm asking because I'm wondering if this device could be useful to trap dust out of the air :)

ThomasK19 (author)blinkypoet2016-03-08

Most likely this will not be very efficient. You would need to ionize the dust particles so they travel to the opposite charged pole. It might work in a tiny box, but definitely not in something the size of a living room.

blinkypoet (author)ThomasK192016-03-08

bummer. how about pushing the air through a box to zap the dust out of it?

ThomasK19 (author)blinkypoet2016-03-09

The word "zap" implies the dust will annihilate. But it doesn't, of course. So you need to think about how to effectively clean the anode from the dust that will cover it. I think in the end it's easier to use simple paper filters.

blinkypoet (author)ThomasK192016-03-09


Bobn8242 (author)2016-03-08

Hey Night Hawk, I'm a huge fan and have been a longtime you tube subscriber. My last soldering iron died and i was wondering what electric soldering iron you would recommend ( that would be good for your projects, like this one.)

WPLaw (author)2016-03-08

Have you tried this for painting or powder coating something, so the particals will be attracted to the item being coated?

milesfromneihu (author)WPLaw2016-03-08

Probably excellent for flocking.

NightHawkInLight (author)WPLaw2016-03-08

Not a bad idea. No I have not tried it.

ssrdi02 (author)2016-03-08

This makes me wonder if it has a use in 3d printing?

arlen (author)2016-03-08

Your soldering iron tip looks like it could use some love. You can use sal ammoniac to help tin it.

NightHawkInLight (author)arlen2016-03-08

Yeah it's been heavily abused...It is about time I freshen it up.

AbinN (author)2016-03-08

hello what soldering iron do you use and what happens if you touch the water when it is on? and also is there a way to make the sand effect go at a longer range?

NightHawkInLight (author)AbinN2016-03-08

I use a butane iron, they can be purchased on ebay or most hardware stores. If you touch the water it shocks.

MrSnid (author)2016-03-08

Compared to your earlier, more powerful, instructable (-20KV) ... do you know the power output of the ones listed above ? Also, is there a threshold you would recommend to stay under... I'm seeing Neg Ion Gen on Amazon from

Output voltage: -4Kv ~ -6Kv DC


Output voltage: DC 400KV - 600KV

As much as I'd like a larger display, I also dont want to kill myself or others...

lr10cent (author)MrSnid2016-03-08

The danger is a bit more complicated than just the voltage. If memory serves, it's really voltage squared times capacitance. I have a cheesy, cheap ion generator. If I charge a small leyden jar with it, and there isn't too much leakage current, any carelessness will deliver a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous jolt. This is a Leyden jar made from a large pill bottle, a bit of wire, and some aluminum foil! BTW, if you have a ceramic cup with a metallic coating on the outside, it's not wise to leave it near a source of thousands of volts. Or, at least, don't drink from it until you've grounded the coffee! (I haven't tried this, nor do I intend to, but I've heard about it and it makes sense. Sometimes done as a prank, but might be dangerous under some conditions.) It doesn't have to be a jar, either. If you had a large, flat insulator (Plexiglas?) on a metal desk, and placed something flat and conductive on it, you might get just as much of a jolt. Some insulators can store more charge for the same dimensions and will give more of a jolt than others, depending on the dielectric constant and breakdown voltage. If you had a really big Leyden jar that didn't leak much, and hooked it up to a voltage source in the hundreds of thousands, I imagine you could kill an elephant. Van de Graaff terminals also have enough capacitance to be significant at the higher voltages, although I think the garden variety ones aren't too bad.

BTW, you can get pre-dissasembled "ion generators" at surplus houses like All Electronics, Electronic Goldmine, American Science and Surplus, etc. Some run on 12 volts, some on house current, and maybe some run on another voltage.

ThomasK19 (author)MrSnid2016-03-08

You can calculate it yourself. Those batteries he uses have around 100mAh capacity. The outtake is not very high (say 100mA). That assumed you get a power of 4,5*0,1 VA = 0,45 W. Probably half of that will be burned in the circuit itself. When operating with high voltage DC the current will mainly travel along the outside of your body. For one second of this it will be about 34/2 = 17 nano Joule.

BennettF (author)2016-03-08

with a more powerful energy supply, could it possibly be used as a tesla coil?

krissko (author)BennettF2016-03-08

Probably not

jimvandamme (author)BennettF2016-03-08

I've got one sitting on my desk. A plasma ball that runs off a USB cable (5 volts). The ionizers are made to generate DC.

Heyup (author)2016-03-08

This is a Great ible, thanks for sharing and have a nice day... John :)

I8mAll (author)2016-03-08

I used the same set up for walk around magic. It disturbs water, tickles torn paper etc. A neat feature is touching someone gives them a tiny jolt and it can convince them of a forced card reveal or other such magic. It's fun to create wonder.

SubDude350 (author)2016-03-07

Nice project! All of your projects have that NightHawkInLight touch, which is one in its own. And your filming skills are beyond incredible!

Thanks! That's very kind of you to say

About This Instructable




Bio: I like turning boring things into awesome things! Usually on video.
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