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Experts recommend grounding yourself before handling electronics like your PC components. It's not required---there's a good chance you won't damage components even if you zap them with static electricity. However, an anti-static wristband provides extra protection and is inexpensive and easy to use.

In many building guides, you’ve probably been advised that you should use an “anti-static wrist strap” before starting the build process. But is this really necessary? What even is it?

What Is an Anti-Static Wrist Strap?

An anti-static wrist strap, or wristband, is a tool that you’re meant to wear while building a PC, or while handling, really, any bare electronics or circuit boards. They exist because of the same reason why rubbing a balloon against your hair will cause it to spike up and stand, or why putting on a sweater feels all funny after putting it in the tumble dryer — static electricity.

Static electricity is mostly harmless most of the time, but when you’re charged with static electricity and you touch something, and that something is electrically conductive, you’ll pass it on. If you touch metal, you’ll pass the electricity to the metal. And if you touch bare electronics while you’re charged up, you’ll pass it to those bare electronics, giving them an electrostatic discharge, or ESD.

That could kill whatever you’re touching if you’re unlucky enough, and it can be a problem, too, while building a PC. It’s so important that it’s the reason why parts like motherboards or graphics cards come wrapped in “anti-static bags” — shiny gray plastic bags that create a Faraday cage effect around whatever component is inside, shielding it against an ESD.

To avoid this, anti-static wrist straps exist. You just loosen it up, put it on, secure it on your wrist, and hook up the metal clip that’s on the other end of it to a grounded and unpainted metal surface. It needs to be grounded (touching the ground) because that way, the static electricity will travel out of you, through the wrist strap, and into the ground, where it will be absorbed.

This way, you can be fully sure that any electricity you might’ve had in you won’t be transferred over to the circuit boards you’re about to put your hands on.

Do You Really Need an Anti-Static Wrist Strap?

It’s highly recommended to ground yourself, at least immediately before handling electronics. However, whether you really need one is another debate in itself. The answer is, not really. It’s recommended, but not necessary.

To ground yourself, it’s as easy as touching something that’s grounded to get rid of any excess electricity you might have in you. A good strategy to do this is to plug your power supply into your wall, make sure that the switch is flipped off, and then touch it every once in a while to get rid of static while you’re working. You can also do things such as not wearing any clothes that are particularly prone to static.

Let’s say the worst possible scenario happens. You didn’t ground yourself properly, and you hear a zap after touching your motherboard. You just gave it an ESD. Will your computer be okay? Spoiler alert: It’s likely that you’re actually completely fine. But there’s a small chance that you’re not — and all it takes is just one zap.

As it turns out, killing a computer, or even a component, with an ESD is actually really hard. A video posted on popular YouTube channel Linus Tech Tips goes into the subject in a pretty in-depth manner, showing that even going at a computer with an ESD gun directly, it could be hard to actually kill it.

A discharge may have any kind of effect on an electrical component depending on where it actually strikes. You might have unintended, very minor side effects, such as a non-functioning RAM slot. It might not even have an effect at all or a noticeable effect at least. But it can range from nothing at all, to a really annoying broken little thing, to actual disaster.

Should You Use an Anti-Static Wrist Strap?

As we mentioned before, they’re not essential to build a PC. But if you have one, it could save you from disaster. Suppose that you’re building in a non-ideal environment — you set down your PC case—and all of your components—on top of (or nearby) a carpet. And to top things off, you’re wearing your favorite socks, or your favorite fluffy slippers. Grounding yourself without a wrist strap isn’t a once-and-done thing — you should be continually grounding yourself as you keep building and moving around.

By contrast, if you’re using an anti-static wrist strap throughout the build, it’ll keep you grounded at all times. So while you might not need one, it never hurts to have one, and who knows — it might just end up saving your hardware from an ugly accident.

If you’re looking for one, there are plenty of options, but this one made by iFixit is one of the more popular options out there.

iFixit Anti-Static Wrist Strap

iFixit makes a variety of products for any kind of DIY and repair enthusiasts, and its anti-static wrist strap is one of the best options out there --- and also great for gamers building a PC.

Profile Photo for Arol Wright Arol Wright
Arol is a freelance news writer at How-To Geek. He's a Pharmacy student, but more importantly, an enthusiast who nerds out about everything tech-related, most notably PCs, smartphones, and other gadgets. He has also written for Android Police, MakeUseOf, and XDA Developers.
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