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Why Does Glitter Stick To Everything?

Why Does Glitter Stick To Everything?

Have you ever used glitter in an art project or to decorate a birthday card? If you have, you know how hard it can be to clean up after. Glitter tends to stick to your skin, tabletops, carpet, or pretty much anything it comes into contact with. Inevitably, as you try to clean up glitter, you begin to ask yourself why it sticks to everything and is so difficult to remove. To answer this sticky situation, we turn to our friends at Live Science.

Glitter made of various substances has been used as a decoration for centuries. Hundreds of years ago, different shiny stones like galena and mica would be crushed and used to create the signature sparkle. Even insect wings that have a colorful look have been used to create the shimmering effect. Today, most glitter is made of plastic or paper that has been painted or coated with aluminum and used in art and fashion accessories. 

As to the question of why glitter sticks to everything, we quickly run into a couple of possibilities. Physicists (people who study how materials interact with the world around them) believe there are several ways to explain glitter’s grip.

Here are a couple of theories:

Static Electricity

The metal coating of glitter is negatively charged, meaning it has more electrons in it, and when it comes into contact with a positively-charged material the opposite forces attract and hold on to each other like magnets.

Air Viscosity

In simple terms, when a small piece of glitter come into contact with a flat surface it pushes the air out from underneath it. The air above it then begins to push down on the glitter making it difficult to grab. You can see this in action by trying to pick up a piece of paper from a flat surface. You have to pull up a corner and allow air to get between the paper and the surface to pick it up.

Surface Tension

Glitter sticks to you because of moisture present on the surface of your skin. Water is referred to as a “polar molecule” because it has both a positively-charged end and a negatively-charged end (similar to a magnet). So bits of water on your skin will be attracted to the charge of glitter and create an attractive force.

So, there is no simple explanation for why glitter is so sticky and difficult to clean. But, now that you know what some of the theories of this are, you have the advantage to help remove it. For instance, since glitter sticks to water, take a wet rag or sponge to an area with glitter (but be aware you may need to throw the rag away after). If glitter is on your skin, use talcum or baby powder to dry your skin and break the bond of water for easier removal!

Looking for more Never Stop Asking "Why?" questions? Catch up on all of the past "Why's" on the blog!