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I need to get some sort of ESD/safety mat (2 actually) for working at home to protect myself and equipment. I was wondering what to look for/avoid if I were to purchase a rubber mat from a rubber supplier.

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Broadly, there are two different types of commonly used ESD bench mats:

  • 2-layer nitrile rubber. These will not melt if solder drips on them, or even if you place a hot iron directly on them. Physically, they are very resistant to cuts and scratches. They have almost no give.
  • 3-layer vinyl. These usually have a little give to them so are nice for mechanical assembly or packing workstations. Molten solder will damage them however, and they're not as physically tough.

ESD floor mats can be a little more diverse, you can usually get anti-fatigue, etc. depending on your budget.

Here's a nice video to compare the two:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c7kTF4cF6w

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Spend the couple extra bucks and get an engineered ESD mat. It will save you time and headaches, and has the potential to save you quite a bit in hardware costs. Also keep in mind that ESD mats are not to protect you, but what you are working on.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My teacher at college said that rubber mats also protect technicians as they provide a barrier between the technician and ground. Is this right? I may have misheard/misunderstood as he has a strong accent. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Crossey Jun 9 '13 at 1:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimCrossey it depends what you're working on; if it's low voltage or un-powered electronics, you want an ESD mat to bleed off charge (to ground). If it's powered high-voltage (mains, etc.) you do not want an ESD mat as it increases the risk of electrocution. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Jun 9 '13 at 1:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimCrossey At an ESD workstation the technician is tied to the same common ground (Earth) as the device and the mat to avoid being at a different electrical potential than the device, and allow a low resistance path for any static buildup generated from moving, friction, etc, to flow to ground. This does, as a side effect allow any unexpected current on the ground of the device to flow to ground through the cable, not through you, but that is not what the mat is designed to do \$\endgroup\$ – Butters Jun 9 '13 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ I should mention that all my knowledge/experience comes from low voltage, not mains or higher. \$\endgroup\$ – Butters Jun 9 '13 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are usually 1MOhm resistors to protect humans. \$\endgroup\$ – starblue Jun 11 '13 at 20:16
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Considering you use it yourself, you'd better buy the perpetual ESD mats (which can be used for 2 years at least). And esd wrist strap is also necessary. In fact PVC and rubber are both ok if you don't work at a high temperature.

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