15 Everyday Examples of Sliding Friction

When you push a chair across a room or slide a glass on a table, you’re encountering a force that’s as old as the universe itself: sliding friction. It is also a force that’s present in countless daily activities, and while it might seem simple on the surface, there’s a lot of science at play.

The Basics of Sliding Friction

Sliding friction, commonly referred to as kinetic friction, is the resistance two surfaces experience when moving past one another. It’s distinct from the force that keeps objects from starting to move, known as static friction.

On a microscopic scale, even surfaces that appear smooth have tiny imperfections. When two surfaces slide against each other, these imperfections catch on one another, creating resistance. This resistance is what you recognize as sliding friction.

For a practical example, consider sliding a ceramic plate across a wooden table. The plate doesn’t move effortlessly; it requires a push. This resistance is due to the tiny irregularities on both the plate and the table interacting and creating friction.

The Formula Behind the Force

The force of sliding friction can be described mathematically with the equation: Fs​=μs​×F​n.

Here’s a breakdown of the components:

  • Fs: This denotes the force of sliding friction, representing the resistance experienced when trying to slide one object over another.
  • μs ​: This is the coefficient of sliding friction, a dimensionless value that quantifies how much two specific materials resist sliding against each other. Different material combinations will have different coefficients.
  • Fn ​: Represents the normal force, which is the force pressing the two surfaces together. In the context of sliding a book on a table, the normal force is essentially the weight of the book, as gravity pushes it down onto the table.

Let’s see how this formula can be applied to real-world scenarios. Consider you’re pushing a sled on snow, the force you need to apply to keep the sled moving is determined by the weight of the sled (normal force) and the specific sliding friction coefficient between the sled’s base and the snow.

This equation provides a clear way to predict the force required to slide objects over different surfaces, making it invaluable in various practical applications.

Factors Influencing Sliding Friction

While sliding friction is a force you encounter daily, it’s not a constant value. Several factors can influence the amount of resistance two surfaces experience when sliding against each other.

Let us explore these factors so you can better predict and even manipulate the frictional force in various situations.

Material Types

Different materials have unique properties that affect how they interact when in contact. The combination of materials can significantly influence the amount of sliding friction they produce. For instance, metal on metal might produce a different frictional force than metal on wood.

Let’s think about the process of writing. When you use a pencil on paper, the graphite (a form of carbon) slides smoothly, leaving a mark. But if you were to try writing with a wooden stick, the experience would be entirely different due to the increased friction between wood and paper.

Surface Roughness

The apparent smoothness or roughness of a surface plays a crucial role in determining sliding friction. At a microscopic level, all surfaces have peaks and valleys. When two surfaces slide against each other, these peaks and valleys can interlock, creating resistance.

Take, for example, the act of sliding a tray across a smooth countertop versus a textured one. On the smooth surface, the tray might glide with ease, but on the textured surface, you’ll likely feel more resistance due to the increased interaction between the tray’s base and the countertop’s irregularities.

It’s also worth noting that over time, as surfaces wear down from repeated use, their roughness can change, which in turn can alter the frictional force they produce. This is why a well-worn path might be smoother and offer less resistance than a newly created one.

Weight’s Influence on Friction

The weight of an object, technically referred to as its gravitational force, directly impacts the normal force in the sliding friction equation. The heavier an object, the greater the normal force pressing it against another surface. As a result, the sliding friction typically increases with weight.

For a hands-on example, think about pushing a light empty box across a floor versus a similar box filled with books. The filled box, being heavier, will generally be harder to push due to the increased sliding friction.

15 Everyday Examples of Sliding Friction

Now that we’ve discussed the basics and the factors affecting sliding friction, let us finally go through fifteen examples of sliding friction we can observe and encounter in our daily life.

Rubbing Hands Together to Generate Heat

a young girl rubbing hands to keep warm
a young girl rubbing hands to keep warm

On a chilly day, you’ve likely rubbed your hands together to warm them up. This simple action is a direct encounter with sliding friction.

As your hands move against each other, the microscopic irregularities on your skin’s surface interact, creating resistance. This resistance, or friction, produces heat, warming your hands in the process. It’s a natural and immediate way to witness the effects of sliding friction and its ability to convert mechanical energy into thermal energy.

Sleds and Snow

Sliding down a snowy hill on a sled is a winter activity enjoyed by many. But have you ever stopped to consider the forces at play?

The sled experiences sliding friction as it moves over the snow. The type of sled, the snow’s condition, and even the sled’s weight (including the rider) can influence the amount of friction. A sled on fresh, fluffy snow might not go as fast as one on compacted, icy snow. This is because the rougher texture of fresh snow creates more resistance against the sled’s smooth surface.

The Glide of Skis on Snowy Slopes


Skiing offers another prime example of sliding friction in action. When you ski, the skis’ flat bottoms slide against the snow, and the friction encountered helps you control your speed and direction.

The type of snow, the ski’s material, and even the wax applied to the ski can influence the amount of friction. For instance, skiers often apply specific waxes to their skis to optimize performance for different snow conditions.

A wax designed for colder snow conditions reduces friction, allowing for a smoother glide. It’s a delicate balance: too much friction, and you might find yourself going slower than desired; too little, and you might struggle to control your descent.

The Joyful Slide Down a Park Slide

Sliding down a park slide is a thrilling childhood joy, but it’s also based on the science of sliding friction. The slide, typically made of smooth metal or plastic, is designed to minimize friction, allowing you to glide down with ease. However, the material of your clothing, especially if it’s rough or textured, can create some resistance against the slide’s surface.

Ever noticed how sometimes you might go down the slide faster or slower? This can be due to various factors. For instance, if the slide is wet, the thin layer of water can reduce friction, making you slide faster.

On the other hand, if you’re wearing rubber-soled shoes and they touch the slide, they can increase friction, slowing you down. It’s a perfect example of how different materials and conditions can influence the force of sliding friction in everyday scenarios.

Moving or Sliding a Coaster on a Table Surface

When you place a drink on a coaster, you might not give much thought to the science at play. But even in this mundane act, sliding friction is at work.

The coaster, whether it’s made of cork, paper, or plastic, interacts with the table’s surface. When you move or slide the coaster, you can feel a certain amount of resistance, which is the sliding friction between the coaster and the table.

Factors like the table’s material, whether it’s wood, glass, or metal, can influence the amount of friction. Similarly, the coaster’s underside texture plays a role. A coaster with a felt or rubber bottom might grip the table more effectively than a smooth-bottomed one. This grip is beneficial as it prevents the coaster, and the drink on top of it, from easily sliding around and potentially spilling.

The Push and Pull of a Washing Machine

Have you ever tried to move a washing machine? Whether you’re rearranging your laundry room or setting up a new appliance, you’ll quickly realize that shifting a washing machine is no easy task. This challenge arises, in part, due to sliding friction.

The bottom of the washing machine, often equipped with rubber or plastic feet, interacts with the floor. When you attempt to push or slide the machine, these feet create resistance against the floor’s surface.

The type of flooring, whether it’s tile, wood, or carpet, can influence the amount of friction you encounter. For example, a washing machine on a carpeted surface might be more challenging to move due to the increased friction between the machine’s feet and the carpet fibers.

The Smooth Slide of an Iron on Fabric

a woman ironing clothes
a woman ironing clothes

Ironing clothes is a common household chore, and it’s one where sliding friction plays a central role. When you glide an iron over fabric, the iron’s smooth, heated plate interacts with the cloth’s texture. The goal is to have just the right amount of friction: enough to allow the iron to move smoothly, but not so much that it becomes difficult to push or risks damaging the fabric.

Different fabrics can offer varying levels of resistance. For instance, ironing a silk blouse might feel different from ironing a cotton shirt due to the distinct textures and properties of these materials. Furthermore, the heat and steam from the iron can alter the fabric’s frictional properties, often making it easier to iron as the fibers become more pliable.

Doors and Frames

Every time you open or close a door, you’re engaging with sliding friction. The door, with its edges and hinges, interacts with the frame and the surrounding structure. This interaction, while often subtle, is crucial for the door’s functionality.

When a door fits snugly within its frame, it creates a seal, often preventing drafts and maintaining the room’s temperature. However, if you’ve ever struggled with a door that sticks or is hard to open, you’ve directly encountered the effects of increased sliding friction.

Factors like humidity, which can cause the wood to expand, or a misaligned hinge, can increase the friction between the door and its frame. On the flip side, a door that swings open or closed too easily might not have enough friction, leading to other challenges.

The Shuffle of Cards in a Deck

a man shuffling playing cards
a man shuffling playing cards

Shuffling a deck of cards is a familiar action for many, whether you’re preparing for a game of poker or solitaire. Each card, with its smooth surface, slides against its neighbors, and this interaction is a direct manifestation of sliding friction.

The material of the cards, typically coated paper or plastic, is designed to have a balance of friction. Too much, and the cards would stick together, making shuffling difficult. Too little, and the cards would be too slippery to handle effectively.

The art of a good shuffle, whether it’s a riffle, overhand, or bridge shuffle, relies on the right amount of sliding friction between the cards. It ensures they mix well without becoming unmanageable.

Moving a Couch on Steps

Moving furniture, especially a hefty couch, can be a daunting task. Now, add steps into the equation, and you’ve got yourself a real challenge. As you push or pull the couch up or down the steps, you’re directly confronting sliding friction.

The couch’s legs or base, often made of wood or metal, interact with the steps, which could be made of wood, carpet, or concrete. This interaction creates resistance, making the task of moving the couch more strenuous. The weight of the couch amplifies the normal force, increasing the frictional resistance.

If you’ve ever felt that a couch seems to “stick” or “catch” on a step, that’s sliding friction in action. Protective pads or sliders under the couch’s legs can reduce this friction, making the moving process a bit smoother.

The Slide of a Dresser’s Legs on Carpets

Rearranging a room often involves moving heavy furniture, like a dresser. If your room is carpeted, you’ll quickly notice the resistance when trying to slide the dresser across the floor. The dresser’s legs, interacting with the carpet’s fibers, create a significant amount of sliding friction.

Carpets, with their dense and fibrous nature, increase the frictional force due to the many contact points they offer. The deeper and plusher the carpet, the more resistance you’ll likely feel.

If you’ve ever tried to move a dresser on a hardwood floor and then on a carpet, you’ll immediately notice the difference in effort required. To ease the movement, furniture sliders or a piece of cardboard can be placed under the dresser’s legs, reducing friction and making the task more manageable.

Vegetable Drawers and Friction

Every time you reach for fresh produce from your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer, you’re engaging with sliding friction. The drawer, typically made of smooth plastic, slides along tracks or grooves inside the fridge.

As it moves, it encounters resistance, which is the sliding friction between the drawer and its tracks. If you’ve ever had to exert a bit more force to pull out a particularly full drawer, you’ve felt the effects of increased weight amplifying this friction.

The Slide of a Check Across a Bank Counter

Banking might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sliding friction, but it’s there in subtle ways. When you hand over a check to a teller by sliding it across the counter, the paper check interacts with the counter’s surface.

Depending on the material of the counter, be it smooth marble or textured laminate, the check will slide with varying degrees of ease. It’s a brief yet clear demonstration of how different materials can influence sliding friction in everyday transactions.

Paper Going Through a Fax Machine

Fax machines, though less common now with the rise of digital communication, offer a fascinating look at sliding friction in action.

As you feed a paper document into the machine, rollers grip and pull it through. The paper’s smooth surface slides against the machine’s internal components, and the friction ensures the paper moves at a steady pace, allowing for accurate transmission. Too little friction and the paper might jam or feed too quickly; too much, and it might not move at all.

Lotion Bottles and Friction

a young girl pressing down on a lotion bottle pump
a young girl pressing down on a lotion bottle pump

After a shower or on a dry day, reaching for a bottle of lotion is common. But have you considered the friction at play when you press down on the pump?

The tube inside the bottle slides against the opening, dispensing the lotion. This movement encounters sliding friction, which controls the amount of lotion released with each press. The design ensures that the lotion dispenses smoothly and consistently, all thanks to the careful balance of sliding friction within the mechanism.

Final Thoughts

In your daily life, from the moment you wake up to the time you settle into bed, sliding friction is at work, often behind the scenes. It’s in the glide of your drawer as you reach for a pair of socks, the resistance you feel when you slide a book onto a shelf, and even in the smooth press of a lotion bottle’s pump.

Every interaction, whether it’s the shuffle of a deck of cards or the slide of a check across a bank counter, is a testament to the principles of physics and mechanics that govern our world. While it might be easy to overlook, understanding sliding friction’s role can offer a deeper appreciation for the myriad of processes and interactions that shape your daily experiences.

So, the next time you encounter any form of resistance, be it moving a piece of furniture or simply opening a door, take a moment to acknowledge the silent, yet ever-present force of sliding friction. It’s a reminder of the delicate balance of forces that keep our world functional and truly remarkable.

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