Wouldn't you need a conductor for the electrons to be able to flow from one object to another?

[Additional Info] If a metal object with excess electrons comes into contact with a neutral metal object, electric charges will flow until both objects have the same charge.

When an insulating charged object ( e.g. PVC ) comes into contact with a neutral metal object, how can the electrons move through the PVC to the point where it is in contact with the metal object?

I would expect the amount of charge transferred to be extremely small compared to metal objects, possibly too small to detect using simple experiments, but this is clearly not so.

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    $\begingroup$ The insulator becomes conducting if it reaches the breakdown voltage. $\endgroup$ – Yashas Mar 2 '17 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ I would also add that there is no perfect insulator. Everything conducts electricity, even empty space. $\endgroup$ – MaDrung Mar 2 '17 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ This question seems somewhat unclear: What is the charged insulator? What is is supposed to discharge to? A charged woollen jumper can partially discharge to my (conducting) hand when I touch charged parts, a charged cloud can discharge through the air in lightning if the voltage is large enough, etc. $\endgroup$ – Toffomat Mar 2 '17 at 15:37

If you charge an insulator in air with a large enough surface charge, the electric field at the surface can easily exceed the breakdown field of air leading to ionization of air molecules and a discharge current. This causes frequently observed spark discharges after frictional contact of different (insulating) materials, especially when the air humidity is low.. See Triboelectric Effect.

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