What To Do If An Electrical Outlet Sparks
When you plug a device into your electrical outlet, does it spark? If so, you could have an electrical problem or it could be a normal occurrence. But, depending on the color and frequency of the spark, you might have nothing to worry about.
It’s not uncommon for electrical outlets to make a tiny, blue spark when you plug something in. That’s because the live electrical wires are trying to establish a connection with the device to feed it electricity. These blue, split-second sparks are not dangerous and are usually invisible to the naked eye.
However, if you see yellow sparks from the outlet when you plug something in, those are dangerous and need immediate attention from an electrician.
In this blog, we’ll explain:
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Signs of Dangerous Outlet Sparks
Beyond being intensely yellow, dangerous outlet sparks produce other signs, such as:
- Lasting more than a few seconds
- Producing a burning smell or smokey odor
- Causing burn marks on the outlet
- Happening every time you use the outlet, no matter the device
If you notice multiple danger signs, contact an electrician immediately. When you’re dealing with a potentially dangerous outlet, you need to minimize the risk of an electrical fire. According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, nearly 51,000 home electrical fires occur each year, causing thousands of injuries, hundreds of deaths, and billions in property damage.
Next, we’ll look at what causes these dangerous sparks and how an electrician will resolve the issue.
Causes of Dangerous Outlet Sparks
Three primary reasons that cause dangerous outlet sparks:
- Electrical surges destroy wire coatings: When there’s an electrical surge in your area, it could melt the coatings off the wires behind the outlet. Since the wires are a conduit for electricity and heat, the outlet ends up short circuiting. Because the outlet has become a fire hazard, you should avoid using it.
- Water damage to the outlet: Water and electricity do not mix. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention when plugging appliances or devices into kitchen or bathroom outlets, especially near sinks. Water may have entered the outlet or soaked a plug without your knowledge. If you plug something into a wet outlet or use a wet plug, the water can cause immediate damage to the electrical outlet. When an outlet or plug looks wet, either wait for it to dry or call an electrician for an inspection.
- Normal wear and tear. Outlets get old like everything else in a home. Over time, wear-and-tear will break down electrical wire casings, cause the wiring to loosen, or break the outlets. When that happens, additional sparks can occur. Contact an electrician to update your wiring or outlet covers.
Whether or not you’re unsure what the cause could be, leave the issue diagnostic to a professional electrician to prevent electrocution or electrical fires.
What To Do While Waiting for the Electrician
As we’ve stated above, all electrical repairs—no matter how minor they seem to appear—should be completed by a qualified electrician for safety reasons. However, the following actions can help you control potential damage before an electrician arrives to rectify the problem.
- Shut off power to the room the outlet is in. Use the circuit breaker to do so. Each switch is usually labeled for every room.
- Check that the power is off. Use a multimeter to double check that the power is really shut off. It measures electrical values and tells you if any more electrical current is moving through the outlet. The outlet should be at zero before your electrician can remove and replace the outlet.
- Take a photo of your damaged outlet. Depending on the contractor, you may need to purchase a new replacement outlet yourself for the electrician to install. To ensure that you get the proper outlet, take a photo of the damaged one to your local hardware store and ask them to help you select a new one with the same voltage. You could also ask your electrician for a recommendation or use a photo recognition app like Google Lens to identify the correct outlet.
How To Prevent Dangerous Outlet Sparks
It’s important to know how you can prevent dangerous outlet sparks. Below is a list of easy solutions—some will require an electrician to complete them.
- Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) outlets. These GFCI outlets will prevent any accidents caused by a wet device cord or outlet as they will shut off electrical power almost instantly, within 1/40th of a second.
- Install a surge protector. Surge protectors divert extra voltage from an electrical surge into a ground wire, away from your outlet and appliance. They reduce damage and the risk of a fire.
- Discard any frayed or uninsulated charger cords. Most of us own several charging cords, from cell phones to iPads to e-readers. When they start to fray, dispose of them properly (you can even recycle them) and buy new ones.
- Update frayed or uninsulated electrical wiring. Whether from regular use or an electrical surge causing the casings to melt, it’s crucial to have properly insulated wirings to protect your outlet and home.
- Avoid plugging in appliances if they’re ON. Always turn off all devices or appliances before plugging them into an outlet.
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