Why Does My Outlet Spark When I Plug Something In?

Why Does My Outlet Spark When I Plug Something In?

Electrical Outlet Sparks When Plugging InHave you ever plugged something into an electrical outlet and experienced sparking and popping? It may have even tripped the breaker.

This is a common occurrence but can be shocking when it happens. While some sparking can be a normal occurrence, other instances are indicative of a serious underlying problem.

So what should you do when your wall outlet sparks? Learn why electrical outlets spark, what causes it, when it is normal, when it is dangerous, and what you should do about it.

When is a Sparking Outlet Normal?

When something is plugged in the power may be diverted rapidly from the outlet to the appliance and the inrush electrical current will create a small spark. If the spark is blue, happens almost in the blink of an eye, and doesn’t occur every time you use the outlet, then it’s most likely normal.

When working properly, electricity runs through the available circuits in your home and back out to the main electrical grid without being interrupted. These movements are fast in order to supply your home with the electricity you need to power your appliances, devices, and the like.

When is a Sparking Outlet Dangerous?

Large and/or long sparks: Safe sparks are quick and small, almost unnoticeable by sight. A spark that needs to fizzle out, lingers for longer than a second, or seemingly jumps out of the outlet cover is not safe.

Yellow or white sparks: Safe sparks are blue. A spark that is yellow or white in appearance is not safe.

Burning smell: If you smell smoke or plastic melting after an outlet spark, you should immediately shut off the outlet at the circuit panel and stop using the outlet until a professional electrician diagnoses it. This is especially true if you see burn marks on the outlet.

Frequent sparks: If a spark happens every time a specific outlet is used, no matter what device you plug in, it’s most likely a problem.

8 Reasons Your Electrical Outlet Sparks When Plugging In

Seeing a wall outlet spark can be a little unnerving, but often, a small spark is completely normal. Electricity is fast, hot, and powerful — so when you insert a plug into an outlet, it can cause a brief spark until the electrons flow freely. In other, more serious instances, sparking can be caused by:

1. Loose Wiring

A common sign of loose wiring is a buzzing or crackling sound or a light fixture that flickers. If you’re handy, you can try to fix this problem yourself by turning off the power to the outlet at the breaker, removing the cover plate, and examining the screws inside where the wires connect. Look for screws that are loose and carefully tighten them down onto the wires.

2. Short Circuiting

Short-circuiting occurs when too much heat builds up inside of an electrical outlet. When this happens, the excess heat can cause the wire insulation to melt, exposing the wires. Exposed wires significantly increase the risk of an electrical fire occurring after a spark, so it’s important to call a professional electrician if you suspect this is an issue in your home.

3. Water Damage

Water and electricity are not friends. If water does come in contact with an outlet, it can cause sparking and a host of other potentially dangerous electrical issues. The addition of a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) can cut the power supply to an outlet if it detects water.

4. Old Age

Like all appliances and fixtures in your home, the electrical outlets will wear out over time. In fact, old electrical outlets account for 6% of home fires annually. As your outlets age, they can become loose, worn, and outdated, creating an increased risk of sparking or short circuiting. You can prevent this from happening by updating your wiring and replacing old appliances.

5. Faulty Repair

Unless you’re a professional electrician, performing electrical repairs yourself is risky. Not only can it be dangerous, but the potential for performing a faulty repair is just too high and can cause issues later on. If you don’t know what you’re doing, do yourself and your home a favor and hire a professional electrician.

6. Overloaded Outlet

It’s never a good idea to plug too many appliances or devices into an outlet as this can cause the outlet to overload, resulting in sparking, a breaker tripping, or even an electrical fire.

7. Cracked or Broken Receptacles

The plastic around outlets can crack, break, or chip away, exposing the outlet’s metal contact points. Not only are these eyesores, but they are potential fire hazards and shock risks. It’s best to stop using and replace cracked or broken receptacles immediately.

8. Frayed or Damaged Wiring

Homes with older wiring are subject to wire damage through overheating, deterioration, or rodents chewing through insulation exposing the wire. Exposed wires pose a risk of electric shock or electrocution.

What to Do When an Electrical Outlet Sparks

While sparking from an outlet isn’t necessarily a large concern, don’t ignore the problem if it continues happening. If an electrical outlet sparks when you plug something in, it’s important to have a professional electrician diagnose and repair the issue.

To prevent a house fire or further damage, we recommend shutting off the breaker for the affected outlet and then turning off and unplugging all appliances or devices in the affected outlet.

Use a Receptacle Tester to Troubleshoot Common Problems

If you’re comfortable troubleshooting electrical outlet issues yourself before calling in a professional, a receptacle tester is a valuable tool that can help. These tools allow you to see if there are any problems with the consistency of your electricity by checking for correct wiring, verifying the outlet can provide power, and testing the trip function for GFCI. Receptacle testers can be found for as little as $10 and can help troubleshoot common electrical problems.

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