Why Are My Outlets Sparking?

by Shelley Frost
smoke damaged outlet

Do sparks fly when you plug in your appliances? You may know there’s electricity flowing through your wiring, but actually seeing it is — well — kinda shocking.

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Outlet sparking when you plug something in can be normal on occasion, but it can also be a sign of a potentially dangerous problem. It's always a good idea to have your outlets checked by an electrician if you're concerned about the sparks outlets produce.

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What Are the Possible Reasons My Outlets Spark When I Plug Something In?

Sometimes when you plug in an appliance, you'll see a small spark that results from the metal of the plug meeting the initial electricity. It can happen because of the fast transfer of power that the appliance pulls right away. However, there could be more serious reasons for outlet sparking, including:

  • Short-circuits: This situation happens when the electricity flows through an unintended path due to a lack of electrical resistance. In an outlet, this could happen if the hot wire touches another wire. When short-circuiting happens, it can melt wire sheaths and overheat to the point of causing a fire. The outlet might seem hot or have a burning smell.
  • Moisture: If moisture gets into an outlet, it can create a spark. This is most common in kitchens or bathrooms, but it could happen in any room where outlets are near water sources. Having ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets in those areas can protect you in these situations by cutting off the flow of electricity.
  • Old age: As outlets get older, they might show signs of wear and have a higher risk of sparking, shorting out or causing an electrical fire. This is more likely to happen if you have an older house with electrical wiring that hasn't been updated.
  • Overloaded circuit: When you plug too many things into a single circuit, you can overload it and potentially cause a spark. Overloaded circuits can also overheat and increase the risk of an electrical fire.
  • Poor installation: An outlet that isn't wired properly could spark. This might happen if you install the outlet yourself or hire an electrician who doesn't do the work correctly.

Is It Dangerous When an Outlet Sparks?

The occasional spark that happens when you plug an item in isn't dangerous. However, if there's a larger reason for the sparking, it can be dangerous and could result in an electrical fire. Some signs of a dangerous sparking situation include:

  • Large sparks
  • Burning, melted plastic or smoky smell
  • Yellow or white appearance
  • Long-lasting sparks, rather than a quick spark when you first plug something in

If the sparking seems abnormal, it's best to call an electrician right away, rather than taking your chances. An electrician can tell you if the sparking is normal or if there's an issue that needs to be repaired.

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How Can I Fix Outlet Sparking?

If the outlet sparking is just normal, small sparks that happen occasionally, you don't need to do anything about the situation. However, if it's due to another cause, you'll likely need to replace the damaged or malfunctioning parts, which could include the outlet itself and the wiring that connects to it.

Replacing the parts ensures you have safe components that won't cause an electrical shock or fire. Don't wait for the repairs if you suspect a larger problem. An electrical fire can happen at any time, so repairing the issue quickly helps protect your home and family.

Do I Need to Call an Electrician?

While many homeowners look at outlet replacement as a DIY project, it can be extremely dangerous to handle electrical work yourself. One small mistake could be deadly. Plus, if you don't handle the wiring work correctly, you could cause additional issues, including more outlet sparking, or even electrical fires.

You might not notice the issues from improper wiring at first, but your outlet could be a ticking time bomb that could cause a fire at any time. Even though wiring an outlet might seem simple, it can be complex, especially if you're replacing older outlets with GFCI outlets. Paying for an electrician to do the work is worth it to protect yourself and your home.

It isn't always easy to determine the exact cause of the sparks or to assess the full damage when you're not a professional. Electricians have the expertise to uncover what's causing the sparks, so they can fix the problem correctly. For example, if short-circuiting caused the wire sheath to melt, they'll know how to replace the wiring and outlet to avoid the problem in the future. If you do any electrical work yourself, always make sure the breaker is shut off to the area and use a tester to make sure there's no electricity flowing to the wiring.

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