Why Is It Dangerous to Stick Something Metal in an Electrical Outlet?

Why Is It Dangerous to Stick Something Metal in an Electrical Outlet?

Of course, no knowledgeable adult would knowingly insert metallic items in an electrical outlet.

I have seen folks try to push the earth contact in the outlet to permit a two-prong laptop charger.

Kids are the likeliest to insert things in electrical outlets so watch out if you have them.

So, Why Is It Dangerous to Stick Something Metal in an Electrical Outlet?

While it depends on which of the three holes you push the metal, it’s generally never a good idea. For a child playing near an active outlet, it is probably the worst thing they could try. Whether accidental or on purpose, it’s only safe to push a metal in the top hole (bottom hole in some designs) because it links to the earth wire. This wire leads to the ground and doesn’t carry an electrical current.

Things are a bit different with the other two slots (left, right).

The left slot on an electrical outlet links to your home circuit’s neutral wire. Just because it is referred to as “neutral” doesn’t mean it’s safe to come into contact with.

The neutral wire carries some current (not full load as it’s the case with live wire), only when the connecting loads aren’t balanced.

This means you should treat the neutral wire – or the left slot on your electrical outlet – as a live conductor at all times.

The slot on the right links to the live conductor.

This is the slot that delivers electricity to the connected load. Sticking a metallic item in this hole (if the switch on the socket is turned on) is risky. If you don’t get shocked, you could short your circuit and even start a fire.

Two Reasons Why It’s Dangerous To Mix Metal And Electrical Outlets

Here are the real reasons why it’s dangerous to push metallic items into your electrical outlets:

1. Risk of Electric Shock

Electrical shock is the main reason why you shouldn’t push metallic objects in any electrical outlet anywhere.

An electric shock is said to have occurred when you feel a jolt or get injured upon coming into contact with significant electrical energy – in this case, either or both of the two main conductors in the electrical outlet.

Exposure to a considerable amount of electrical energy may end in a barely noticeable tingle, injury, or even death.

Canadian and American homes are serviced by electrical circuits with a voltage of 120 V ± 6%. Your 120 V home outlet is as dangerous as it sounds and can leave you with devastating injuries if you come into contact with the conductors in the outlet.

 

Get it right: the voltage in the circuit does not determine the severity of the electric shock, the current does.

But since V = IR, high voltage means the current (measured in amperes) flowing in the circuit is high as well.

So a great voltage, the size of 140 V, means you will be exposed to a high level of current if you insert, say, a stainless steel fork in the live slot of the outlet.

At 1 milliamp, a person might feel a slight tingling sensation. However, as you approach 10 milliamps the shock starts to get real.

Beyond 10 milliamps, the electric shock is strong enough to affect your muscles, causing you to be unable to release the metallic item you stuck in the outlet.

Once you reach 20 milliamps, you will experience breathing difficulties and even fall unconscious. At 75 milliamps, a person may stop breathing altogether.

If you hit 100 milliamps, the effects of the current may reach your heart and cause ventricular fibrillation which often ends in death as a result of cardiac arrest.

It’s worth knowing that a typical household outlet has about 15 – 20 amperes of current flowing in it which is enough to lead into the above situations.

With that said, also note that the size of the current flowing into your body will depend on an array of factors —

  • the kind of item you put in your electrical outlet
  • what you are wearing
  • whether your body is sweaty
  • whether the floor is wet
  • etc.

You could feel a near harmless tingle or a severe shock.

Still, escaping with a slight tingle doesn’t entirely mean you are out of the bush.

It is not uncommon for heart issues to follow a seemingly mild electric shock.

For that reason, it is recommended that you check in your local health facility if you get shocked as it could cause an irregular heartbeat or worsen a preexisting heart condition.

2. Risk of Home Fires

Short-circuiting in electrical installations is one of the top causes of home fires.

Your electrical outlet can short very much the same way as any other part of your household circuit.

An electrical short occurs when the live wire comes into direct contact with a bare neutral wire (even ground wire).

In such a situation, the electricity travels through the circuit without an electrical impedance.

You don’t want this to happen because a circuit with zero impedance draws excess current and can generate a lot of heat which may build up to melt or burn the wire and other flammable materials in the vicinity.

So how does short-circuiting occur when you push metallic items in the slots?

Well, it isn’t a common occurrence as you will be shocked into withdrawing the idea before a fire or sparks get serious.

However, if you insert metallic items in the slots when the outlet is turned off, chances are high the circuit will short immediately you turn it on with the items still inside – the live wire and the neutral need to connect.

Things might get worse if the plastic case is damaged to reveal parts of the metallic innards.

Fortunately, some outlets are equipped with a handy red LED that lets you know the status and operational condition of the device.

Alternatively, ensure that the plug of a load (electric kettle, TV, etc.) is plugged in your electrical outlet to prevent kids from inserting items in the slots.

Always double-check your outlet before use as it helps get rid of any problematic items before use.

Remove the cover on the outlet and inspect the connections once in a while.

If the terminals or electrical wires are burnt or exposed, chances of shorting get higher and any conductor placed nearby could spark a fire.

Faulty outlets, such as those with cracked covers, should be removed and replaced.

Why Do Electrical Outlets In America Lack On/Off Switches?

There are several explanations for that.

Firstly, the U.S. was the first country to be electrified so there weren’t many preexisting standards and designs to build on.

Early socket makers didn’t see the need for a switch.

Secondly, copper was very cheap then and made it necessary to limit household circuits to 110 V – 120 V for safety reasons, unlike Britain and the commonwealth’s 240 V which was disseminated in plastic outlets.

Conclusion

So why is it dangerous to stick something metal in an electrical outlet?

Although it depends on which of the three holes you push the metal, it’s generally never a good idea.

Oftentimes, it ends in an electrical shock where you may be lucky to escape with a barely noticeable tingle.

Electric does kill in certain situations.

Even worse, inserting items in the slots can short the circuit and start a fire that may raze down your home.

References

What Would Happen If You Stuck A Knife Into An Electrical Socket? 

What if I stuck my finger in an electrical outlet? 

It is dangerous to stick a metal knife into an electric outlet because: 

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