Sparking when plugging in


Old 10-03-05, 12:13 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 135
Sparking when plugging in

I've got a GFCI receptacle that sparks when something is plugged in- a small spark on the neutral slot. The receptacle works fine, the wires and connections look fine, and I'm just wondering what this indicates and if replacement is called for.

Thanks very much for any help.
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Old 10-03-05, 12:33 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Whenever you plug something in that is turned on or whenever you turn on a switch for a light a spark is created. In short, whenever you make or break a connection a spark is generated. This is because the electrons jump the air gap when the just before the connection is established, or just after it is broken. The spark is most noticeable when the lights are turned off. You can avoid the spark at the receptacle by turning the appliance off before unplugging it and not turning it on until it is plugged in.

A small spark is nothing to be worried about. A large spark, on the other hand, may be cause for concern. It could be that the copper pieces that the plug actually touches are wearing out. You might notice this initially as the plug on the end of the cord will not fit snugly into the receptacle, but rather will be loose.

It can't hurt to replace the GFCI, as long as you are careful when you do so and make the connections properly, and if the GFCI is older it might not be a bad idea to replace it.
Old 10-04-05, 12:12 PM
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 135
Thanks very much for the reply, Bob. I did in fact notice this when I was plugging something in at night. It's a fairly new receptacle- about a year and a half old- so I think I'll leave it in place for now. But I'll keep an eye on the connection becoming loose or large sparking taking place.

Much appreciated.
Old 10-04-05, 03:20 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 719
Initially when you insert the plug or remove the plug the contact area is very small.
If the item you plug in is completing the circuit (a switch in the ON position) the electrons try to cross this small initial contact area the resistance creates heat and burns metal off the receptacle and plug.
This repeats several times (arcing) until the contact area is large enough to allow electrons to pass without resistance.

If you plug in an item that pulls more power like a 1500 watt hair dryer the arc will be more intense, you have more electrons trying to cross the small contact area.

Bottom line, place the switch in the off position before you plug the item in.
Some items may not have a switch like a TV so you may see a small spark.

Turn off the switch on a lamp and plug it in, if you see any sparks you may have a problem.

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