Plugged in, turned off

On the news today I heard someone say you should unplug anything electrical even if it is turned off, as it still uses some electricity. I can see it with TV’s, and computers, but they said the same was true with washing machines and dryers. That just doesn’t sound right. Is it true? That a washing machine or dryer still uses some electricity when off?

Well, I’m not going to go so far as to say they “should be unplugged” when not in use, but it’s true that many many electrical devices these days still use a tiny amount of power when “off”. I’d guess that if your washer has electronic controls, it most likely has a microcontroller sitting around waiting for you to press a button. My oven has an LED display that reads “off” almost 24 hours a day. My stereo has a red light that says “standby.” Stuff like that.

In Europe, people don’t trust devices to turn themselves off. It’s very common for electrical outlets to have a switch next to the receptacle which turns the power off. I’ve seen people turn their TV off with the remote control, then walk over and flip the switch where it’s plugged in to make sure.

Cornell University said yes:

This is certainly not true, as there are many devices which do not use any electricity when turned off. Granted some devices, and in some locations perhaps most devices, draw some standby power, but not all do. There’s no need to uplug lamps, for example, and I’d venture that older design major appliances have no parasitic draw. This blanket “unplug anything electrical” advice is not really helpful, and may even generate skepticism about the parts of the advice that are applicable.

Are you sure? What about touch lamps? Doesn’t a small current flow through them at all times? (Honest question, not baiting.)

I don’t know about touch lamps. I should have said “simple lamps.”

Yeah. Absolute statements are always wrong.


You’re absolutely [del]right[/del] [del]wrong[/del] something. :confused:

I watched a show on one of the educational channels where they had a guy who developed a “green switch” which was just another switch next to the outlets like ntucker described. He put a meter on a TV and it used 1/4 power when off. The cable box was about the same. But he seemed more concerned with small devices. As he said, walk around your house in the dark and look at all the little lights shining on phone chargers, digital clocks (I have one on the oven, one on the microwave, and one on the coffee pot, all within 3 feet), printers, monitors, speakers, etc. They never made the claim that every electrical device was drawing power, just that a lot are wasteful by using standby mode or by having a little lights on them that are practically useless.

The lack of switches on US power points is the unusual thing, not the presence of them in Europe and elsewhere. The lack of trust in devices turning themselves off is perfectly justified, as they do indeed stay on in some respect - that’s how the remote can activate them again.

I turn our TV and video players off at the wall every single time we finish watching. I only wish I could with our microwave too, but the power switch is inaccessible behind the damn thing. In general microwaves use more power running their digital clock than they do cooking.

If you unplug the devices, wouldn’t you then have to reset the clocks and basic settings (like TV channel tunings) every time you plugged things back in?

I was about to give you a hard time for this obviously false statement: while cooking, microwaves draw between 500 and 1500 watts, and a LED clock probably draws less than a watt. But then I realized that you meant that *over its operating life *the oven’s clock will have used more power than it drew while cooking.

So while it’s not as ridiculous a statement as I first thought, I’d still like to see a cite.

As for the outlets on European receptacles, I’ve always assumed that the higher voltages there required more in the way of safety devices, hence the switches. Am I wrong about that?

Not a cite, but let’s assume as you suggest that the oven consumes 1500 watts while cooking, and 1 watt for the clock all the time. There are 1440 minutes in a day. If the oven is used less than 57 seconds per day, the clock is indeed using more power than the oven is over the course of that day.

I can go several days without using mine, then run it for 10 minutes defrosting or reheating some stuff. So 1 minute per day is probably a little low, but not way out of line. I probably average at most 2 minutes a day of oven use.

So going from our original assumptions, about 2/3rds of my oven’s lifetime consumption is cooking, and 1/3rd is timekeeping.
I bet that in reality my oven’s average cooking power consumption is lower, more like 1000, since I don’t always use max power. OTOH, I bet 1 watt is a high for the clock. So we’re back to about the same relative consumption.

Yeah, after posting, I started thinking about the numbers and came to almost the same conclusion. But it certainly is counter-intuitive. Does anyone have a good idea about the likely draw for an LED clock?


It’s really unfortunate, because I don’t really need the microwave to keep time, but if I unplug it, then I have to reset the time when I plug it back in. (And the plug is in a relatively inaccessible spot, too.)

I don’t have to redo the TV channel tunings unless I want to record something on the VCR–which is rare, but that’s enough of a hassle that I don’t want to unplug the TV.

I’ve never known a TV that forgets the channel settings when it’s unplugged. Clocks, perhaps, although a lot of video recorders (DVD/PVR) these days seem to automatically set the clock from the TV signal.

I think my wife must have read that Cornell article - for the last several months, she’s been unplugging items around the house when not in use, including the coffee maker and the toaster, and those two use zero power when off.

I don’t know about that, but believe me, there’s a distinct lack of switches next to power outlets here in France.

Where in Europe exactly? I’ve been in at least third of European countries and never seen arrangement like that.

Seems to be a little redundant - if you reach to power outlet, you can simply pull the plug out.

They have them in the UK, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them elsewhere.

That said, it’s not redundant at all. Flicking a switch is much less work than pulling out a plug, especially if it’s a plug/switch tucked behind a entertainment center or desk. Also, it makes perfectly good sense to shut off power to an outlet independently. I’ve shocked myself several times plugging in things here (in America), but never ever shocked myself with the UK three-pin and switch sockets.