Why does certain Items I plug in begin to spark?

Spark may not be the right word, but sometimes when I plug stuff in the outlet lights up and I see bright electricity in the outlet. It scares the crap out of me! WHat is it, and how can I stop it?

Make sure whatever you are plugging in is turned off. Used to happen a lot to me until I started doing that. It still happens when I do it with appliances that don’t have an off switch, like my hot air popcorn popper.

If the sparking/glowing does not go away simply by turning off whatever you’re plugging in, or continues while the thing is plugged in, do not pass go, do not use that outlet, do not use that device and call an electrician before the house burns down.

It’s nothing to worry about. Some appliances don’t have an off switch, so as soon as you plug them in, current starts to flow. The current is so eager to flow, that as soon as the blades of the plug get close enough, a spark will jump across. It’s normal! Don’t panic.

The contacts within receptacles can lose their spring tension with time and use. Sparking aside, does the receptacle firmly grip a male plug? If the fit is loose and sloppy, the receptacle needs to be replaced.

My laptop power supply does this fairly often. Apparently there is quite an inrush currrent.

Others have already said why this happens and how to avoid it, but what hasn’t been mentioned is the why of it.

Every time you see sparks when you plug something in, an arc of electricity is pitting the contact surfaces of the plug and the outlet. Over time, these pits accumulate and reduce the contact area that current has to flow through between the outlet and the appliance. By reducing the contact area, the resistance of the junction is increased and can lead to problems including fires in your electrical system. Not a good thing.

For this reason, you should NEVER plug anything into the wall while it is turned on. This is especially true of high current appliances like vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters, hair dryers, etc. Not only do they draw a lot of amperage, they are also likely to be plugged in the same place every time, which makes the situation that much worse.

Also, what DanceswithCats said.

This is good advice.

A switch/electrical contact in series with a capacitive load (e.g. a switching power supply when first powered) sparks when initially turned on. A switch/electrical contact in series with an inductive load (e.g. motor) sparks when turned off. Either way, the sparks are not good on the contacts. Appliance manufacturers know this, and they often install a “snubber circuit” (usually a resistor and capacitor in series) across the appliance’s power switch, or across the load. The snubber circuit (a.k.a. a spark quencher circuit) helps to minimize sparking between the switch contacts.

My guess is that, if an appliance includes snubber circuit, the circuit is designed to be most effective at quenching sparks across the contacts in the appliance’s power switch, not at the outlet/receptacle.

So whenever possible, make sure an appliance is off before plugging or unplugging.