DIY repair safety: My top 4 tips

DIY safety Trying to repair something you’re not trained to do can be dangerous, or just costly. Many people want – or need – to try, and as there’s countless advice on the Internet this page at least tries to give good safety advice.

It’s not a list of patronising obvious advice. It comes from a repairman with 40 years experience – and plenty of electric shocks and close shaves.

If you aren’t experienced you should not attempt involved DIY repairs on appliances. Even if you are competent and experienced at DIY repairs you should still find useful tips or reminders on this page. Remember, complacency is dangerous.

Even professional repairers are at risk

Electrical-safety I’ve had many lucky escapes myself, and over the years, I’ve heard about many diy enthusiasts, and even several trained domestic appliance service engineers getting electrocuted and killed.

Ironically, people working with electricity all the time can be the ones that get most careless. But people unfamiliar with electricity can be unaware of safe practices, and make dangerous assumptions.

Here are my top 4 safety tips on DIY repair safety-

Never work on any appliance whilst it is still plugged in. But a critical rule is to always make absolutely sure that it is in fact unplugged or disconnected. It’s easy to get it wrong, especially when plugs disappear behind kitchen units.

Before touching anything that could electrocute, always double check that the appliance is really dead and disconnected. Check for the presence of electricity with a reliable device that you know is working. Don’t rely on socket switches either. Also, don’t rely on another person to disconnect the appliance – especially if the plug is inside a cupboard or otherwise out of your sight. They may disconnect the wrong one by mistake.

One of the most important things to watch out for is becoming distracted, or so involved in the battle to fix the appliance, that you forget it is plugged in (especially if you are constantly having to plug and unplug the machine whilst working on it and testing it). So always be aware, and keep concentration up.

Don’t try to see if electricity is getting to a particular part by testing on a live appliance. This is something trained engineers do not do. See the section below for more details.

You can still get an electric shock even if the socket is turned off or the plug is pulled out. Read this article for more information – Can you still get a shock repairing an appliance if it’s turned off or unplugged?

Examples of personal near misses

I asked a customer to unplug the washing machine as I was about to replace the main program timer. Fortunately I double checked with a neon screwdriver and found the washing machine still live! He’d unplugged the tumble dryer instead.

Whilst talking to a customer I once tested down the washing machine’s plug to see if there was a circuit between live and neutral (which there was).

As I’d just had the washer’s plug in my hand I knew it was safe to touch the wires inside the washer. I then realised I’d tested the wrong plug because it ran through the kitchen worktop and out of sight. The washing machine was still plugged in.

I’ve had many electric shocks and they are not pleasant. I was lucky to just get wake up calls. I’ve always had shocks when I was distracted, or I had assumed power wouldn’t be present at particular wires but due to a fault, or a redesign by the manufacturer, the wire was live.

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Never try to get voltage readings from a LIVE appliance

Danger In order to see if electricity is flowing through components we use continuity test meters with the machine UNPLUGGED, which puts harmless battery powered low amperage and low voltage through. Trying to get readings from a live machine is both crude and dangerous!

Testing down the plug and checking where this harmless voltage goes (and stops) is the way to trace faults. Components are tested for continuity and resistance readings.

Testing across the pins on motors for continuity with a continuity test meter is the proper way to test. Trying to get readings from a live machine is both crude and dangerous!

More of my articles and safety tips

Check out more of my safety related tips & advice here – DIY repairs: is there anything you should avoid doing? 8 things you should never do when repairing a washing machine which also includes links to other DIY repair safety articles I’ve written.

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7 thoughts on “DIY repair safety: My top 4 tips”

  1. whilst I agree with many of the safety comments, in particular being distracted by customers banter, having been a dom appliance service engineer for 35 yrs, I totally disagree with the idea that you should never use a meter to test for live voltage, for some faults it saves you a lot of time & with common sense if is very safe. if you want to be ultra safe use crock clips, switch power on & stand well away!! or just use well insulated probes!!! I’ve had shocks, but never from testing for live voltage with a proper meter. this is typical of company procedure, just to cover themselves (cop out). impractical elf & safety nonsense!!!!

  2. Hello Dan. I don’t want to encourage people to go prodding around trying to get readings off tags (that are often difficult to get to because they are insulated) on a live machine. It’s fine for trained engineers if that’s what they want to do although many trained engineers have been killed or seriously electrocuted whilst working on appliances, which couldn’t happen if you only ever work on disconnected ones :)

  3. I hear a lot of advice on how safe washing machines are if unplugged from the mains power supply?? Yet when I started fixing washing machines many machines had induction motors with large external Capacitors fitted (similar looking in appearance to a suppressor) that is capable of giving you a very nasty shock even with the appliance was disconnected from the mains electric supply??

  4. I really wish I had discovered this article earlier. I have received two bad electric shocks within a single week from two different appliances. The first was after unplugging a fly mo lawnmower. After winding the cable up I touched the pins on the plug whilst pushing it into a slot in the reel. This gave me a shock which almost instantly went from finger tips to shoulder.

    Five days later I was using an electric coffee grinder. The coffee grinder was unplugged and I was placing back in its box when I sustained a further shock from brushing a hand on the plug pins. The shock left my fingers to elbow tingling with a burning feeling in the joints for some 5 plus minutes afterwards.

    Both appliances have the original moulded plugs.

    I wonder whether these shocks were due to capacitors in the appliances or some other cause? I would like to know if shocks in this way are more common nowadays due to changes in components?

  5. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Barry. Shocks from the actual plug rather than the appliance could be from capacitors. They are supposed to discharge after unplugging but if you touch the live and earth shortly after unplugging you can get the nasty discharge. I’ve had the same many times but it’s never been as bad as you experienced. I still to this day avoid touching the plug pins after unplugging anything and sometimes I deliberately “short out” the pins across something metal to let it discharge. The only other thing it could be is static discharge from you but I think it’s less likely.

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