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 30 years experience – and plenty of electric shocks and close shaves. If you aren’t experienced you shouldn’t attempt involved DIY repairs on appliances, but 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
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. Don’t rely on socket switches. 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.
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.)
Don’t try to see if electricity is getting to a particular part by testing on a live appliance. 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 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.
Never try to get voltage readings from a LIVE appliance
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? DIY Washing machine repair warnings which also includes links to other DIY repair safety articles I’ve written.
If you feel you should get a professional repairer to look at your appliance please check out some of my advertisers – Find a competent appliance engineer