Getting mild electric shocks from washing machine or other appliances

First let me make it clear I am talking about very mild “tingles” and not proper electric shocks. If anyone receives an electric shock, the appliance should be disconnected immediately and an appliance engineer called out. Mild electric shocks or tingles might not be taken seriously, but they can turn into lethal full mains voltage shocks at any time.

Electric shock from appliance So never use any appliance even if you only get a mild shock from. Disconnect it immediately. The reason you get shocks from a washing machine, or any other appliance, is because it is not earthed properly.


Why Does an unearthed appliance cause shocks?

All large appliances need to be connected to earth for safety. The earth wire runs down the mains cable and then through the socket it is plugged into. If this connection becomes broken at any point in the machine, cable, plug or wall socket, then you can get the symptom of mild electric shocks.

The shocks are often mild, or just tingles because they are caused by small amounts of electricity leaking or inducing across to the disconnected earth wire and running through the casing. It’s a phenomenon related to eddy current, but it’s not necessary to understand the scientific reason.

The effect is useful to us though because without it we would be unaware the earth is not connected unless conditions later allow a full electric shock, which could be fatal.

Time bomb Such an appliance poses a serious danger. Because the mild shocks indicate that the washing machine is not earthed it means that if a component inside the machine’s insulation breaks down, or a live wire comes adrift and touches the metal parts inside, then the low voltage current will be replaced by the full mains voltage – which can kill. Without a path to earth, the washing machine cannot blow the fuse, and instead could just work as normal but be lethal.

Plug not earthed?

Earthed plug The first thing an engineer is likely to check is the appliances plug. They would check inside the plug to make sure the green and yellow earth wire is connected securely.

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If it’s OK, then either the earth wire inside the mains cable could have a break somewhere inside and needs replacing, or it may not be connected inside the washing machine. (The latter is very unlikely, I’ve never known it, but it’s theoretically possible). Both can (and should) be checked with a continuity test meter by checking the continuity between the earth pin on the plug and the metal door hinge or another suitable bare metal point on the washing machine.

Moulded plugs

Moulded plug Most appliances have long since come with pre-fitted moulded plugs which can’t be checked. So if unable to check inside the plug the first thing an engineer would check is the continuity down from the earth pin as described above. If he had a good reading he shouldn’t need to look inside the plug anyway. If the reading was open circuit or high resistance, but the earth was connected properly inside the machine he’d cut off the plug about an inch down and replace it because earth wires can break at that point. If that failed to make a difference he’d replace the mains cable.


Extension cables

Extension-cable If the appliance is plugged into an extension cable then clearly there could be a problem anywhere on the extension. So an engineer would check the earth connections and continuity on the extension cable. Ideally ditch the extensions, they aren’t ideal on large white goods appliances. If one is necessary try another extension (but make sure it’s appropriate – appliances and extension cables). I have seen appliances plugged into totally inappropriate extension cables that are using 2 core cable with no earth!

Wall socket not earthed

Wall socket Another possibility is a fault in the wall socket. The earth wire could be disconnected inside or the brass earth prongs inside could be worn or too far apart to grip the earth pin on the plug properly. Obviously you don’t mess with wall sockets. If you suspect a faulty wall socket get an electrician – not an appliance engineer.

Don’t confuse with static electricity discharges

If you get just a single short shock when you touch an appliance (possibly accompanied by a cracking sound) which doesn’t reoccur when you touch the appliance again this could be static electricity discharging from your body and is very different to this issue.

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100 thoughts on “Getting mild electric shocks from washing machine or other appliances”

  1. Hi,

    I have been getting small shocks from my washing machine but also on the metal draining board.
    Tonight I took out some washing and as I was trying to get it out, I had shock going from one arm to the other.
    I don’t know what to do and am worried to use this now.
    Please help me.
    Thank you,
    Anna

    1. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

      Hello Anna. You have to unplug the washing machine and stop using it immediately! Basically, read my article and everything is explained in there, including the fact that you should stop using any appliance immediately – even if you get mild shocks from it because it means it is not earthed. If it is not earthed, but everything is okay you will receive mild shocks, but if it is not earthed and something goes wrong with one of the parts inside causing a breakdown in installation, or maybe a wire comes off and touches the casing, then you could be killed!

      The fault could be in the wall socket, or the appliance’s plug, in an extension cable if used, or in the washing machine itself, although it is best not to use an extension cable if you can avoid it. If it is in the wall socket you need an electrician, but if it is not the wall socket then you need an appliance repair person.

    2. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

      Hello Anna. I forgot to add that if you’re getting electrical shocks from the draining board you need to get an electrician in as soon as possible. Hopefully they could solve both problems.

  2. Hello, I recently moved into a new flat. I received some mild tingling from the washing machine then a shock that went down my arm. I called the letting agent and he sent someone to look at the machine. It turns out that the landlord had plugged the machine, which uses a 2 pin European plug directly into the socket so the machine wasn’t earthed. I was wearing rubber flip flops. I’m just wondering if the shock I received would have been a full mains 230V shock or just a fraction of that? How about the current? I’m just concerned as I’m pregnant. Thanks Sarah

    1. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

      Wow. That’s crazy Sarah. It should be impossible to plug a 2 pin plug into a UK 3 pin socket. They are designed so that if there isn’t an earth pin, you can’t plug anything in. There is an automatic child safety feature built into them all, which blocks entry to the live and neutral openings.

      In order to plug something into a UK 3 pin wall socket, the earth pin, which you can see is longer than the other 2 pins, has to go in first. The earth pin then pushes down on a spring-loaded device that covers the live and neutral pins, and pushes it down to open up the live and neutral holes. The live and neutral pins can then push into the socket.

      The only way to get a 2 pin plug in, would be to push something inside the earth socket and press it down to move the shield from the live and neutral openings.

      If not earthed, as my article describes, you can get “mild” electric shocks, although it might make you jump and you certainly know about it. A washing machine with a plug that has no earth pin is potentially lethal.

      I don’t even know how you can get a washing machine in the UK with a non-UK plug fitted. The washing machine must have been made for a European or American market. The 2 pronged plug fitted will have been earthed, but the earth would only work when plugged into a wall socket designed for it, which is not UK.

      If you had received a full electrical shock (the washing machine would also need to have a low insulation fault on it) it should have been very nasty. If the washing machine has subsequently been fitted with a proper UK plug, and has not blown the fuse then it probably doesn’t have a low insulation fault on it.

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