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. Moulded plug on my washing machine had no earth, so had tingling feeling on finger from sink and water.
    very dangerous.!!!!!!
    most machines are made in china and have very thin low quality wiring that fracture in the lead itself.
    i see this alot on heaters, kettles etc.

  2. Monica McKinnell

    Hi. How do I actually use a multi meter to test a dishwasher that is giving an electric shock when touching the metal door. I have a basic meter. What settings do I put it on & where do I place the prongs?

  3. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Monica. You need to test continuity between the metal part of the door (usually the hinge) and the earth pin on the plug. Set it to continuity testing so that when you touch the two connectors together the meter moves all the way over to the other side. Then touch one connector to the metal hinge on the door and the other to the earth pin on the plug. The meter’s needle should do exactly the same. This shows there is continuity between the two places and the earth should be OK. If this is the case the suspicion moves to a lack of earth in the wall socket.

    Try a totally different wall socket, make sure the washing machine isn’t connected to an extension cable. If it is the extension cable could be at fault instead of the wall socket.

  4. Hi I just put the washing into the drum and felt a tingling like static electric. Felt like pins and needles. The same happened when I put the tab in. I wasn’t actually touching the drum but obviously the washing was. Any ideas? Thanks

  5. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Sarah. Yes, please read the article. There’s nothing I can say in a comment here that I haven’t already said in the article. But stop using the washing machine because it could turn very dangerous. All the answers are in the article above.

  6. Hi
    Repaired a leak on washing machine (removed front panel to do so)
    When reinstalling I was getting a tingle from the metal casing. Not had this previously.
    I removed the plug from the wall and noticed there was a small blob of dried paint on the plug prong tips.
    Cleaned this off. When I checked the earth from the moulded plug prong to the machine casing and earth spade bit I get the same reading as with the multimeter probes touching.
    The tingling isn’t present now either. How would I best proceed? Could be an intermittent fault with the earth cable? I tried jiggling the cable around a little to recreate the fault but couldn’t. I’m wary to plug the machine back in and use it in case the fault returns. What would you do in my position Andy?

  7. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello James. If there was a blob of paint on the earth prong it may have prevented good contact. If the machine is earthed (as tested by your multimeter) then any earthing fault causing electrical tingling should be at the wall socket. To be 100% sure, when testing earth continuity on the washing machine, connect one wire of the continuity tester to the earth pin and one to the bare metal on a washing machine. A good point can be found usually on the back of the washing machine, maybe one of the screws in the back panel. Then when testing for continuity, waggle the cable about, especially where it goes into the plug and where it enters the washing machine just in case there are any broken wires inside the cable causing poor (and often intermittent) connections. It’s quite rare on a washing machine though because the mains cable isn’t usually subject too much stress and strain.

    If you are confident the issue was caused by the paint you should be OK. Essentially, if you are not getting any tingling when touching the exposed metal parts on the washing machine when it is plugged in and switched on then it should have a good earth connection. If in doubt try another wall socket or get a wall socket tester (Martindale do good ones).

  8. @Andy thank you very much. Your site is an excellent resource and I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my query (especially so promptly). Thanks and take care.

  9. My washing machine drum is live when the earth wire is removed. I am of the view that there is Internal resistance problem in the machine. Is the machine healthy. I am of the view that the earthing is mainly for passage of the faulty the machine parts.

  10. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello V.R Rajendran. I’m not sure what you mean by when the earth wire is removed. I presume you mean when it is faulty rather than if someone has deliberately removed it. The earth wire is there to pass any electrical current that gets through to exposed parts that a customer can touch safely down to earth. This in turn causes a massive rush of electricity because there is very little resistance and it immediately blows the fuse – making the appliance safe.

    If there were no fuses then the earth wire would not help at all because the electricity would continuously run through the casing of the washing machine. In fact it would probably cause a fire as the smaller wires inside the washing machine overheat. When there is no earth for a washing machine then as my article above describes, a strange phenomenon causes some electricity to migrate from the live wire into the earth wire that is not connected anywhere. By not connected anywhere I mean not connected to earth, it is of course connected to all of the metal parts on the washing machine and this is why the metal parts become “live” although it is not full mains voltage.

    It can however cause electrical tingling and will register on any test equipment. At this particular stage this is a warning. It means that if any wire comes off and touches the casing, or any part such as the heating element or the motor becomes faulty and passes electricity through to its own casing then the relatively small voltage that causes tingling would become full mains voltage -and therefore lethal.

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