Shock warning if repairing an appliance that’s turned off

Can you still get an electric shock repairing an appliance if it’s turned off?

Potentially yes. Under certain circumstances if you touch any electrical parts inside an appliance you can still possibly get electrocuted.

The first danger is if you believe the power is disconnected, but for some reason it isn’t. This has happened to me a few times as you will read about later on. The second danger is from stored electricity inside the machine that can shock you even when the appliance is unplugged.

Shocks from unplugged appliances

Capacitors hold an electrical charge

Appliances have a capacitor or suppressor inside. Its often the first part that electricity runs through in the machine – or one could be fitted near to the motor. They always used to be cylindrical and silver with a metal casing.

These days they are commonly made of plastic (see pic). There are usually 2 live and 2 neutral wires connected to it.

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These devices can hold a charge for a while after the appliance has been unplugged. They can give a nasty shock. Speaking of dangerous capacitors it’s worth mentioning that the capacitors inside a microwave can hold many thousands of volts and can kill. Never go inside a microwave.

Some models of Hotpoint washing machines (and potentially other brands) can electrocute up to 5 minutes AFTER the washing machine has been unplugged. This is not a concern for an ordinary user.

But if you are attempting a diy washing machine repair do not touch the main PCB or any capacitor until the washing machine has been unplugged for over 5 minutes. In fact don’t touch anything for at least five minutes.

To be on the safe side, follow this advice for all washing machines. Better still find a qualified appliance engineer (Book appliance repair).

As mentioned earlier you can’t totally trust on off switches on appliances or wall sockets. If by any chance there is a fault, or it has been wired up wrong, or plugged into an incorrectly wired (reverse polarity) wall socket some wires may still be live.

The appliance would go dead with all lights off, but electricity could be running through it and could give a fatal electric shock.

Don’t trust on off switches

Don’t assume a part only has power if it’s running

If a part isn’t running it doesn’t mean there’s no power to it

Another mistake would be to assume that all switching is done via the live circuit. It’s possible for an appliance to be wired up with most switching on the neutral side. That could mean parts have a constant live feed to them and the part is turned on and off via the neutral return. So the fact that a heater, valve or pump is not running doesn’t always mean there is no live feed to them.

Use a neon screwdriver or another device to test any wires before touching. However, don’t just put such a device to wires and assume that if it doesn’t light up there can’t be any electricity running through. Always, test the device first while you know there’s live power present.

Then get the power cut and witness the indicator go out. That way you know for certain the power has been disconnected. Otherwise a faulty tester or dead battery could falsely lead you to believe no electricity is present – but the device didn’t light up due to a fault on it.

Appliance plugs or extension leads can be incorrectly wired up too. With the advent of pre-fitted plugs on all new appliances this is less likely than when we all had to fit our own. But many appliance plugs are cut off and replaced to feed the cable through kitchen cupboards or worktops. Be particularly aware if a plug has been replaced.

Never trust other people – or even yourself

Don’t trust other people to unplug or otherwise disconnect an appliance. Don’t even trust yourself unless the mains lead is clearly visible from the appliance to the wall socket. If a mains cable goes behind something or through a hole in a cupboard or worktop you need to take extra care to make sure the right one has been disconnected. I have experience of both other people and myself disconnecting the wrong one. See top 4 safety tips on DIY repair safety for a list of my top 3 personal near misses.

Don’t get carried away

Avoid accidents

Even experienced appliance repairmen have been seriously injured or killed.

Check out my top 4 safety tips on DIY repair safety. Plus my personal top 3 near misses.

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