Should you turn off appliances at the socket when not in use?

Wall socket Ideally yes you should turn off certain appliances at the socket when not in use. If the wall socket doesn’t have an on off switch it would need to be unplugged instead.

Electricity still runs inside an appliance even if it’s switched off. If electricity is present, there is always the possibility of something overheating or shorting out. However, it is far more likely that if something was to go wrong it would be whilst the appliance is in use.

Where does electricity run inside an appliance?

With an appliance plugged into the wall socket electricity runs first through its plug and mains cable. After that it enters the appliance and goes through a mains filter (suppressor). Then on to the on off switch. Theoretically it should stop there until the on – off switch is activated. But it is possible for power to also go to the main PCB, the door lock, control panel.

In the past I’ve known mains suppressors on some washing machines short out and explode (like a firework – but no fire). The washing machines were not in use at the time. To be fair that was a long time ago and on a specific brand of washing machine. But this shows the possibility of something shorting out with the appliance not running.

Recent examples of fires with appliances not running

This article was inspired after reading a recent media article where a tumble dryer had apparently, “caught fire” whilst left plugged in. From the pictures that I could see though it appeared that the fire incident was small, and confined to the wall socket and plug. Someone also added a comment to one of my articles saying that their tumble dryer caught fire whilst left plugged in but not running.

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Reduce Risk

Is it essential to turn off appliances at the socket?

Many millions of electrical goods and appliances are left permanently plugged in. It’s extremely rare for anything bad to happen. But if it’s not really any trouble to turn off the wall socket or unplug the appliance when you’ve finished using it – then why not?

This is what I do

My own washing machine and tumble dryer are in our garage. They are very much out of sight. We always try to remember to turn both of them off at the socket when we have finished using them. Fortunately, this is pretty easy as both sockets are easily accessible just above the appliances..

Our dishwasher on the other hand is a built-in appliance in our kitchen. The socket for the dishwasher is located behind a load of pots and pans in the bottom of a cupboard and behind a back panel. It is accessible, but only with a fair amount of effort. Therefore unfortunately we never turn it off at the socket.

If we ever did have a fire we would no doubt seriously regret that. But as you can imagine it is a lot of extra messing about with an appliance that is used virtually every day. We all have to make these kind of judgement calls. The risk is not great, but is undeniably there.

So if it is easy to turn off the appliance at the wall socket then why would you not? If it is quite difficult then it is understandable that you don’t. But is it possible to rearrange things to make the wall socket more accessible? With my own dishwasher I could, with a fair bit of effort, rearrange everything so that the microwave is plugged into this socket and the dishwasher into a separate one above the worktop. This, is something I need to do.

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13 thoughts on “Should you turn off appliances at the socket when not in use?”

  1. What am I not understanding say that ” With my own dishwasher I could, with a fair bit of effort, rearrange everything so that the microwave is plugged into this socket and the dishwasher into a separate one above the worktop. This, is something I need to do” but then you’d have microwave plugged in all the time instead of dishwasher.. is that better? Seems to me you’re just switching one out for other. Explain?

  2. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Elles. It’s a less of two evils type of thing, but there is an argument that both could / should be turned off. Microwaves are one of our appliances that are meant to be left switched on – although that doesn’t mean there is no risk. They have a clock, plus it’s something that’s in use many times a day. Ideally it could be switched off. But I’d rather switch off the dishwasher if it’s down to choosing one of the two.

    Essentially there are many appliances that are left permanently on. Fridges in particular are a genuine concern of mine after many have caught fire (including the flat at Grenfill). But there’s nothing we can do about fridges and freezers, they have to be left on. So that’s a risk we have no option about. Other things like clock radios, kettle, PVR recorders and many other products are all usually left plugged in all the time.

    There is a theoretical risk to them all but we can’t become paranoid about it. So certain things like the TV, washing machines, dishwashers, tumble dryers etc can be turned off to reduce risk because it’s not usually much trouble to do so.

  3. Miriam Kearney

    In India I stayed at a ‘expat’s condo for a while and every plug had a switch to control it. I thought maybe they thought that would save energy, I didn’t think of possible fires.

    My question to you is would it save energy to put switches on plugs and switch them off when not in use. It wouldn’t be a hassle to turn a switch on when I want to use the Microwave if it were easy to reach, same for dishwashers. I could do without all those little green lights on all day and I have other clocks.

    I can see how to do this with appliances that run on regular voltage but could I put a switch on the dryer? the stove?

    Thanks for all that you do. I find your articles very interesting and I always learn something.

  4. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Thanks Miriam. Although the electricity runs into the appliance, if nothing is operating then no electricity is used. It’s the same principal as water running through pipework in our house. If no tap is turned on the water just stays there under pressure. If an appliance has a neon light or clock then yes it will be using small amounts of electricity but very small. So small as to be hardly noticeable unless quite obsessive about it.

  5. You could turn everything off and then there is never any danger, however what you are really trying to do is to mitigate a possible hazard. If you break down the various parts I don’t think that the hazards usually are as dangerous as many think. Many household electrics you just cannot get to easily and many items run during the night. When I was in IT our servers, IT switches, routers etc were running 24/7 all year round and much of that time nobody was in attendance. That’s the same as your fridge and freezer

    Probably the biggest issue is when we overload a socket or plug, or when the cable becomes defective. That will normally show up during use rather than when out of use other than a defective cable. Normally as long as you have circuit breakers they will trip.

    When you come to the washer, drier, or dish washer it all depends if you have a hard or soft power switch. With the hard switch the power is switched off completely this may be via a power switch or indirectly via the programme control. With a soft switch you are toggling it off and on electronically so there is power going to that part of the circuit board continuously that normally implies a transformer, voltage regulation/conversion and AC to DC conversion. Anything that is timer or remotely controlled normally needs soft switching. Most time issues with the circuit board, motors, etc appear when the item is actually running and therefore we would never leave it running when we were not there. This is totally contrary to how modern equipment is intended to be used and modern households work.

    The big issue is down to manufacturing or design flaws and though there will always some problems there appear to be too many, particularly with washers and driers. This leads me to believe that some manufacturers are so keen to keep prices down that they don’t put enough thought into the design, what temperatures, both ambient and generated, they product will need to handle over a given time, and movement causing abrasion, loose connectors, etc. Due to the fact these do not appear to be picked up during testing that this is either insufficient or comprehensive testing is not undertaken. What would be interesting is to know what had been discovered in their own tests.

  6. Thank you Andy for your advice its a shame that you don’t write more often I really enjoy reading the advice that you give. Once again thank you….Roger.

  7. It’s been a long time since the last comment so hoping you’re still around. ;). What I’m understanding is that it’s ok to unplug a washing machine and dryer when not in use for 5-6 days? Our outlets are quite old as well as dryer, washer is 3 years old. I’d like to use the available outlet in the garage for my pet heater at night for our stray cat. Low voltage for the heater btw. Please advise if I’m correct. We’re in the U.S. so also have a special circuit just for those 2 appliances. Thank you very much.

  8. Andy Trigg (Whitegoodshelp)

    Hello Shani. I don’t know of any washing machine that needs to be left plugged in. We turn our washing machine off at the socket every time we have finished using it. However, it is very easy for us because the wall socket is just above the washing machine and very easy to access.

    The chances of anything going wrong if the washing machine is turned off but still left plugged in are very remote. But if it is convenient to switch off at the socket it is definitely best practice.

  9. My son’s washing machine plug is near outlet pipe behind washing machine and inaccessible without removing worktop above it .Is this just bad electrical work or what???

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