Take a closer look and consider repair for wires and plugs that are hot to the touch.
Hot wires are usually caused by circuit overload, faulty wiring, or a loose connection.
If an outlet is smoking hot or emitting sparks, call a local emergency crew immediately.
Picture this: You reach behind your toaster to unplug it, and the plug is suspiciously warm. You’re likely wondering, “Is it dangerous if a plug gets hot?”
You use electrical appliances daily to heat up food, entertain, and charge electronics. And 99% of the time, the cord feels normal to the touch—the same as it does when not plugged in. So if you touch a plug or cord in an outlet that feels warm or hot, there’s likely a problem. Let’s review the dangers associated with plugs getting hot when plugged into an outlet, how to stop it, and how to prevent it from happening again.
Is it Dangerous If a Plug Gets Hot?
The simple answer is yes—hot plugs are a clear warning sign of danger. Practicing safety with electrical wiring and outlets is crucial. If your plug or cord is hot, this is potentially very hazardous and can significantly increase the risk of an electrical fire or shock. And when faulty plugs are near any flammable materials, such as furniture, curtains, or wood, these can ignite. Problematic plugs and electrical outlets that aren’t working can also damage the wiring within your walls, and any insulation surrounding them.
A note on safety: If you move into a house with outlets that have burn marks, do not plug anything in until you hire a local licensed electrician to assess them.
Why Cords and Plugs Get Hot
It’s not uncommon for a plug to become somewhat warm from electricity running through it, but the body should never get hot. When your cord or plug does heat up, here are some possible reasons:
Overheating due to circuit overload: Plugging multiple appliances into outlets that are on the same series will overload the circuit. If this happens, it can cause a breaker to trip or an outlet to overheat.
Faulty wiring: The pressure from one wire to another can cause the outlet to get hot, even if you're not using that specific socket.
Loose connection: A loose connection can produce dangerous heat from other wires, often damaging the outlet or plug.
Dust and debris build-up: A common electrical issue with older homes is dust and debris buildup from electrical wiring that hasn’t been updated in several decades. There may be a short circuit within the socket, which can spark fire when combined with dust and debris. If that’s the case, it’s a clear sign to upgrade your electrical system.
Device chargers with internal transformers: The voltage supply input for phone chargers, computer chargers, cordless drills, and printers can make the power adapter and outlets warm, but never hot. If your device has an internal transformer unit and is hot to the touch, unplug it until it cools down.
How to Fix a Hot Electrical Outlet
If you suspect your plug is faulty due to overheating, there are some steps you can take to stop a plug from overheating. Keep in mind that hot plugs and outlets indicate a more serious electrical problem that will likely require the help of a professional electrician.
1. Turn Off the Circuit Breaker
If you discover a hot plug in your home, it’s essential that you eliminate its power source as quickly as possible. Start by opening your circuit breaker and locating the breaker for the outlet in question. Then, turn off the breaker that powers the hot outlet.
2. Unplug Everything In the Hot Outlet
Now that you’ve shut off the power connected to the hot outlet, carefully unplug everything from it, especially devices with a transformer like an air conditioner. Keep in mind that the plugs are likely still warm, so wear protective gloves during this step.
3. Check Other Outlets With a Utility Meter
To ensure there aren’t any other hot outlets in that room or home, check how much energy your appliances are taking out of the circuit with a utility meter. Different gauges help to avoid overheating wires and later damage.
While there are several types of outlets, standard outlets should not draw more than 80% of the circuit's energy at any given time. The extra 20% is a reserve for power surges and tripped fuses. When you are drawing too much power from a circuit, the fuses will trip, and you’ll have to reset it.
The electrical code sets the wire gauge for a maximum current flow:
Residential 120-volt circuits use wiring with an indicator of 14-gauge.
Circuits drawing more than 15 amps must switch to 12-gauge wire.
240-volt circuits and higher current loads need the thickest wires available.
4. Hire an Electrician to Inspect the Outlet
Unless you’re a licensed electrician, you should hire a local electrician for any home task involving electricity. Electricians have the tools, knowledge, and safety materials necessary to assess your home’s connections and decide what repairs are needed. Plus, they can determine whether the problem is isolated to the hot outlet or part of a larger electrical issue. The average cost of hiring an electrician is $350, depending on the severity of the electrical problem and its location.
If you notice this happening late at night, or if the outlet is smoking hot or emitting sparks, call a local emergency electrician immediately. It's possible that there is a fire behind the wall, and you need to act fast before it becomes dangerous.
Frequently Asked Questions
To prevent a plug from overheating, always ensure that the electrical load connected to the plug does not exceed the plug's capacity. If the plug feels hot to the touch or emits a burning smell, immediately shut off the circuit breaker and unplug all devices from the hot outlet. Prevent electrical fires by avoiding using extension cords or adapters with the plug, as they can cause it to overheat due to increased resistance. Additionally, ensure that the plug is properly inserted into the outlet and that the outlet is not damaged or loose.
Yes, hot outlets can cause a fire. When an outlet becomes hot, it means there’s an electrical problem, such as an overloaded circuit, loose connections, or a faulty component. The heat generated by these issues can cause the outlet to catch fire, especially if it’s near flammable materials such as curtains, furniture, or paper. If you notice that an outlet is hot to the touch, turn off the power to the circuit, unplug any devices connected to it, and consult a qualified electrician for next steps.
If your plug feels hot to the touch, it’s likely a sign of an electrical issue that needs immediate attention. Check for signs of melting or discoloration around the plug, as well as any burning smells or smoke. If you notice any of these signs, immediately unplug any devices and do not use the outlet again until it’s been inspected by a qualified electrician.