Why Does My Electrical Outlet Spark?

Margaret Wack
Written by Margaret Wack
Reviewed by Tyler Keezer
Updated February 3, 2022
closeup of electrical outlet in kitchen island with living room furniture in the background
Photo: Jason / Adobe Stock

Some outlet sparks are normal, but short circuits, water exposure, and age can all cause dangerous sparks

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If your electrical outlets are sparking, it could be a sign that there’s something wrong. Here's what you need to know about electrical outlets, why they spark, and when it’s time to call an electrician.

Why Do Outlets Spark When I Plug in an Appliance?

Outlets sometimes emit a small spark when you plug in an appliance. This spark is typically normal and comparable to static electricity. But of course, if a sparking outlet concerns you for any reason, don’t hesitate to call an electrician near you. You can book this service using an Angi Key membership. Instead of holding your breath every time you plug in your hairdryer and stressing about the outlet while you’re not home, the peace of mind from a service visit is probably well worth the cost.

The power running through the outlets in your home can produce a lot of current that can be dangerous if not properly used or maintained. It should easily flow through the available circuits in your home and back out to the main grid without interruption. The outlets in your home use this fast-moving current to provide you with the power you need.

When you plug an appliance in, some of the power moves into the device. When the energy suddenly diverts, there will be a quick draw on the available power, causing a brief spark. Once the electrons are flowing freely, there should be no reason for a spark to form.

In some cases, however, sparks can be more dangerous. With this in mind, it’s essential to be aware of the different reasons why an outlet might spark.

Reasons for Dangerous Sparks

While initial sparks are normal and usually harmless, there are a few reasons why your outlet might emit dangerous sparks, including short-circuiting, moisture, or age.

Short-Circuiting Outlets

If too much heat builds up in an outlet, it can melt the insulation that surrounds the wires and the outlet itself. As the wires become exposed, the chance for an electrical fire increases. When a device is plugged in, the electrons can leap to the wrong area and cause a serious spark called a short circuit. Short circuits are dangerous because they can cause electrical fires.

Wet Outlets

Water can also cause an outlet to spark and short out. Installing a special outlet known as a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) will cause the circuit to shut down rather than start a fire.

Old Outlets

Outlets gradually wear out over time. As the years pass, the connections will gradually loosen, increasing the chances that a short circuit will occur and start a fire. Appliance cords that are old and worn can also cause an outlet to spark.

Repairing Sparking Electrical Outlets

It’s normal for outlets to spark briefly every once in a while when you plug in an appliance. However, if your outlet sparks every time you plug something in, you might have a problem. Conducting appliance repairs, using power tools, and replacing lights can also cause dangerous electrical shocks if done incorrectly.

If you’re thinking of rolling up your sleeves and replacing an outlet yourself, you should make sure that you have the skills and knowledge required to complete the job safely. When you take shortcuts to fix electrical problems, you could create a far more dangerous situation.

Replacing an outlet isn’t difficult, but installing a GFCI outlet can be tricky and can cause problems further down the line if not done correctly. If you suspect a problem, you should get in touch with an electrician to discuss your options. If there’s a dangerous electrical situation in your home, an emergency electrician can provide immediate assistance.

closeup of three electrical outlets with black cord plugged in, with light blue wall and grey wood floors
Photo: klyuchinskaya / Adobe Stock

FAQs About Electrical Sparks

Is it dangerous if a plug sparks?

While a sudden tiny spark is normal when first plugging in an appliance if your plug regularly sparks or concerns you for any reason, you should have it inspected to make sure that it’s not at risk of causing an electrical fire.

What causes electrical sparks?

Short-circuiting outlets, water, age, and more can all cause electrical sparks. Simply plugging an appliance into an outlet can also cause a tiny electrical spark.

How do I fix a sparking outlet?

If your outlet is emitting dangerous sparks, you should replace it with a new outlet. If you have the experience and skill, you can replace an outlet yourself, but you should hire an electrician to complete the process if you’re not experienced with electrical repairs.

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