How to Fix a Smoking Electrical Outlet

March 1, 2020

Have you ever glanced at an outlet and noticed wisps of smoke coming from it? That’s an obvious sign that something is definitely not right with your electrical system. In some cases, a smoking outlet is completely harmless, but in other situations, it can be downright dangerous. Here’s what you can do to address the problem as quickly and safely as possible.

Take Precautions in Case of Fire

The first thing you should do is locate all your family members and pets, and ensure they can leave the house quickly and easily if needed. This step is important because in rare cases, a smoking outlet can be a sign of a fire in another room or behind a wall. Therefore, before you get into fixing anything or considering repairs, you need to take a few basic safety measures.

Start by quickly glancing in all rooms around the wall with the smoking outlet to look for visible flames or excessive amounts of smoke. If you do not see any visible signs of fire, gently touch the wall around the outlet to see if it is hot. This can mean that the fire is actually inside the wall.

If you see any signs that there is a fire somewhere in or near the outlet, then you need to deal with the fire before addressing the outlet. For smaller fires, you may just be able to spray it with a basic fire extinguisher. However, it can be hard to reach the source of the fire if it is inside the wall. In these cases, exit the building and call the fire department before you begin focusing on fixing the outlet.

Turn Off the Circuit

If there is not any immediate danger from a fire, then you can take some other steps to address the outlet problem instead. Turning off the circuit breaker is a good place to begin because it will keep your smoking outlet problem from getting worse. Go to your circuit breaker and turn off the breaker for the area where smoke is coming from. If you are not sure, you can just turn off all the breakers to your house.

Once the breakers are off, carefully unplug anything plugged into the smoking outlet. Keep in mind that they may be hot if they were involved in the issue that caused the smoking. Check these wires carefully for corrosion or damaged connections since this can give you a clue about what caused the smoking to begin. Do not plug anything back into the outlet or turn the circuit back on until the problem is addressed.

Determine the Cause

Once you have dealt with immediate damage control for the outlet, you can move on to actually repairing it. To figure out what needs fixing, you will need to discover what caused the smoking in the first place. Once the power is off, remove the outlet cover and take a look inside.

In some cases, the problem can be as simple as dust or dirt inside your outlet, which can cause a short circuit. Over time, heat can build up, until smoke or a fire occurs in the dust. If this is the cause of your smoke, you may notice a lot of debris coating the outlet, especially when you look inside the holes.

Another common and fairly simple-to-repair problem is overloaded outlets. You can check to see if this is the problem by seeing how many amps you need to run all the items plugged into the smoking outlet. If the number is more than 15 or 20 amps, you may be overloading the circuit. Most circuit breakers will trip when this happens, but if they don’t, extra heat may be generated, causing smoking or fires.

There are also all sorts of wiring and electrical problems inside an outlet that can cause smoking. Some common issues include:

  • Corroded outlet connections
  • Loose outlet connections
  • Unattached electrical wires
  • Damaged electrical connections
  • Faulty grounds

Signs of these causes typically include wiggly outlets, wires without an obvious place to connect, and corrosive buildup near the outlet. However, it is possible that a wiring problem has occurred even if you do not notice any signs. In cases where the outlet just seems to be smoking for no actual reason, wiring is typically at fault.

Try Some Basic DIY Fixes

If you think the cause of the smoking outlet is something basic like debris buildup or an overloaded outlet, you can try fixing it yourself. Start by making sure the power is still turned off. Then use a warm, damp cloth to scrub at the area around the outlet. Thoroughly dry the outlet with a hairdryer or compressed air can to finish removing dust. If there is corrosion on the outlet connections, use some white vinegar to clean the outlet — this weak acid will help dissolve corrosion.

For overloaded outlets, the basic solution is just to quit plugging in as many items and avoid using chains of power strips to power multiple items. However, this is just a short term solution. If you routinely need to use many devices on the outlet, it may be wise to talk to an electrician about rewiring parts of your home.

After you try these basic DIY fixes, you can try turning the outlet back on again and testing it. However, exercise caution and keep an eye on the outlet. For the first several hours, check on the outlet regularly and do not leave it unattended. If it keeps smoking or does not seem to be functioning properly, turn off the breaker again and get professional help.

Know When to Call an Electrician

In many cases, a smoking outlet is not something you can fix yourself unless you are a licensed electrician. Therefore, an important part of fixing any smoking outlet is knowing when to get professional help. Wiring can get very complex, so things like replacing the outlet may be difficult for the average homeowner. Even if you have some experience handling wiring, any work that requires you to start interacting with the main service paneling can be quite dangerous.

Typically, any time a smoking outlet is related to a damaged outlet, loose wiring, or broken connections, a professional electrician’s assistance is very useful. You should also get professional help if you have no clue what caused the smoking in the first place. There are all sorts of potentially dangerous and complex electrical issues that can cause smoking, so it is helpful to get input from someone who knows all the ins and outs of residential wiring.

At Brennan Electric in Seattle and Lynnwood, WA, we have knowledgeable technicians who can help diagnose and fix the problem behind your smoking outlets. We can also help you with running generators, installing lights, repairing damaged wiring, and a variety of other electrical services. We have an A+ BBB rating and have been Angie’s List Super Service Award Winners for 13 years. To get help with your property’s electrical system, call us now.

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