What happens if water gets in electrical outlet?

Water and electricity don’t mix. If water gets into an electrical outlet, it can cause a short circuit, electrocution, fire, and damage to the electrical system. Knowing what to do if this happens is critical for safety.

Can water damage an electrical outlet?

Yes, water can easily damage an electrical outlet and create a dangerous situation. Here’s why:

  • Water conducts electricity. If water gets inside an outlet, it can create a path for electricity to flow to the ground or power source.
  • This completes the circuit, allowing current to flow through the water. The result is a short circuit.
  • A short circuit can lead to overheating, sparking, electrocution if touched, or even fire.
  • Water can corrode and ruin the contacts and components inside the outlet.
  • Any amount of water can be dangerous. Even a small spill can travel down cords and into outlets.

Severity depends on amount of water and the power source. Large amounts of water from flooding paired with 220-240V supplies is extremely dangerous. But even a small splash into a 120V outlet can deliver a dangerous shock.

What happens when water touches a live outlet?

Here is exactly what happens if water makes contact with the live electrical parts of an outlet:

  1. The water acts as a conductor allowing electricity to flow from the live parts through the water.
  2. Current immediately flows from hot to neutral or ground as it takes the path of least resistance through the water.
  3. This rapid excessive flow of current results in a short circuit.
  4. Heat builds up quickly as the current flows. Enough heat can melt wires or components.
  5. The circuit breaker will trip or fuse will blow to stop the electricity flow if it detects a short.
  6. Sparks, arcing, or explosions may occur as the water boils and conducts current.
  7. Electrocution can occur if a person becomes part of the new circuit path.

The electricity must be turned off at the breaker before it’s safe to handle. Damage depends on factors like voltage and amount of water entering the outlet. Small splashes may only cause minimal damage while large amounts can destroy an outlet and connected wiring.

Dangers and risks of water in an electrical outlet

Water in an outlet presents several dangers:

  • Electrocution – The most immediate risk is electrocution if someone touches the energized water. This disrupts the heart rhythm which can be fatal.
  • Electric shock – Current flowing through the water can deliver a painful and hazardous shock.
  • Short circuit – Water creates a low resistance path causing a spike in current flow. This can overheat wires and components.
  • Fire – Heat from the short circuit can ignite flammable materials. Electrical fires spread rapidly.
  • Damage – Water can corrode or ruin an outlet’s contacts, wires, and components.
  • Power outages – Shorts and blown fuses can knock out power to parts of the home.

The level of risk depends on amount of water, length of contact, and if power source is turned off immediately. Large volumes of water pose the highest risk. But even a small amount on a live circuit can injure or kill someone.

Will a GFCI outlet trip if wet?

A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet is designed to trip and shut off electricity flow when it detects leaking current. However, results can vary depending on situation:

  • Small amounts of water may trip the GFCI right away before major damage occurs.
  • Slow moisture buildup may not trip it immediately, allowing corrosion over time.
  • Large volumes of water can short circuit and damage the outlet before the GFCI trips.
  • A GFCI only monitors leaking current on the circuit it protects. Water traveling back to the main breaker won’t trip the GFCI.
  • If water reaches live parts before the GFCI detects a problem, electrocution can still occur.

A GFCI outlet offers added protection but should not be relied upon to prevent electrocution from water contact. The electricity should still be turned off immediately.

Will the circuit breaker trip if an outlet gets wet?

A standard circuit breaker may trip if an outlet gets wet, but it depends on these factors:

  • Amount of water – A large amount is more likely to short and trip the breaker.
  • Outlet location – Water in an upstream outlet can short before reaching the breaker.
  • Breaker capacity – A very large short may trip instantly, smaller leaks may not.
  • Electrocution hazard remains even if the breaker trips quickly.
  • A GFCI breaker offers better water protection than a standard thermal-magnetic breaker.
  • A voltage spike can damage appliances before the breaker trips.

The circuit breaker serves as a safety net but should not be the primary defense. Shutting off the main breaker switch is the best way to isolate water from live electricity.

Should you remove plugs if outlets get wet?

Before touching any water-damaged outlets, these precautions are recommended:

  • Turn off the circuit breaker – This isolates the outlets from live power.
  • Unplug appliances – Removes power source for potential shorts. Use extreme caution not to touch plugs or outlets when wet.
  • Disconnect cords/cables from equipment to fully isolate.
  • Do not plug into outlets near water damage, even if the circuit is off. Internal shorts can re-energize.
  • Test outlets with a non-contact voltage tester before re-using, even if they appear undamaged.

Removing connections is wise to protect equipment and prevent re-energizing once power is restored. But risk of electrocution remains until the circuit is verified de-energized.

Is it OK to use electrical outlets near water?

It’s never advisable to use electrical outlets located close to water sources. This includes:

  • Outlets near sinks or tubs
  • Switches or outlets in bathrooms
  • Any outlets exposed to moisture
  • Outlets in basements prone to flooding
  • Circuits near water pipes that could leak

Even outlets not directly exposed to water can be compromised over time due to moisture in the air. Condensation from sinks, tubs, pipes, and leaks can travel along cords and into outlets.

Using GFCI protection for outlets near water is safer but still not foolproof. Keeping outlets isolated from any water contact is the surest way to prevent electrical hazards.

What should you do if an outlet gets wet?

If you discover outlets that have gotten wet, either from flooding, spills, or moisture exposure, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off power at the main breaker panel to isolate electricity.
  2. Unplug devices from outlets and disconnect any cords/cables.
  3. DO NOT touch outlets or cords while they are wet – risk of electric shock.
  4. Allow outlets to thoroughly dry out for 1-2 days before re-energizing.
  5. Have a qualified electrician inspect all outlets for damage before turning power back on.
  6. Only re-energize if outlets are deemed safe. Look for corrosion, damaged wiring, melted plastic, etc.

Wet outlets that have shorted will often show physical damage. But moisture can cause hidden dangers not visible to the eye. Always err on the side of caution if moisture is suspected.

Is it safe to use an outlet if a little water splashed on it?

No, it is generally not safe to use an outlet that has gotten wet, even if only a small amount of water splashed on it. Here’s why:

  • The water could have reached live components inside and created unseen damage.
  • Small amounts that evaporate quickly can still leave behind mineral deposits that corrode.
  • Any moisture reduces electrical resistance and can lead to arcing shorts.
  • You cannot visually inspect inside the outlet for damage.
  • Effects may not be immediately seen. Shorts can occur later when energized.

A splash on the outlet face may seem harmless, but moisture could have wicked deeper into the wiring. It is not worth the risk of electrocution. The outlet should be checked by an electrician before re-using.

What should you do if an extension cord falls into water?

If an extension cord has fallen into water, follow these important steps:

  1. Unplug it from the power source immediately.
  2. Retrieve it from the water safely without contacting the wet portions.
  3. Allow it to fully dry out for at least 1-2 days.
  4. Visually inspect it for damage before re-using.
  5. Discard it if any cracks, exposed wiring, corrosion, or melted areas are spotted.
  6. Do NOT plug it in if any defects are found.
  7. Have an electrician test it for safety if unsure.

An extension cord that has gotten wet poses the same risks as a wet outlet when energized. It’s not worth the risk of shock or fire. Defective cords should always be promptly replaced.

Can an outlet or cord still work after getting wet?

Possibly, but it really depends on these factors:

  • Amount of water exposure – The more water, the higher the risk of damage.
  • Drying time – Quick drying can sometimes save an outlet/cord.
  • Voltage level – Higher voltage equals greater short circuit damage.
  • Outlet condition – Cracks or corrosion increase danger of shorts.
  • Cord jacket damage – Cuts in the jacket expose dangerous wiring.

While outlets or cords may seem to work normally after a wet incident, problems can arise later. Short circuits may occur when re-energized as damage progresses over time.

Visually inspecting for defects is not enough. The safest option is to replace any outlets or cords that have gotten wet, or have an electrician verify safety if uncertain.

Can you get electrocuted from an outlet after unplugging device?

Yes, in some cases you can still get electrocuted or shocked from an outlet even after unplugging the device. Here’s why:

  • The device cord may have become compromised – damage can energize the prongs.
  • Moisture in the outlet can create short circuit paths.
  • Corroded contacts in the outlet may conduct electricity to the face.
  • Failing wiring in the home can re-energize an outlet unpredictably.
  • Voltage can be backfed from nearby live circuits.

Assuming an outlet is safe after unplugging the appliance is dangerous. There could be underlying faults. Outlets can appear benign while still carrying dangerous voltage, especially if moisture is present. Verify the outlet is fully de-energized before making contact.


Water and electricity are a hazardous combination. But the level of risk depends greatly on the amount of water and the speed of response.

Small splashes on an outlet face may cause minimal damage. But larger water volumes can destroy outlets, wiring, and anything plugged in. Shutting off the breaker immediately is crucial.

GFCIs add protection but should not be relied on as the sole defense. It’s critical to fully isolate electricity in any wet outlet event. Replace any damaged components and always have outlets checked by an electrician before re-energizing.

Being aware of the dangers and taking quick action can prevent electrocution, fire, and expensive damage to the electrical system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get electrocuted by touching a wet outlet?

Yes, you can potentially get electrocuted by touching a wet outlet, especially if you provide a path to ground for the electricity. Your body can conduct the electric current through the water to ground, resulting in lethal electrocution.

Does water conduct electricity better than metal?

No, water does not conduct electricity better than metal. Pure water is actually a very poor conductor. However, tap water and other impure water readily conducts electricity due to minerals and impurities that dissolve into electrically charged ions.

Can I get shocked by touching only one prong on an outlet?

Yes, it’s possible to get shocked from touching only one prong of an outlet, if your body provides a path to ground. The electricity only needs one conductive path through your body to shock, and ground can complete the circuit.

Is it safe to use hairdryer near a sink or bathtub?

No, it is not safe to use a hairdryer near a water source like a sink or bathtub. Hairdryers use high wattage that could electrocute if the appliance falls or gets splashed. All outlets near plumbing fixtures should have GFCI protection.

Why do outlets near water need a GFCI?

Outlets located near water sources require GFCI protection to help prevent electrocution. GFCIs monitor current flow and trip if any leaks through water are detected. However, they cannot prevent all electric shock incidents.

Key Takeaways

  • Water contacting live electrical outlets or cords can result in lethal electrocution.
  • Even small amounts of water can cause hidden damage not visible to the eye.
  • Turn off power at the breaker immediately if outlets get wet.
  • Do not touch or use wet outlets. Have an electrician inspect for safety.
  • Any cords or outlets compromised by water should be replaced.
  • Most important is to eliminate electricity contact as quickly as possible.