Can An Outlet Catch Fire With Nothing Plugged In?

Kirstin Harrington
by Kirstin Harrington

There are over 51,000 residential electrical fires every year. This results in around 500 deaths, over 1,400 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property damage. One question people often ask is, can an outlet catch fire with nothing plugged in?

An outlet can catch fire if nothing is plugged in due to faulty wiring, a wet or dirty outlet, or if you’ve just overloaded the outlet. If you recently unplugged something from the outlet, especially old fixtures or appliances, it could also be a fire hazard. Warning signs that an outlet can catch fire are flickering lights, burning smells, and the outlet is hot to the touch.

It’s essential to your well-being to be aware of the dangers and causes of electrical fires. Today we’ll talk about the most common reasons for house electrical fires and how to prevent them. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent electrical fires before they start.

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Most Common Reasons For An Outlet Catching Fire With Nothing Plugged In

Below you’ll find the five collective reasons that these awful and terrifying fires start. There are five fire prevention techniques to give you a practical way to stay safe. It’s a good idea to share these tips and tricks with anyone living in your home.

Worn-Out Electrical Outlets​

Faulty electrical outlets cause the majority of electrical fires. Even receptacles that are worn out or not properly grounded can drive one of these fires. There’s one main reason this happens: it all comes down to the wiring.

Over time, outlets and switches get worn down, and so does the wiring behind them. Wires can become loose, and if they break, they could easily cause an electrical fire.

This happens a lot in outlets that are used for larger appliances like your refrigerator or washing machine. These items draw a lot of power, and if there are any damaged cords or wiring, bad things could ensue.

Outdated Or Worn-Out Electrical Wiring​ Can Make An Outlet Catch Fire With Nothing Plugged In

Another common source of electrical fires is outdated wiring. If you’re living in a home that’s over 20 years old, it’s essential to check the wiring. Houses that are this old have a more challenging time supporting the average amount of wiring needed in a home.

Outdated wiring can’t handle the increase of power, resulting in wires becoming overheated. It can be hard to tell the state of the wiring in your house. There are a few things you can take note of that are signs the wiring needs a makeover.

  • Flickering lights or intermittent power outages.
  • Unexplained burning smells.
  • Appliances or electrical devices that feel excessively hot.
  • Frequently overloaded circuit breakers.
  • Shocks or sparks from appliances or outlets.

An electrician can replace any cords or wiring for you or you can do it yourself. If this isn’t done, exposed cords can spark and cause a fire, starting along the floorboards.

Cords And Electrical Circuit Overloads

One of the biggest mistakes most people do is use extension cords excessively. Having things like computers, televisions, and other appliances plugged in can overload a socket.

Doing this increases the risk of an electric fire in your home. While using extension cords isn’t a bad thing, you need to make a conscious effort to not overload them. Plug one thing in at a time and never leave it unattended.

Lastly, when it comes to extension cords, make sure they’re not kinked or smashed in any way. This can produce a lot of heat and could melt the insulation from the inside out.

Using Old Appliances Can Make An Outlet Catch Fire With Nothing Plugged In

Old appliances are another common cause of electrical house fires. When you pair them with an older home, a fire is bound to happen. Sometimes a simple electrical repair can’t fix the issues with appliances that are decades old.

This is because they aren’t up to standard when it comes to things like wattage usage and safety regulations. Anything that you can find in your kitchen that plugs in you should consider a fire hazard.

Let’s say you’re making a holiday dinner and have extra appliances you’re using. It’s a good idea to ensure that you plug each of them directly into outlets instead of power strips.

Call an electrician to install appliance-grade outlets designed for the kind of appliance and home that you have. Electricians can also install ground fault circuit interrupters that act as surge protectors to keep your house safe.

Misuse Of Light Fixtures

Light fixtures, lamps, and standard light bulbs can also cause electric fires in residential homes. One of the reasons this can happen is if you use a light bulb with a wattage that’s too high for the socket.

Never go over the recommended wattage amount. It’s important to know that light bulbs aren’t a one-size-fits-all device. Some folks will put a cloth over a lampshade to dim the light. Materials like these can easily heat up and cause a fire.

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What To Do If An Outlet Catches Fire With Nothing Plugged In?

Once you’ve determined the reason for your outlet catching fire with nothing plugged in, you can address the problem. Here are some tips and solutions for the common reasons mentioned above for an outlet catching fire with nothing plugged in.

What To Do With A Worn-Out Outlet

Fix and replace any loose outlets as soon as you become aware of them. It might be a simple repair, like tightening the wire nuts, or you might need to replace the whole outlet.

What To Do With Faulty Wiring

The first thing you can do is find an electrician who follows the National Electric Code. They can assess your home’s wiring situation and fix any issues. You could also hire an expert to check the wiring, power panels, and wall outlets.

Lastly, ensure that you have working smoke detectors and a handy fire extinguisher that’s easily accessible. This might seem like a no-brainer but can save lives in a moment of danger.

Proper Use Of Cords And Light Fixtures

If you have to use extension cords, opt for heavy-duty ones. Lay the cord flat out on the floor where no one will step on it. Avoid placing it near rugs or any bedding.

Remember that you should only use cords like these temporarily. Don’t use them for an extended amount of time. Have an electrician come in and place an outlet wherever you need one.

Make sure that you screw all the lightbulbs in your home into proper sockets. Knowing what wattage can go in what light fixtures can help prevent a dangerous fire. Avoid placing anything, no matter the material, on top of a lampshade.

If you have a light that’s flickering, rule out the issue and fix it immediately. Avoid using extension cords for lamps or any lighting fixtures as well. Lastly, keep lighting far enough away from things like bedding, tapestries, and rugs.

Assess Your Appliances

If you need more outlets in your kitchen, have an electrician install appliance-grade outlets. You can also inquire about installing ground fault circuit interrupters. These act as surge protectors to keep you and your loved ones a bit safer.

You can also check cords for heat or exposed wiring. If any of your appliances is making a strange noise, have it repaired or replaced immediately. Another thing you can do is purchase devices that are approved for current safety measures.

Related Questions

Is covering an outlet a fire hazard?

Inserting an outlet cover on an unused receptacle isn’t a fire hazard. In fact, using these when you have small children in your home is a safety precaution. If you have a loose-fitting plug, it’s best to get an outlet cover for it while waiting to repair it.

What does an electrical fire smell like?

You can smell an electrical fire. There will be an acrid smell that is similar to burning plastic. However, the majority of electrical fires are actually odorless.

If you smell something, get your loved ones out of the house immediately. Experts say you’re lucky to have the heads up of a smell, rather than having no warning sign at all.

Can I still use a burnt outlet?

You shouldn’t use a burnt outlet because the connection could be faulty. If the outlet has any burn marks on it or smoke is coming from it, you need to replace it. Don’t plug anything into it to test it, as that could start an electrical fire.

Kirstin Harrington
Kirstin Harrington

Kirstin is a passionate writer who loves helping people learn new things when it comes to home improvement. When she's not behind a keyboard, she enjoys DIY projects, crafts, spending time with her pets, and making videos. She hopes that with all she writes, someone is finding a solution to their home improvement needs.

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