How To Tell If A Ceiling Fan Capacitor Is Bad (5 Telltale Signs)

Ossiana Tepfenhart
by Ossiana Tepfenhart
Your ceiling fan capacitor is what makes your fan spin and run unless it is damaged. There are several key signs to look for in a bad ceiling fan capacitor, such as a burning smell or frayed wires. Whether it be identifying, fixing, or replacing parts, let’s take a look at what you should do when you have a faulty ceiling fan capacitor.

Ceiling fans are one of the most popular ways to cool down homes outside of a standard HVAC system, and it’s easy to see why. Ceiling fans are easy to control, add a nice rustic flair to your home, and also can help move around air. Unfortunately, tech is only good when it works, and that includes ceiling fans. One of the more common problems deals with a bad capacitor. So, how do you diagnose it?

You can tell that a ceiling fan capacitor is bad if the case is melted and burnt, or if the circuitry is frayed. Set a multimeter to OHMs, connect it to the capacitor’s terminals, and look for low readings that indicate that it is bad. A bad capacitor can often point to other problems within the ceiling fan, and you may need to replace it entirely.

Your ceiling fan capacitor is a major part of your ceiling fan’s design. Keeping a bad capacitor will render your fan totally dysfunctional, which will lead to major problems when you’ve got a hot day on your hands. Keep reading to find out how you can diagnose your ceiling fan’s capacitor.

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What Does Your Ceiling Fan Capacitor Do?

There isn’t just one capacitor in a typical ceiling fan. There are two. One is a “Start” capacitor and the other is a “Run” capacitor. Both tend to do the same thing for different issues. One ceiling fan capacitor is there to help jump-start the fan’s phase shift, while the other capacitor is expected to encourage a phase shift in the fan’s windings. It starts a magnetic flux.

If it sounds like Greek to you, you’re not alone. It can be confusing. In other words, it helps make your ceiling fan run properly. That’s what you basically need to know.

How Do You Fix A Bad Ceiling Fan Capacitor?

You can’t fix a bad capacitor, per se. The only way that you can fix it is to replace the capacitor that has gone bad. It’s also worth noting that having a bad capacitor can lead to other electrical problems, too. More specifically, it can lead to burnt wiring around the capacitor. This can be a fire hazard or can just harm your ceiling fan’s efficacy.

In order to fully fix the problem, you need to inspect the wiring around the capacitor to ensure that it’s still in good condition. If you notice bad wiring, you should call a repairman to get the fan rewired.

Is A Bad Ceiling Fan Capacitor A Fire Hazard?

Though ceiling fan capacitors are designed to have some mild fire safety mechanisms in it, a burnt-out capacitor isn’t totally safe. Burned out capacitors can cause the electrical wiring to rise in temperature. Depending on how bad the temperatures rise, it could lead to electric burnout and a fire. This alone is reason enough to replace a capacitor the moment that you suspect that there’s a problem with it.

Symptoms Of A Bad Ceiling Fan Capacitor

A bad capacitor is no laughing matter. A bad capacitor can wreck your fan’s ability to function and can also be a major fire risk, depending on how it went bad. If you notice any of these issues, it’s time to take a closer look at your ceiling fan capacitor:

  • When you physically inspect the capacitor, you notice a lot of melting or signs of burning. A capacitor can literally “burn out” by overheating. If this occurs, then you might notice signs of burning or melting around the capacitor. This is an instant diagnosis of a bad capacitor in most cases.
  • The ceiling fan won’t turn on by a switch but will continue to spin if you push it by hand. This suggests that your capacitor is having a hard time with a phase shift.
  • Your ceiling fan isn’t spinning as fast as it once did. This isn’t always a sign of a bad capacitor, but can definitely warrant a test with a multimeter if you can’t pinpoint any other reason for it.
  • Certain speeds on your ceiling fan are slow or just don’t work. Since capacitors are in charge of phase shifts, this is almost always indicative that your capacitor is starting to go bad.
  • Your capacitor tests bad. If you took a multimeter to the capacitor and got a bad reading, then it’s clear that you need a new capacitor. Not sure how to do this? We’re going to get into this in the next section, don’t worry.

What Does A Ceiling Fan Capacitor Look Like?

A ceiling fan capacitor is a small black box inside your fan’s switch housing. If you are tinkering around with the capacitor, it’s a good idea to take a photo of it using your phone’s camera. Should you need to replace it, the label will give you all you need to know about the capacitor’s specs to get a good replacement.

How To Test Your Ceiling Fan Capacitor

The most obvious sign of a bad capacitor deals with a bad test from a multimeter. Of course, this requires you do to a little mechanical work. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Turn the power off to the fan. You want to make sure that the capacitor is totally discharged.
  • Grab an AVO multimeter. I prefer to use an analog multimeter, simply because it’s easier for most beginners.
  • Set your multimeter to ohms, at the highest possible setting. The 10,000 ohm to 1 million ohm setting is ideal for this since capacitors are meant to have ridiculously high readings.
  • Connect your capacitor’s terminals to the multimeter’s leads. Do this carefully, since it can lead to shocking results. You should connect red to the positive terminal and black to the negative one.
  • Check out the resorts. A shorted capacitor will have low readings, while an open capacitor won’t have any reading at all. Capacitors that are in good working order will have a high reading and will continue to inch towards infinity.

An Important Note About Ceiling Fan Capacitor Troubleshooting

If you were able to find out that your capacitor is bad, then that’s great. You know at least one thing that is wrong with your ceiling fan. However, that doesn’t mean that’s all that is wrong with your fan. Ceiling fan capacitor problems tend to have a lot of comorbid issues dealing with your fan’s electrical grid.

If you replace the ceiling fan capacitor but have bad electrical wiring elsewhere, you might end up wrecking that capacitor too. It also can be a fire hazard. This is why having a bad ceiling fan capacitor is enough reason to get an electrician to look at your ceiling fan. You never know what you will find when it comes to the wiring. If you feel like wiring may be an issue, inspect the surrounding areas.

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Related Questions

Can a ceiling fan work without a capacitor?

If you were hoping to remove the capacitor and just let the fan run on its own that way, you’re out of luck. A ceiling fan needs a capacitor in order to start and run. Without a capacitor, the motor and winding will not have the power necessary to keep the fan running. So, if you have a bad capacitor, you absolutely need to replace it.

What type of capacitor is using in a standard ceiling fan?

A typical ceiling fan will need a 2.2 mfd/ 250 Volt, electrolytic, non-polarized capacitor. If you aren’t sure what capacitor you need, take a look at the capacitor that you’re replacing and read the statistics that are printed on the capacitor itself. A quick look online can also help you find a cheap replacement with little issue.

Why isn’t my ceiling fan working?

If your ceiling fan won’t turn on, it could be a number of issues. Your ceiling fan motor could be bad. The wiring could be bad, or it could be a capacitor that has gone bad to the point of total dysfunction. Of course, sometimes, it’s not a matter of the fan itself. It could be that your fan isn’t getting power to it due to a tripped breaker, too.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart
Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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