Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The electric receptacle shown above was in a home where all the receptacles had been painted over several times. This one was the worst—with the bottom half of the outlet completely closed over with paint—but most of the others in the home were nearly as bad. 

    Here’s what we found when testing the receptacles:

  1. It was impossible to insert in a 3-prong plug into a few receptacles.
  2. Some receptacles would only accept the the 3-prong plug halfway and not make an electrical connection. Pieces of paint were pushed into the receptacle in the process of inserting the plug.
  3. Other receptacles would accept the 3-prong plug but had an unreliable connection, requiring jiggling the plug and holding it in one position to have the hot, neutral, and ground all connected at once.

    Here’s another example below, and it is also an older two-slot ungrounded receptacle.

    Any time there is a loose connection at a receptacle, there is the potential for arcing sparks that will start a house fire. Also, the National Electric Code (NEC) prohibits the painting of electrical equipment and, yes, a receptacle is electrical equipment. Here’s the citation from the code:

110.12(C) Integrity of Electrical Equipment and Connections. Internal parts of electrical equipment, including busbars, wiring terminals, insulators, and other surfaces, shall not be damaged or contaminated by foreign materials such as paint, plaster, cleaners, abrasives, or corrosive residues. There shall be no damaged parts that may adversely affect safe operation or mechanical strength of the equipment such as parts that are broken; bent; cut; or deteriorated by corrosion, chemical action, or overheating. 


    We have not yet seen paint contamination of the new tamper resistant receptacles. Theoretically, the shutters that cover the hot and neutral slots would keep paint out of two of these slots of the receptacle (not the ground slot), but it would also gunk-up the mechanism and make a safety device that is already difficult for some people to use even more so.

    So don’t do it. We call out paint contamination of receptacles as a defect in a home inspection report, along with most other home inspectors.

    Also, see our blog post Why is spray paint on the bus bars of an electric panel a safety defect?

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about ELECTRICAL WIRING:

Which house appliances need a dedicated electrical circuit?

Can a short circuit cause a high electric bill?

What is the maximum spacing requirement for securing NM-cable (nonmetallic-sheathed cable)?

Is it alright to just put wire nuts on the end of unused or abandoned NM-cable or wiring?

What causes copper wires to turn green or black in an electric panel?  

What are typical aluminum service entrance wire/cable sizes for the electrical service to a house?

Why is it unsafe to bond neutral and ground wiring at subpanels?

Should I get a lightning rod system to protect my house?

Why is a strain relief clamp necessary for the cord connection to some electric appliances?  

Does a wire nut connection need to be wrapped with electrical tape?

What is the minimum clearance of overhead electric service drop wires above a house roof?

What are the requirements for NM-cables entering an electric panel box? 

What is the color code for NM cable (Romex®) sheathing?

Why is undersize electric wiring in a house dangerous? 

What causes flickering or blinking lights in a house?

Why are old electrical components not always "grandfathered" as acceptable by home inspectors?

How can I find out the size of the electric service to a house?

Can old electrical wiring go bad inside a wall? 

What is an open electrical splice?

What are the most common electrical defects found in a home inspection? 

What is the life expectancy of electrical wiring in a house? 

What is an "open junction box"? 

How dangerous is old electrical wiring? 

What is a ground wire? 

I heard that aluminum wiring is bad. How do you check for aluminum wiring?  

What is "knob and tube" wiring?  

What is the code requirement for receptacle outlets in a closet?

    Visit our ELECTRICAL and APPLIANCES pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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