What appliances need special wall outlet plugs?

What appliances need special wall outlet plugs?

Many appliances sold today have different plugs than many of us are used to seeing. Learn what those differnt kinds are and where they are safe to use.

Photo Credit: Mindy W.M. Chung
By Kira Connally

Many appliances purchased today have different plugs than we are used to seeing. Some have three-prong plugs or polarized plugs, and some have those little black boxes attached. These boxes are sometimes attached to the plug or partway down the power cord and serve as transformers to convert the electrical current from A/C power to D/C power.

The three kinds of plugs:

Three-prong plugs have a ground pin. This pin grounds the electrical current to protect from the danger of electrical shock hazards. This pin should never been snipped off to fit into a two-prong outlet. Altering the plug can cause damage to the appliance, the outlet and increases the risk of fire or electrical shock. These plugs require a grounded wall outlet.

Polarized two-prong plugs have one plug blade shaped wider at the base than the other blade. These can only be inserted in the wall socket in one direction. Polarized plugs are designed for safety, and are becoming more common, especially on kitchen and personal hygiene appliances. These plugs should only be used in sockets made to accept polarized plugs.

Non-polarized two-prong plugs are the standard plugs most of us are familiar with. Many older homes are only fitted with outlets to accept non-polarized, older plugs. Non-polarized plugs can be used in polarized outlets, while polarized plugs cannot be used in non-polarized outlets. Non-polarized plugs can fit into the wall socket in either direction, and provide no protection from electrical shock.

Appliances that may use a three-prong plug with grounding pin:

Clothes Washers and Dryers


Newer and large-screen television sets

Microwave Ovens

Electric Ovens

Power Strips used to extend the number of plugs on a socket

Universal Power Supplies (UPS) used to back up electric equipment during power spikes or outages.

Appliances that may have polarized plugs:

Hair Dryers

Electric Clippers or Shavers

Room-size Air Filters and Purifiers

Cordless Telephones

Charging Devices for small electronics, such as cell phones, PDA’s and rechargeable batteries

Power Tools

Small Kitchen Appliances, such as blenders, food processors, electric knives, toaster ovens, coffee makers, etc…

Office Electronics, like computers, printers, scanners,
copy and fax machines

Extension cords are commonly used to power a grounded three-prong plug into a two-prong socket. These are fine for temporary use, but can be dangerous when used long-term. Extension cords should never be left outdoors when connected to an indoor outlet, as when in use to power electric tools for use in the yard or garage. Remove the extension cord as soon as you are finished using it.

Extension cords should never be used to power permanent outdoor equipment like pool filtration systems, outdoor lighting or air conditioning units. An electrician can help you find safe, permanent solutions for powering these devices.

A better solution for outlet conversion is the use of an adapter. These are commonly sold for use overseas, and can be found in department and hardware stores. Power adapters or converters allow you to plug your device into the wall without modifying, and possibly damaging, your appliance.

Improper use of electricity can increase the risk or fire and electrical shock. Never modify a plug yourself or attempt to modify a wall socket. Never cut a cord, or attempt to remove a power transformer from a cord. Call a qualified or licensed electrician to assess your situation and make any necessary changes to your electrical outlets.

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