The Dangers of Water and Electricity – How To Avoid The Risks

Water and electricity are deeply integrated into our everyday routine. However, when they are mixed together, they can lead to consequences. In one blink of an eye, water and electricity can cause injury, fire, and even death. 

So, it’s pertinent to understand the dangers of water and electricity and what you can do to prevent its consequences. 

checking water from tap

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What Happens When Electricity Touches Water

Water that comes from the tap or nature is not 100% pure. It contains ions that are excellent electricity conductors. In solid form, these ions are generally harmless and are in fact just your ordinary table salt.

But once they are dissolved in water, their positive and negative ions separate and will become pathways for electricity to flow through the water and your body. 

This is why water that comes out of your tap, the sky and the water in the ocean are all excellent conductors of electricity.

Fun fact: Water is not really a conductor; it is actually an insulator in its purest form. You can take a bath using distilled water because it is neutral and free from ions and impurities. 

Distilled water (water that has been purified and does not contain anything but h20) does not conduct electricity at all. But when the water comes in contact with the body, small traces of ions from the skin can turn the water into a conductor. 

The Consequences Of Mixing Water And Electricity

Everybody experiences a minor electrical shock from time to time. The tingling sensation goes away in a few minutes and is usually not life-threatening. But throw water into the mix, and it can lead to short circuits, fires, and fatality. 

Fire Hazard

A picture of burned electrical outlet

You usually put out fires with water, right? But in the case of electrical fires, water actually makes things worse. The result of water contact with wiring ranges from sparks or short circuits to a blazing flame. In 2019, a coffee spill in an aircraft cockpit caused some electrical burning smell and smoke. 

If water enters a live electric outlet, it’s a different story. Water or moisture in the outlet rapidly increases the current. If you attempt to plug an appliance, it could produce enough sparks to melt the wires’ insulation cover and start an electrical fire.

Short Circuit / Appliance Damage 

An electrician checking washer

If you have an appliance that stopped working out of the blue, the cause may be water or moisture in the outlet. Water increases the conductive surface area, which speeds up the current flow into your appliance, causing it to short-circuit. 

Direct exposure of plugged or live appliances to water also causes short-circuiting. This happens because new electrical pathways form where they shouldn’t. 

Injuries 

An electrician lying on the floor

Injuries can vary from a simple tingle sensation and muscle spasms to more serious health concerns like cardiac arrest and burns. The effect of electric shock depends on the intensity of the current. 

Here is a handy table to give you a better of what kind of injuries you can sustain from exposure to electrical shocks.

Current strengthEffects
1 mATingling sensation
5 mAMore extreme tingling sensation but is still generally harmless
10-20 mAMuscle spasms
100 mATissue and organ burns
100-300 mAArrhythmia, fatal if prolonged

Electric Shock Drowning 

A person drowning

Swimming is an all-time favorite pastime. But in some cases, it can turn traumatic in the most unexpected way. 

For the Kinley family of California, a regular day at the pool turned into a nightmare when ten-year-old McKenzie became a victim of the silent killer called Electric Shock Drowning. She was paralyzed with a low-voltage current while swimming. As a result, she couldn’t swim out of the water and drowned.

Unfortunately, this phenomenon happens more frequently now that lights and electric cables run near swimming areas. The worst part is that you can’t tell whether the water is safe to swim in or not. You don’t feel the shock instantly since the current is usually low in voltage. By the time you realize something is wrong, you can’t do anything about it. 

Death

Every year hundreds of people die from accidents involving water and electricity. And, it only takes a blink of an eye to happen. 

The primary factor at play is water’s liquid state. Its particles flow freely and spread over the surface of the skin. That means if your entire body is wet and you accidentally come in contact with electricity, the current will have a wider surface area to travel.  

That’s what happened to a middle-aged woman found dead in her bathroom. The flowing current in the showerhead caused a shock to her hands and wet body as she was standing on the equally wet tiles. Her body acted as the ground line between the electric current and the floor.

Water heaters and other household appliances usually conduct high-voltage electricity, enough to stop your heart. In some cases where first aid is quickly administered, people survive electrocution. But more often than not, it proves fatal, especially when water is involved. 

Safety Tips When Using Electricity Near Water


No homeowner wants to experience that jolt of electric shock when doing mundane tasks like drying your hair or using your plugged smartphone, but it can happen – far more than you could think of.  Before you (or your family) becomes a victim, here are some safety tips when using electricity near water. 

Keep Your Hands Dry

a person using a hand towel to dry hands

It’s always best to dry your hands before handling anything electronic. Appliances, especially those made with metal, are good conductors. If it has poor insulation, all it takes is one light touch, wet hands, and you can wound up on the floor. When your hands are dry, you are more resistant to electrical current. 

Install Outlets Away From Water Sources

Make sure outlets are away from sinks and faucets. If that is not possible, do not fully open the faucet. Keep the water low to medium to avoid it from splashing and reaching the outlet. 

It can be tricky in areas like kitchens and bathrooms where water and electricity work closely together. But you can install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), which interrupts and cuts the flow of electricity whenever there is a sudden surge. 

Have Your Electrical System Checked Regularly

an electrician installing a GFCI

Having your electrical system checked at least once a year is an excellent way to prevent electrical fires. If you live in a flood or typhoon-prone area, you’ll need more frequent maintenance by professional electricians. If you notice lightbulb fluctuations or sparks in outlets, have it checked right away.

Don’t Keep Electric Devices Plugged

a person unplugging a power cable

Aside from saving on your electric bill, unplugging your appliances and electronics can prevent fires and emergencies. Only plug in the appliance you need when you need it. Even when water isn’t running, moisture in the air can accumulate on your walls and drip down to outlets, and damage plugged appliances.

Opt For Battery-operated Devices During Emergencies

You may be one of the lucky ones to still have electricity during an earthquake or hurricane. But it’s safer to shut off your electric panel and run off batteries or generators.  

Main power lines are volatile during emergencies like thunderstorms. Plus, there is a considerable probability that lightning can hit an electric pole, causing a surge of electricity to burst through the powerlines and into your electrical outlets. 

Look for Leaks 

Water can makes its way through nooks and crannies of the siding or windows and reach electrical outlets and switches. This water exposure can lead to rust and corrosion that resists electrical current flow and cause heat buildup. 

So make sure your house is sealed from your windows, walls, ceiling, and roofs. Basements and attics should also be on your must-check places.

Avoid DIY Electrical Projects

Sometimes you just need to leave things to the professionals. No matter how many DIY electrical wiring videos you watch, sometimes you just need to leave things to the professionals. Plus, hiring an electrician can even save you from electrical problems in the long run.

Don’t use frayed cords

A person attempting to touch a frayed cord

Electric cords and wiring have proper insulation to prevent minor shocks and electrocution. However, once it becomes frayed, it disrupts the proper electricity flow, leading to heat and current dips and spikes that can cause electrical fires. 

FAQ

How Does Electric Current Affect The Body?

Electric current affects the body in different ways depending on the amperage it’s exposed to. Low-amperage current like that flowing through your phone charger can feel like a tingle or an uncomfortable buzz. The body can tolerate a few mAh of current without causing internal injuries. However, going into the tens and hundreds mAh mark causes changes in your heart rhythm and can be lethal with prolonged contact.   

Does Distilled Water Conduct Electricity?

No, distilled water doesn’t conduct electricity because it doesn’t contain any minerals or ions. However, if you bathe in pure or distilled water, traces of salt from your skin will dissolve, contaminating the water. If a live wire falls into your tub of distilled water with you in it, you’re literally toast. Even in minute concentrations, your natural sweat mixed with distilled water provides enough ions to conduct electrical current. 

What Do You Do If An Electrical Outlet Gets Wet? 

If an electrical outlet gets wet, the first thing you should do is cut the power to the outlet. GFCI outlets usually do this automatically, but sometimes, they don’t kick in right away. To be sure, turn off your breakers. When you’re sure that electricity is off, you can try to dry the outlet. 

Depending on how wet it is, you might be able to dab it with a towel or cotton swabs and then let it air dry. But for soaked outlets, you’re better off calling an electrician because they may need to pop the outlet off the wall to determine the gravity of the situation.

About The Author

Aaron is the founder of and Essential Home and Garden. He likes to spend his spare time with his family, and doing DIY projects in the home and garden.

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