Whether you live in a house, apartment, condo, mobile home or dorm room, having enough electrical outlets to handle all of the accessories, appliances, and tools you need can be a challenge. And that’s when knowing how to use a power strip device safely sure comes in handy.
While one of these devices can offer a reasonable solution for too few wall outlets, it’s a mistake to rely on power strips too much. Or to use one incorrectly. For safety’s sake, never plug these items into a power strip.
You need ’em hot and ready to go. A power strip on the bathroom counter may seem like a godsend when you have only that one outlet.
Here’s the problem with that: Hairdryers, curling wands, and flat irons are required to produce heat, which means they pull large amounts of amperage to get them good and hot. Plugging into a power strip is just asking for trouble.
These types of hairdressing appliances must be plugged directly into a wall outlet and preferably one with a GFCI breaker to avoid danger should those tools accidentally be exposed water.
Refrigerator and freezer
These appliances pull too much current for a power strip because they are continuously cycling on and off. That will quickly overload a power strip. Refrigerators and freezers need to be plugged directly into a wall outlet that is dedicated to that single appliance. If you plug other appliances into that same outlet, provided it’s a duplex, you run the risk of tripping a breaker.
Seems pretty lightweight to heat up water, right? Not so fast. Most coffee makers need a good deal of amperage to turn gloriously roasted coffee beans into a hot beverage—more than a power strip can guarantee to deliver. Make sure you plug the machine directly into a wall outlet.
Here’s the clue: It has exposed wires inside those slots that heat up read hot. It takes a lot of electrical current to fire up those wires, which can easily overload a power strip. So no. Do not plug your toaster into an extension cord or power strip. Ditto for your toaster oven.
I agree that this is counterintuitive because wouldn’t you think a slow cooker uses microscopic bits of power? In this case, it’s not the amount of amperage but the length of time requiring continuous power. A power strip cannot guarantee to deliver that kind of energy. Plug the slow cooker safely into a wall outlet before you set it and forget it.
It seems like a minor appliance, right? Wrong! All of its miraculous features like defrosting, heating, cooking, and reheating require a lot of energy—far more than a power strip can offer. Your microwave oven needs its own dedicated wall outlet, too.
Like refrigerators and freezers, portable heaters cycle on and off. When they switch on, they take a tremendous amount of current—more than a power strip is up to delivering consistently and safely. We’re talking about dangerously overheating the system, which could result in a fire. Space heaters must always be plugged into their own wall outlet.
Another power strip
Power strips do not play well together. While it might seem smart to plug one power strip into another as a way of multiplying the number of outlets available, it’s really dumb—super dangerous and violates every fire safety code out there.
Quick Checklist of Do’s and Don’ts
Power strips are fine in moderation, and as long as you observe proper power strip safety. The folks at Kolb Electric offer us this handy Do and Don’t checklist so we can know when and how to use a power strip safely:
- Only use light-load appliances on power strips like computers, phones, lamps, clocks, etc
- Purchase power strips with an internal circuit breaker. This is a very important safety measure designed to prevent property loss and risks of fire.
- Use power strips sparingly. They aren’t designed to maintain a load for extended periods of time, and can overheat quickly if used too frequently.
- Never plug a power strip into another power strip (referred to in the industry as “daisy chaining”). Doing this is a great way to short out appliances, or drastically increase the risk of an electrical emergency.
- Avoid using power strips in damp or potentially wet areas. No kitchens, no utility rooms, and definitely no basements.
- Stop using a power strip if it feels hot. That isn’t supposed to happen!
- Never cover, staple, tack, or nail a power strip to anything. Covering can smother the strip, and provide ample flammable material in the event of failure. Stapling can harm the cords, making room for dangerous situations.
First published: 10-1-17; Revised & Updated 10-26-20