0

Several days ago, GFCI receptacle in kitchen blew while Windex'ing ants, because they were coming out of the prong holes. My middle name is not Darwin, needless to say. 20-40 second period of rapid clicking, followed by a pop sound, followed by a puff of smoke, but no odors of burnt anything. Removed cover plate, all looked okay. Not sure what else is on that circuit. Haven't plugged in anything. All other outlets and loads working 100% correctly (which is odd if something else is on that circuit).

If that GFCI were the only load/receptacle on that circuit (granted that is unlikely), how urgent, if at all, is replacement?


Edit from OP:

I plugged a floor lamp into the GFCI. The outlet works. I found the controlling circuit breaker. No other kitchen services are on that circuit. The circuit appears to be dedicated to that one outlet, however, ts just a normal wall outlet about 8" above the counter, under the upper cabinets. The microwave is above the range and is on a different circuit.

I'll still DIY replace the outlet, but my take at this point is the the GFCI worked as designed (clicking noise), and that the puff of smoke was not smoke, but shorting drop of windex vaporizing away, which leads me to conclude, in short, that there was/is no urgency and that replacing the GFCI is highly likely to be overkill.

  • Is your middle name David and first name Darwin? Just teasing. To your question - since it sounds you are telling us you got a liquid in the outlet, and the outlet blew, it tells us that the GFCI no longer functions. Do you know what circuit this is on? Do you know what breaker controls it? Get a meter or a ac pen light/indicator and be sure you turn off power to the outlet. Even if you are not using it, liquid inside of it can aid in starting a fire, even if the GFCI itself and the outlet it powers is dead. – noybman Sep 9 '17 at 21:31
  • Its between a few days since Darwin was short changed, so lets assume it is dry inside. We'll be diy replacing it regardless due to puff of smoke, and won't be using it until after replacement. Rarely use it anyway, so waiting is not an inconvenience. Question is how urgent? Do they fry into an ongoing fire hazard? – David Sep 9 '17 at 22:05
  • You let the magic smoke out, sorry it must be replaced. – Tyson Sep 10 '17 at 0:10
  • 1
    @JimStewart - that doesn't sound like a good idea. Repairing a safety appliance (that's not meant to be repairable) after it's already failed once due to misuse sounds like a good way for that device to fail to operate correctly when you need it. Turn off power to it and spend the $15 on a new one (or the $100 to have someone replace it if you can't do it yourself). – Johnny Sep 10 '17 at 1:00
  • I deleted my recommendation of spraying with water and vacuuming. However, the OP did not state that the receptacle was not operational and did not state whether he tried resetting it. The receptacle might function normally. He could have an ant colony in the wall that should be dealt with. – Jim Stewart Sep 10 '17 at 2:42
4

As you discuss, the unit is fried and will not be usable, ever. Your question is whether it will start a fire if you defer replacement.

Windex is entirely made of solvent/volatile - it tends to entirely evaporate. It has to, otherwise it would leave streaks.

You can rely on the Windex being pretty much completely gone, and I wouldn't expect it to give you any trouble in terms of further deteriorating the device. Ant carcasses, no promises, but they'll be desiccated soon enough, and dry ant carcasses don't conduct electricity better than wet ones.

I think if it hasn't yet to burst into flames, it's not gonna. But out of an abundance of caution, if you are able to remove the failed device, do so - there's no reason to leave it in place. Do a good job taping over the wires (you don't want the tape sliding off, wire nuts alone won't do IME) and cover the works with a blank cover plate (50 cents). Electrical tape is about $4. Both are good things to have anyway.


The not tripping any other receptacles is a surprise. But lots of people wire up GFCIs so they do not feed downline receptacles at all. This gives them two benefits, first it allows them to comply with the piece of tape over the LOAD terminals which says do not mess with these terminals unless you really know what you're doing. Second, it gives them a TEST and RESET button on every outlet, which means even very dull real estate agents and inspectors can affirm they are GFCI protected. If your house is wired this way, then it would explain why there are no downline receptacles that are dead.

  • I don't know about you, but windex is always leaving streaks for me. Maybe its the paper towels or oils in my hands (despite cleaning them), it does have water in it as a first ingredient. I'm not sure what blue die color does when it comes in to contact with blue smoke ... probably something more blue? Eiffel 65: youtube.com/watch?v=68ugkg9RePc :) – noybman Sep 10 '17 at 2:18
  • @noybman I have edited my answer to add clarity on the question of usability. – Harper Sep 10 '17 at 2:49
  • @Harper, the only real issue I see is that he is asking how urgent is replacement, and I recognize you are answering of what was introduced to the internals of the receptacle are not likely to be a current (not an intended pun) issue - the answer of how urgent isn't given to the OP and given that its noted it is fried, we cant suggest leaving it as is with power to it.Even if not being used. – noybman Sep 10 '17 at 2:56
  • 1
    @noybman edited. Still, you can't just leave the wires dangling and OP has to protect them somehow. We stock proper electrical tape and blank covers, but I could imagine a newbie having to make a couple trips to HD to get the right thing. Of course, there I go handwringing again lol. – Harper Sep 10 '17 at 20:23
  • 1
    I joined this community for a few reasons, one of which was the great advice I often see given. It's difficult to assume what the OP's know and don't know. Updating with a +1 with the edit because it answers all of the OP's points and drastically reduces the unknown demon ;) – noybman Sep 10 '17 at 20:52
2

Your question of "How urgent is replacement" is two fold.

  1. You can cut power to the circuit that feeds the outlet and NEVER replace it, until you want to sell the house or someone inspects it. (but you should mark it bad ...in case)

  2. Given that you may want or need to keep power going to the circuit that feeds this outlet, you should at a minimum disconnect it, tape off the wires, and cover it.

A GFCI is a safety device, but even if it was not, a standard wall outlet over time can deteriorate or be damaged to the point that even with nothing plugged into it, a fire will start. Now you have a safety device that A.) You got it wet & B.) You observed damage, smoke, etc.

You have every reason to know it is damaged, and you do not know to what extent. Did wire sheathing melt? Did some wet ants create a nice new resistive load from hot to neutral? These are probably far fetched, but considering where the GFCI was made and it wasn't designed for submersion its smart to take the stance to remove power from it just like you would anything else you saw go up in smoke.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.