I was running my vacuum cleaner and suddenly the kitchen GFI receptacle it was plugged into popped with some black smoke, a burning electrical smell and blackened the receptacle itself.

Did my vacuum cleaner die? Is it safe to try a different receptacle? Should I call the electrician who installed this receptacle in the spring?

  • Why can't you call the electrician tomorrow?
    – The Photon
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 0:01
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    it is not possible to guess if your vacuum cleaned has died. .... you will have to figure that out yourself.
    – jsotola
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 0:09
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    you can either plug it into another outlet and briefly turn it on, or you can take it to a repair shop and have them do the same
    – jsotola
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 2:02
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    In the short term, get a 3-prong extension cord, go behind the refrigator and plug it into the extension cord, and run the cord to any socket that still works. Also when the electrician is out, tell him you do not want the refrigerator on GFCI. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 2:20
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    Harper - thank you for the great suggestion! I appreciate it and should have thought of that myself. You probably saved me a couple of hundred dollars of food!
    – Shon
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 4:28

3 Answers 3


The load of a vacuum combined with the refrigerator was probably more than the wiring could handle. I state this because most vacuums are at the max of 15 amp circuits and now the refer kicks in another motor load with high in rush current. Depending on the wiring method it could be just loose connections that sparked but the gfci could in fact let the magic smoke out and this is an easy fix, turn the breaker off, buy a new gfci outlet, pull old outlet and install new oulet making sure to have the wires for line and load in the correct positions. Turn the breaker back on. Make sure the fridge is working , and use another outlet in the future.

  • I had a new circuit breaker box installed and all the kitchen outlets upgraded to GFCI (as well as 13 outdoor outlets) in April of this year. So far, 2 of the outdoor outlets have gone bad and now this one in the kitchen. I wonder if we just got a defective batch of GFCI outlets? It certainly is annoying. I will discuss all your suggestions with the electrician when he arrives. Unfortunately, this is Saturday night in the middle of a holiday season. Ugh
    – Shon
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 4:34
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    I'd consider replacing the circuit breaker too. If the combined load of ref and vacuum was too high and caused damage......... That's precisely what circuit breakers are supposed to prevent! Demand to see, and keep the damaged part. Maybe something was screwey with how all of your outlets were installed. I'd say that's a lot more likely than a bad batch...... And if that's the case, don't replace the outlets. Replace the electrician. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 12:44
  • Well, this is interesting. Last night I tried plugging the refrig into every outlet in the kitchen (3 different circuits) then unloaded my entire refrig/freezer into coolers. This morning just for grins I got an even longer extension cord and tried plugging the refrig into a outlet in the dining room and it works! So this means I have three bad circuits and none of the circuit breakers in the main box were off.
    – Shon
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 16:37
  • There's nothing more important in the house than the refrigerator when the refer kicks in. Wait, what?
    – Mazura
    Commented May 30, 2020 at 4:25

GFCI outlets aren't designed to last forever. It could be that the GFCI simply died when under load.

One thing I would make sure of is that when the GFCI is replaced that it is NOT put in-line with the circuit (i.e. make a pigtail in the box and have the GFCI not use the LOAD side connections). There's generally no reason why a refrigerator should be protected by a GFCI

There's no requirement to GFCI protect receptacles that serve a refrigerator. Unless the fridge is plugged into a countertop receptacle.

My bet is that it was placed in-line by a sloppy contractor or a prior homeowner who didn't know what they were doing. In either case, putting the GFCI outside the circuit should ensure it is never overloaded again.

  • Agree regarding the refrigerator issue. But as far "don't use LOAD", what if the chain is panel->countertop 1 w/GFCI -> countertop 2 w/GFCI -> refrigerator receptacle? If so, replacing with a pigtailed connection will leave a code violation in the countertop 2 location. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 4:11
  • If that's the case, I would still remove this GFCI from the circuit and install another downstream to cover that second outlet (and anything beyond)
    – Machavity
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 15:54
  • Agree - unless it is really easy to run a separate line for the refrigerator, that would be the best solution. The key is to look at everything on the circuit (which we can't do remotely) before deciding which "fix" to implement. Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 16:03
  • I'm approaching this from the assumption that they can't replace or add circuits
    – Machavity
    Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 16:04
  • Which is a quite reasonable assumption. Or likely not "can't" but "adding a circuit would take a lot more time & $ then other solutions". Commented Dec 30, 2018 at 16:08

Probably a bad GFCI. It should just trip if something is wrong with the vacuum, not smoke and blow up. Try the vacuum with a different outlet. Maybe one without a GFCI just Incase something really wired if going on. Worst that happens is you see a few sparks and the breaker trips. It won't damage anything.

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