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In a situation where there is no device plugged in a normal house electrical outlet, does it still run an electric current, if so then how large? I would assume there is no electric current in this case (be it AC or DC), because there is no charge distribution between the energy source and the sockets, although some electrons probably move between these two points.


I mean to ask that is some kind of current going behind the walls, which in turn creates a magnetic field. My friend wants to avoid electric currents and want to remove many electric outlets from her house, because she thinks that an electric current is present even though nothing is plugged in. I argued that this was not true. Yes it is more correct to say that the charge distribution is even.
Clarification added from a comment by the OP

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  • What practical problem are you trying to solve here? You can think of electricity like water in a pipe, but the comparison breaks down after a while. You don't need a tap/faucet at the end of a wire. If electricity has nowhere to go, it goes nowhere. What it does still have [very importantly] is potential.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 15, 2021 at 8:44
  • You are incorrect in saying there is no charge distribution. However, the distribution is even therefore no current would be expected. Also, if you wish to be pedantic, electrons probably move between all points at all times.
    – Chenmunka
    Nov 15, 2021 at 9:52
  • I mean to ask that is some kind of current going behind the walls, which in turn creates a magnetic field. My friend wants to avoid electric currents and want to remove many electric outlets from her house, because she thinks that an electric current is present even though nothing is plugged in. I argued that this was not true. Yes it is more correct to say that the charge distribution is even.
    – Lop
    Nov 15, 2021 at 10:36
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    You friend needs to read up more on electromagnetism [from electrical engineering sites, not 'health' sites]. Their theory is, to put it politely… foil hat. Unfounded & a little… 'cranky'.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 15, 2021 at 12:03
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    I’m voting to close this question because protecting people from imaginary dangers of electricity is not in scope for this forum, and the question and early answers are straying into pseudoscientific territory.
    – jay613
    Nov 15, 2021 at 13:14

2 Answers 2

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Current does not flow out an electrical outlet unless something is plugged in and switched on. (Some appliances allow the passage of a small amount current even when "switched off". In that case they are not truly fully off. They remain powered internally at low consumption to, for example, be able to respond to a wireless remote control.

Electric current can flow through an electric outlet with nothing plugged into it if it is in a chain of outlets and there is something plugged into an outlet further along the chain.

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  • But does the current flow in the wire behind the electrical outlet when nothing is plugged in? The current needs an uneven charge distribution (voltage), otherwise it will not flow. Since a device is not plugged in and nothing is doing work, then how could the charge distribution stay uneven? Because of the energy source?
    – Lop
    Nov 15, 2021 at 11:11
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    It doesn't flow when it has nowhere to flow to. When it does flow, it's not generating anything like a detectable magnetic field in ordinary household wiring. There's more 'raw magnetism' in a computer speaker…. & no, that doesn't really 'leak out' either.
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 15, 2021 at 12:04
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In a situation where there is no device plugged in a normal house electrical outlet, does it still run an electric current, if so then how large?

Yes and no. Let me explain:

In practical terms when there is nothing plugged into the outlet there is voltage but there is no current. The current has no place to go so it doesn't flow.

In reality, however, there is always current flowing because even air conducts a minute amount of current. It's extremely small but it is present and with the proper equipment it can be measured. But generally this is disregarded due to its extremely small amount.

I would assume there is no electric current in this case (be it AC or DC), because there is no charge distribution between the energy source and the sockets, although some electrons probably move between these two points.

What you have written here sounds technical but it makes no sense. In fact there is charge distribution between the energy source (i.e. a GENERATOR) and the socket otherwise there would be no voltage. As far as electrons moving, that's the definition of CURRENT. As electrons move through a wire they create current which is what you measure with an ammeter.

Yes, electrons DO move in the wires between your plugged in load and the power company's generator(s) but not as much as you might think. Electrons generally move at about 0.02 cm/sec. in a copper wire. So at 60 Hz the electric field driving them will reverse before they travel very far. You can think of them as just "wiggling" back and forth in the wire and never really traveling very far.

The electric field, however, moves much more quickly than the electrons and that's why electricity seems to travel instantaneously. In a wire the E-field travels at a significant percentage of "c" or the speed of light or 3x10^8 m/s. So while it's not instantaneous it's very fast.

So the INFLUENCE of the electric field from the generating station is felt very quickly even if the electrons themselves don't move all that fast.

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  • Yes I know that the electrons moving per time is the definition of a current, but some electrons makes only a small current. So there really is a current going between the energy source and the socket? How large that current is?
    – Lop
    Nov 15, 2021 at 11:04
  • It depends. As I mentioned, when nothing is plugged in it's an extremely small current, for almost all purposes you can assume it's 0. But it will vary according to the conditions around the socket, temperature, humidity, dust, etc. all affect it to some degree. When you plug something in then the current will depend on how much that device draws. Say a toaster that uses 1000W. That will draw a current according to the relation P = VI or I = P/V. Assuming your have a 120V source that comes out to 1000/120 or about 8.2A.
    – jwh20
    Nov 15, 2021 at 11:12
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    The people who run the Pacific Intertie (DC) say that the electrons they started pushing in 1971 haven't made it out of Oregon yet. Nov 16, 2021 at 3:51

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