I'm trying to figure out how I got a shock from a neutral wire. I didn't think it was possible until I read this article on being "in series with the neutral." Here's what happened:

I was disconnecting a ceiling fan remote receiver which has a hot and neutral connection and supplies power to the fan and light kit. The hot wire that supplies the box runs through a single-pole switch, so I shut off the switch and tested with a solenoid voltage meter to make sure it was in the off position. I then removed the wire nuts from the hot and neutral connections. I tested both the hot and neutral bundles with the voltage meter (between wires and the grounded box) and there was no voltage, but there was a small spark when I touched the lead to the neutral bundle. I tested it again and there was no voltage, so I assumed that it was static discharge (I don't know why I did that). So I tested the neutral bundle again, to be safe, and there was no voltage. I started unbraiding the neutral wires and that's when I got a shock.

I couldn't believe it. I got a multimeter out and tested again, but there was zero voltage from the neutrals to ground. I turned the switch back on and tested again (hot to ground and hot to neutral), and the black wire was indeed the hot. Then I realized that there were two neutral wires coming into the box, which seemed odd for a ceiling box with only one load (the fan controller). I tested both neutral wires with the switch on and off (neutral to ground): no voltage on either.

Is it possible to get a shock even though you can't detect voltage from a neutral wire? I think now that "neutral one" came from a mystery load that ran into the box and hooked up to "neutral two", which runs to the neutral bar. I probably should have tested hot to each neutral separately to confirm this, but I didn't want another shock. Did I complete a circuit when I touched both neutral wires, and that is why I got the shock?

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    If you had used a good multimeter, you would have seen some voltage from neutral to ground. Jan 28, 2014 at 18:02
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    Note to DIY'ers: Turn off breaker to location you are working on.
    – Alaska Man
    Jun 29, 2020 at 23:33
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    Since this popped to the top again, I'll repeat the advice above since it's very important: Turn off the breaker to the circuit you are working on before working on it!
    – FreeMan
    Jun 8, 2022 at 12:15

6 Answers 6


Here's how you can get a shock from a "neutral" wire: you had multiple white wires, only one was the neutral leading back to your circuit breaker/fuse panel. The rest are extending the neutral to other fixtures/outlets. Let's say that one is a light fixture and its switch is on. When you undid the white wire bundle, the white wire going to that light now becomes hot: voltage is coming through the closed switch and the light. You'd get a shock from that white wire, but only when you'd disconnected it from the true neutral.

Now, as for the volt meter, did you meter the individual white wires to ground, or only the complete bundle? As I noted above, you would only see voltage on that white wire when it was disconnected from the real neutral wire.

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    The reason black-to-white didn't measure anything is because, when switched off, the black (switched hot) wire doesn't go anywhere. You may as well be touching one probe of the meter to white and holding the second probe aloft in the air: there could be 1KV on that wire, and the meter would still read zero.
    – Doktor J
    Aug 22, 2018 at 15:11

Electrician here. Using a switch to deenergize a fixture is fine, but that circuit breaker was still on and other equipment on that circuit still had current on that neutral. When you broke the neutral joint into 2 wires you touched them and you yourself were a conductor now in series with the neutral. Testing H-N would have read 0 volts because the switch leg was deenergized. Testing N-G would also read 0 as they are bonded at the panel and therefore have no voltage potential. You can grab a neutral wire and you won't get shocked, but if you put yourself in series with a neutral wire expect to get bit. Happened to me yesterday.


When you have power going to any part of your house, if there is any type of load on it,and you take the neutrals apart,you are interrupting the load so if you touch the 2 neutrals at any time you can become the neutral which is how and why you feel the shock. It can be harmful depending on the load.


Andrew did not shut off the circuit breaker, he just turned off the switch to the light he was working on. But even if he did turn off the circuit breaker, he could still get shocked if the circuit is part of a multi-wire (shared neutral) circuit which are commonly found in most houses. So he would need to remove the metal cover, dead front, from the panel and see if the circuit he is working on is part of a black/red/white NM cable. If so, shut off both legs of the MWC which will make it safer. However, if the previous "electrician" stole a neutral from one circuit to make a different circuit work, then he could still get shocked. Also if the house has obsolete knob and tube wiring all the neutrals could be shared. If you shut off the main breaker and the solar power breaker if you have one, then you will be safe.


Had the same problem found that the neutral was attached and broken at the switch instead of the black.


This makes absolutely no sense, unless the wiring is completely cockeyed-crazy-cuckoo bananas, or you are working on a completely live circuit without disconnecting the power at the breaker.

It is my understanding that you are not working on the main feed box, but on a box that is separated from the feed box by a switch on the hot wire. Thus, the switch turns off the electric current flow to the box you are working on.

In no reasonable scenario that I can possibly imagine, the white neutral wire should not continue anywhere else but this box. That is, the white neutral should dead-end here. The white neutral should ONLY continue in parallel with an unswitched hot circuit running in parallel to the original feed box. If the white neutral goes on from this switched box, that means it is going to a box that has a different hot feed to it on a different line to the hot feed line that is supplying this box. That is, the white neutral would be orphaned from the main hot feed line. I can not imagine any kind of proper parallel circuit in which this could possibly be the case, unless the white neutral forms a loop, in which case every white neutral line would still be connected to the neutral through the other end of the loop.

If the white neutral does continue on to other devices, that are fed by a hot line independent of its white neutral line, you have a major wiring problem that requires the attention of an electrician,and that is presenting a safety problem far beyond you getting a shock.


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