Can You Touch a Light Switch With Wet Hands?

When I was a kid, my parents scared me not to touch the light switch with wet hands because I would be in danger of being electrocuted. But the light switch was always covered with plastic. Is it true that we are in danger when we touch the light switch with wet hands? I did some research to find out.

So can you get electrocuted if you touch a light switch with wet hands? No! When you touch the switch with wet hands, the water will not be enough to seep into the switch and get the circuit complete for you to be electrocuted. And you’d have to be barefoot on the ground to get electrocuted.

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Is There a Valid Reason Not to Touch the Light Switch With Wet Hands?

The first thing I remember what my parents told me was not to touch the light switch with wet hands.

They told us that if we did, we would be in danger of being electrocuted.

This way, when our hands are wet, the light in our head automatically goes on so that we don’t touch the light switch with wet hands.

However, it has never been explained to us why this would happen.

Most of us had our grandparents, who protected us from touching electrical devices with wet hands. But why?

It All Started a Long Time Ago

Long ago, when people rang the doorbell when it rained, they encountered a small electric shock and tingling in their fingers.

That is why the opinion arose that by touching electric devices with wet hands, we are exposed to the danger of electrocution. But it’s not true.

You can get electrocuted when switches are wet, not hands. The reason is that the circuit gets completed between the conductors in the switch and your hands through the waters.

When you come into contact with the switch with wet hands, there is a 99% probability that the water will not be enough to seep into the switch and get the circuit complete for you to be electrocuted.

In this situation, your wet hand touches the protective material on the light switch.

However, when the switch is very wet due to water splashes or vapor after a shower, there is an 80% chance that the water is already in contact with the conductors within the plastic switch and is awaiting your wet hand to complete the circuit and to get you electrocuted.

Today’s switches are made of protective material and probably won’t shock you when you touch them with wet hands.

Plus, you’d have to be barefoot on the ground to get electrocuted.

Why light switches are mounted outside the bathroom, toilet.

It is possible to imagine that someone would accidentally direct a stream of water, e.g., from a shower to a wall with a light switch or electrical socket. 

In this case, touching it may end quite unpleasantly. 

Also, electricity can flow from the electrical outlet through the water flowing down the wall to the floor on which somebody stands. 

This may cause an electric shock to a person standing in this water. 

In addition to directing the water directly at the elements mentioned above, there is also a danger that, for example, during a bath, the water vapor floating in the bathroom will condense this vapor to a droplet of water. 

Water from water vapor is generally a weak conductor of electricity because it does not contain salts that form ions in water that can conduct electricity. 

In practice, almost all elements in the bathroom are contaminated with dust, for example, which contains many microelements. 

These contaminants dissolve in water and make water a good conductor of electricity. 

Touching the light switch, which is all wet from condensed vapor, may cause an electric shock to the user. 

To protect against such a danger, usually, in the bathroom, electrical outlets with a self-closing flap are installed, and switches of light are installed outside the bathroom.

The most comfortable, safest lighting control in the bathroom.

It is most convenient to install a switch in the bathroom or toilet, which automatically turns on and off the light. 

Not only does this improve safety by not having to touch the light switches with wet hands, but it also provides us with great convenience and savings of electricity often used for unnecessarily burning lighting. 

For automatic light control, e.g., infrared motion detectors can be used.

It is a cheap solution, but unfortunately, it does not always work in bathrooms or toilets. 

PIR motion detectors react to the movement of warm elements within the range of their visibility. 

In the bathroom, we often lock ourselves in a shower cubicle, which is made of glass as a barrier to infrared radiation, which makes us invisible to motion detectors. 

When lying in a bathtub or sitting on a toilet, we also stop to be visible to the motion detector, which causes the light to go out every now and then. 

It is not a comfortable solution to use in your home. 

The best solution currently used to control light in a toilet or bathroom is to install countdown switches to count incoming and outgoing people. 

Such a switch counts passing people and checks how many people are inside the room at the moment. 

If the switch detects that all persons have left the room, it immediately switches off the unnecessary lighting. 

With these switches, you don’t have to move around to get the light on, and the lighting is switched off as soon as you leave the room and doesn’t burn unnecessarily for a long time as happens with motion detectors. 

These switches have been installed and tested in practice in many apartments. 

They ensure not only the safety of use but also savings in electricity bills and, above all, provide real comfort for the residents. 

Hazards Associated With Electrical Installation in the Bathroom, Kitchen, and Toilet. 

The bathroom and toilet, as well as the kitchen, are places with a special risk of electric shock. 

This is because, in a usually cramped room, we have a large accumulation of grounded metal elements, which we also freely touch (e.g., tap, bathtub, water pipes, gas pipes, valve). 

In addition, we have contact with water, which is also deliberately touched by us, and sometimes lying in a bathtub, it flows around our entire body. 

In addition to the grounded metal components, many devices are connected to the 230V mains. 

The current supplied to our apartments is usually 230V and is alternating current, which means that it changes its direction 50 times per second. 

An alternating current of voltages higher than 24 V is assumed to be dangerous for human beings.

This makes it all the more important to have respect for the current in our electrical installations, as it is almost ten times higher than the safety limit. 

Also, alternating current is much easier than direct current – which always flows in one direction – and can cause heart failure during the electrocution. 

During an electric shock, the human heart powered by additional alternating current shrinks 50 times per second, which is practically impossible, and the blood is no longer pumped in the body. 

Why are Grounded Parts Near Other Electrical Equipment Such a Danger to People? 

With proper use of electrical equipment, there is no significant danger to the health and life of users, worse if any of the devices are damaged or the user by incompetent operation or distraction will cause a threat to himself or another person. 

The main danger in the bathroom is the possibility of electric shock through a damaged device such as a damaged wire leading electricity to the hairdryer. 

In such a case, touching of the damaged cable with one hand and touching of a grounded object, e.g., a tap with the other hand, will cause the flow of high current through the body, which may cause the death of the person.

Most people who have not had to deal with electric shock are convinced that when they feel an electric shock, they will quickly let go of the hand-held cord, tap, or water valve. 

In practice, it turns out that the current flowing through the body causes automatic clamping of muscles, which makes it impossible to open hands and to shift hands away from metal elements. 

The flow of current through parts of the body such as the hand – torso – the other hand is particularly dangerous, because it may be associated with a disturbance or inhibition of the heart. 

An even more dangerous case that may occur in a bathroom is an electric shock while bathing. 

There have been many cases of electric shock among people who lost their lives in bathing because of their recklessness. 

Most often, it resulted from the carefree use of electrical devices connected to 230V mains. 

There are known cases with hairdryers, curling tongs, straighteners, shaving machines, which fell into a bathtub in which someone bathed. 

There were also cases of death caused by a radio placed in a hurry at the edge of the bathtub to not miss a second of the words of the match commentator. 

It should be remembered that with this type of devices that have the cable plugged into the socket, it does not matter whether the switch on the device is in the on or off position, because the current still flows through the cable to the device, which poses a hazard when contacting water. 

Why is it Dangerous to Plug Equipment With a Metal Housing Into an Electrical Outlet Without a Pin? 

Apart from devices that are small and usually we hold them in our hands, the danger may also come from other, larger household equipment such as washing machines, dryers or electric heaters, which in winter some people use to warm up while in the bathroom.

These devices usually have a metal housing, which should be earthed by a pin extending out of the socket and plugged into a plug-in socket.

In practice, it turns out that not everyone is aware that a socket with a pin in the bathroom is the basis for their safety. 

It happens that some people temporarily “just for a moment” install an ordinary electrical socket in the bathroom without a pin. 

The danger of using pinless sockets results from the fact that in case of failure or loosening of the circuits inside the device or in case of flooding, e.g., with water, the inside of the washing machine, the current may breakthrough from the inside of the device to the metal housing. 

If the metal housing is earthed, e.g., using a pin in the socket, then in case of power failure to the metal part, no life-threatening voltage will be applied to the metal part, as unwanted power will be dissipated to the ground. 

The current flowing to the ground is usually so high that it will cause the fuses in the household installation to trip, and the current will be cut off by burning them or automatically switching them off. 

Why are Three-wire Electrical Installations Now Being Used Instead of the Previously Used Two-wire Installations?

Old installations located in our homes are usually made in a two-wire standard. 

During the renovation, it is worth to change the installation to a three-wire system for your safety. 

In a three-wire system, one wire is a phase wire that supplies current (brown or black), one is a neutral wire through which current returns from the device (blue) and one is a protective wire that protects the enclosure of electrical devices against the appearance of life-threatening voltage (yellow-green). 

Three-wire installation is safer than a two-wire installation because, in the case of using a two-wire installation, any break that may occur on the neutral wire will cause the full voltage of the 230V electrical network to appear on the housing of electrical equipment. 

This is because when the neutral conductor is disconnected, e.g, at fuses, each connected and operating device closes the circuit between the phase and neutral conductors through its internal components (motors, bulbs, etc. ). 

The zero wire has a full, dangerous voltage of 230V, which is not drained to the ground but is now routed through the zero wire to all metal enclosures of electrical equipment. 

Touching such housing under 230V voltage may end tragically. 

In the case of a three-wire system, the disconnection of one of the wires in the electrical system does not cause any immediate danger.

The following cases are possible if one of the cables fails:

  1. Disconnection of the phase wire (L) cuts off the power supply to the equipment, so there is no danger for users. 
  2. If the neutral conductor (N) is disconnected, the units will stop working due to the lack of a return current path. The enclosures of electrical equipment are not live because they are connected to a grounded protective conductor (PE). 
  3. Disconnecting the protective conductor (PE) does not cause an immediate danger of electric shock, because for any of the devices to be electrocuted, it would be necessary to have a dangerous voltage breakdown on the casing. 

It is therefore important to carry out periodic measurements of the parameters of electrical installations, in particular, the electrical installation should be regularly checked for continuity of the protective conductor. 

Why do we use residual current devices in our homes? 

The use of earth-leakage circuit breakers in the electrical installation is also a good safeguard for the health and life of users. 

These switches are most commonly used in three-wire electrical installations and provide additional safety benefits by controlling the current flowing through the individual wires. 

If the residual current device “determines” that the current flowing to the device via a phase wire is different from the current flowing from the device via a neutral wire, this may mean that part of the current flows from the device somewhere to the side, e.g., through the human body to the ground. 

In such a situation, the breaker immediately disconnects the power supply, which can often save someone’s life. 

Unfortunately, residual current devices do not always work properly with old two-wire systems. 

In these installations, one of the cables has both a working and a grounding function.

In such two-wire installations, the problem in the operation of residual current devices results from the fact that e.g. by connecting a washing machine via a residual current device to the 230V mains, every time it draws water, the zero wire with a permanent connection to the metal housing of the washing machine is additionally connected by a stream of water flowing into the washing machine to the ground. 

In this case, some of the current supplied to the washing machine may return to the residual current circuit breaker, but some may flow to the ground through the water. 

This situation is usually immediately detected by the residual current device, which states that there is a difference in the current flowing into the washing machine and returning from it and turns off the power. 

Standards for the installation of electrical installations in bathrooms and toilets.

Standards make it easier to maintain safety in the bathroom by defining different zones in which individual devices can be installed.

Safety Zone Bathroom 

Zone 0 – this is the inside of the bathtub or shower tray. 

It is permissible to use devices powered by alternating current (ac) 12 V or direct current (dc) 30 V (supply from the so-called SELV circuits), e.g., nozzles of hydromassage devices or light sources. Protection class IPX7.

Zone I – the space defined by the outer edges of the bath or shower tray, up to a height of 2.25 m.

Permanently connected water heaters, shower pumps, fans, luminaires, and appliances powered by 25 V ac or 60 V dc are permitted, and hydromassage devices may be located under the bathtub. Protection class IPX5 is required. 

Zone II – to 0.6 m from the border of zone I to an altitude of 2. 25 m. 

It is acceptable to use devices like in Zone I and special sockets with a separating transformer for shavers. Protection class IPX4 is required. 

Do not install sockets, light switches, junction boxes, etc. in zones 0-II. 

The equipment must, therefore, be permanently installed. 

Switches and sockets, as well as the devices powered from them, e.g., washing machines, must be located outside Zone II. 

There are special splash-proof sockets for the bathroom. 

They are marked IP44. They shall be mounted 1,4 m above the floor and as far away from the wet zone as possible.

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