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Most electrical issues are beyond the realm of DIY, even basic troubleshooting, because of the risks of dealing with live voltage. However, there are some very obvious signs of damage that anyone can recognize. If you notice black marks around an outlet after using it or before you plug something in, you should have the electrical outlet wiring inspected immediately.

Signs of Scorching

Black marks that don’t rub off and which feature bubbles or melted areas are signs that the outlet sparked at some point while being used. This is often caused by a damaged power cord on a vacuum, television, or other appliance. If the item plugged in malfunctions and overloads its usual power demands, the resulting surge can also create a lot of heat in the cord and transfer that damage to the outlet. Try taking the outlet cover off and checking for other signs of scorching and burning on the back of the cover and the wall opening around the receptacle.

Damaged Wiring

Aside from power cord issues, outlets can also become damaged in this way due to faulty wiring. When the contact between the wiring and the outlet connectors is loosened by age or the nibbling of mice, the resulting damage allows the metal to arc together. All that live electricity creates a serious fire hazard. Continuing to use an outlet that is turning dark around the openings or releasing a faint burning odor can lead to an electrical outlet wiring fire. Stop using any outlet that develops black marks, shows signs of scorching, or releases any odor or visible smoke. If you’re not sure what kind of dark marks are appearing around your outlets, it’s best to have an electrician tell you if it’s a heat problem or something else like mold.

Letting an electrician from S.A.K. perform an annual outlet inspection is the best way to prevent a house fire and keep your appliances safe. Malfunctioning electrical outlet wiring can also damage sensitive equipment like laptops and modems, so make sure every power source is working properly before you plug your phone in for charging.