Hot/neutral reversed wires

What is the result of hot/neutral wires being reversed? The power still works. Is it dangerous?

well lets say hot is reversed on one out let and not the others. its possible that the neutral wire will become hot at the breaker box, imagine you are an electrician reaching into the box and touching the neutral bus? bam shock hazard. or even replacing a outlet down stream, BAM shock on the neural wire.

yes someone should cut the breaker to do this stuff. but some do not to save time.

can be very dangerous situation. call it out.

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One obvious result of hot neutral reversed is that any item plugged into that outlet will still be “hot” when it is turned off. You will have switched off the neutral wire and not the hot wire. In the case of a lamp the outer (threaded) portion of the socket will be hot even after you turn it off. When you change the bulb this is a shock hazard.


Read this.


Thanks for the replies. I see this very often and I’ve never heard of any complications from it. I always call it out but I struggle to explain it because often times these outlets have a fixture, lights etc. plugged into them with no apparent result. I’ve never heard of a anyone being shocked or heard of any appliance being damage from the hot/neutral reverse.

I’m toasting an English muffin and it gets stuck in my toaster.
I look in the toaster and see that the heating elements are off, so I assume it’s safe to stick a knife in the toaster to get my muffin. I should be safe doing this, because the switch that controls the flow of
electricity to the heating elements in the toaster shuts off the hot wire. Unfortunately, my toaster is plugged in to an outlet with reversed polarity, so the switch on my toaster is shutting off the neutral wire
instead of the hot.
This means there is always electricity at the heating elements just waiting for some poor sap to stick a knife in, and that electricity will travel up the knife, through my body, and back

Your mother told you never stick a knife in the toaster.
Breakfast ruined!


You screwed up the knife pretty bad too!

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Keep it goin’ baby!

I’m using an old work light, and my finger accidentally comes in
contact with the outside of the metal socket that holds the light bulb in place. The socket is always connected to the neutral wire, so no big deal… unless the work light is plugged in to an outlet with reversed polarity. In this case, I’ll get a shock.
If this happens while I’m laying on the garage floor working on my car, there’s a good chance that this could be the last shock I ever get. This can also happen with old table lamps that have exposed metal sockets.

I’m changing a light bulb and accidentally touch the socket & ground and ZAP!..with reverse polarity.


The key here is where this reversed polarity outlet is. If I touch the hot leg on the lamp while I’m standing on my wood floor - not a problem. When I’m standing barefoot on my basement floor - big problem or when i have my hand resting on a plumbing fixture or grounded metal appliance - could be game over.


Light switches break the hot (black) circuit wire, reverse polarity will send the hot up to the light through the neutral (white) wire. The light will go off with the switch, but when the DIY homeowner tries to disconnect the light the white wire is still hot. :pleading_face:

To clarify, reverse polarity is a receptacle issue, not really a light switch issue.

Anytime the white wire is hot and not marked as hot it’s a problem for that person assuming the power is off when the switch is off. I have seen in older houses where they tapped into a nearby outlet to power the lights in a room.

That’s a different issue than reverse polarity though.

Ryan is saying that if you switch the neutral to control the light that is less of a danger than reverse polarity on a receptacle. If no one ever touches that circuit it’s probably true, the light will go on and off with the switch. If someone comes along in the future and removes the light to work on the lighting outlet there could be a shock hazard, I know because I have seen it happen.

I didn’t say or intend to imply this actually. I was not trying to compare the risk associated with each type of defect. Just pointing out that reverse polarity is not the same type of defect as a hot neutral. The neutral wire is not hot in a reverse polarity situation, it is just hooked to the wrong side of the receptacle.

Yes they are separate issues. Do you see a problem with switching the neutral instead of the hot leg?

I wouldn’t do it, or recommend anyone else do it I guess.

I’m sure all of us inspect homes built in the 40’s through the early 60’s and a lot of those homes have ungrounded two-prong systems. When I come across those homes I inform the buyers of the ungrounded systems, just like I do the hot/neutral revese wires situation. It sounds to me like the hot/neutral reverse situation has ramifications along the lines of the hot/neutral situation. In ungrounded homes one can receive a deadly electrical shock. The hot/neutral reverse problem can be solved easily by correcting the wires however the 50’s homes that were wired without grounding are a much more complicated and expensive fix. On those old homes, I simply tell the prospective buyers that probably most the the neighborhood they are buyin in is also ungrounded.

There are a lot of good, informative answers here, Thanks.