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Why Your Circuit Breaker Trips When Vacuuming

First, check the circuit breaker that’s tripping. Does it have a “TEST” button and the letters AFCI displayed on it?

First, check the circuit breaker that’s tripping. Does it have a “TEST” button and the letters AFCI displayed on it?

If so, what you have is an “Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter” circuit breaker. These breakers are specifically designed to protect your circuits from electrical “arcing” (more on what that is later).

Note: If you have a normal circuit breaker (not AFCI), you either have an overloaded circuit, an electrical short, or a worn out breaker. Here’s a helpful article that details what to do when you have a breaker that’s tripping.

So why is your AFCI breaker tripping when you run the vacuum? Well it depends on how often the breaker trips:

  • If your vacuum occasionally trips the breaker, the breaker is most likely just “nuisance tripping” (vacuums are notorious for causing AFCI nuisance trips).

  • If your vacuum always trips the breaker, the circuit most likely has a electrical arcing problem.

We’ll explain both situations in more detail below. But first, let’s look at what “arcing” is and what it has to do with your vacuum cleaner.

Want an electrician to inspect your circuit? Just contact us and we’ll send a professional right over.

What is “arcing”?

An electrical “arc” happens when electricity jumps a gap between two conductors, usually two exposed pieces of wire.

This sort of electrical “leak” typically doesn’t trigger a normal circuit breaker but AFCI breakers are designed to trip in fractions of a second at the first sign of arcing to prevent electrical fires.

Now that we know what arcing is, let’s take a look at the difference between an AFCI breaker that trips occasionally and one that trips every time your vacuum runs.

If your vacuum occasionally trips your AFCI breaker, it could just be a “nuisance trip”

Vacuums often cause “nuisance tripping” with AFCI circuit breakers because vacuums produce a small amount of sparking as they run.

And because sparks are essentially small electrical arcs, they’ll occasionally trip your AFCI breaker.

Other devices that are prone to “nuisance tripping” include:

  • Flat screen TVs

  • Computers

  • Power drills

  • Treadmills

How to fix this problem: Have an electrician inspect the breaker and replace it with a newer model if possible.

If your vacuum always trips the breaker, you most likely have an actual electrical problem

Signs that indicate your AFCI breaker is tripping due to an electrical problem include:

  • Frayed cords. If your vacuum cords are old, frayed or deteriorating, it could be producing dangerous electrical arcing.

  • Visible sparking when vacuum runs. Vacuums produce a small amount of sparks internally, but they should never produce visible sparking. If you see this, you likely need to replace the vacuum or have it serviced.

  • A burnt smell when vacuuming. A burning odor indicates electrical arcing that’s burning other components or dust inside your vacuum. If you notice this, replace your vacuum cleaner or have it serviced immediately.

  • An AFCI breaker that trips when nothing’s plugged in. If your AFCI breaker trips with no load, it’s most likely faulty and needs to be replaced. AFCI breakers can be faulty due to age, poor wiring, or improper installation. This is a problem because it means the breaker isn’t properly monitoring for dangerous arcing conditions.

Need a Sarasota electrician to inspect your circuit?

If you’re still not sure why your vacuum is tripping your AFCI breaker, we can help.

Just contact us and we’ll thoroughly inspect the breaker, circuit wiring and your vacuum to find the problem and correct it.

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