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As a child, do you remember being told not to stick metal utensils into the toaster to unlodge toast? If by chance that utensil touches the wrong thing inside of the toaster, you could be easily electrocuted.

Are there really exposed components inside toasters, that touching, would close a circut, and send a lethal amount of electricity through someone? Has there every been an account of this actually happening to anyone?

It seems unlogical to me that, with as strict regulations that we have in the United States, that a company could get away with or would sell something so very dangerous.

I read an article that pointed out that the continued jamming of utensils into a toaster could cause components to weaken and loosen. In turn, you'd have your date with electricity. It seems unlikely that anyone would sit there and stab the innards of a toaster, with that amount of force, to the point where wires were becoming exposed on a large scale. Usually when you are attempting to extract toast, you are being very gentle not to break the toast -- so I don't know how valid that argument is.

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    With as strict regulations that we have in the United States are you talking about weapons? However, I just let my little sister test it with a fork. Now the question is: How do I explain to my parents why she wanted to have a toast in the afternoon... – user unknown Apr 26 '12 at 16:38
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    References are not optional on answers ~ thanks. – Sklivvz Apr 26 '12 at 17:21
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    It seems unlikely that anyone would sit there and stab the innards of a toaster. Really? You are giving too much credit to some people! :P – nico Apr 26 '12 at 17:42
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    "a company could get away with or would sell something so very dangerous": knives, chainsaws, cigarettes, paracetemol (Tylenol), cars, motorbikes, skateboards, bacon, brussels sprouts... – Oddthinking Apr 27 '12 at 1:02
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    @Oddthinking What is wrong with Brussels Sprouts? They are delicious, well besides the excessive flatulence that occurs after eating them :-( – maple_shaft Apr 27 '12 at 12:43
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I think the answer is, Yes it certainly can. Is it likely?

Electric toasters work much the same way as space heaters or hair dryers, in that they run a current through high electrical resistant wires to generate incredible amounts of heat.

Most toasters tend to use Nichrome (alloy of 80% Nickel and 20% Chromium).

Electrical resistivity at room temperature: 1.0 × 10−6 to 1.5 × 10−6 Ωm . The Nichrome wire typically under this heat will react with air to be chemically stable meaning it forms an outer layer of Chromium Oxide which has incredibly high electrical resistance. If this isn't enough then in modern toasters these wires are coated with Mica which can provide enough resistance from the point of the coil to the knife where current will not ground through you.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nichrome

Knowing all of this it is safe to assume that simply touching the wire with a knife while current is flowing will probably be okay. While the voltage is about 100-115 it will hurt, but the current travelling through is high to generate heat and certainly high enough to risk injury or death (Source: http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/vol_1/chpt_3/4.html).

Jabbing at the coils can risk flaking away the protective Mica or Chromium Oxide to make such a thing dangerous. Furthermore jabbing inside a toaster and making contact with the wires connecting the coil can certainly electrocute you however these are typically tucked safely away where you couldn't reach it with a knife unless you disassembled the body. (Source: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2119/is-poking-a-knife-into-the-toaster-really-dangerous)

The other electrical components if applicable are probably feeding a circuit board and shouldn't go above 5 volts typically. There is no danger from jabbing the circuit board if that happens to be exposed, unless of course if you were to touch the timer relay which could cause a great amount of current to flow through you. (Source: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-an-electrical-relay.htm)

So basically, if you are viciously jamming a knife into a toaster, thats plugged into an outlet that doesn't have polarity or proper circuit breaker protection, and you are barefoot, then yes you certainly run the risk of electrocution or death.

EDIT: I forgot YET ANOTHER possibility of electrocution! If through the process of jamming an object into the device you inadvertently cause the toaster to short through the aluminum or steel internal casing, and the ground wire for the casing has been damaged OR the outlet is not grounded or not properly grounded... then YOU will become the ground! (Source: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Electrical-Wiring-Home-1734/Dangers-Ungrounded-Outlet.htm)

  • @Sklivvz I added references supporting all of my claims, and changed my "Maybe" to a definitive "Yes it is possible but not certain". Please reverse the downvote. – maple_shaft Apr 26 '12 at 18:13
  • Excuse me, but where is the circuit? Electricity needs a complete circuit to flow. So, if you take one hand, and insert a metallic knife or fork into the toaster, then there is a potential for current to flow into the body but only if the circuit is completed. Standing barefoot in a puddle that is grounded to ductwork would do it. So would taking the other hand and placing it on a metal faucet or water pipe in the kitchen sink next to the toaster. Arcing may occur in the toaster when something is shorted, but without a complete circuit through the human body you can not be electrocuted. – Paul Apr 27 '12 at 11:23
  • @Paul A circuit can be formed through any path that doesn't have overwhelming resistance, this is why arcing will occur in air because the resistance of air was eventually low enough with distance that enabled electricity to travel through it. Electricity can certainly travel through bare feet on a floor if the floor is grounded and the floor offers little resistance. The human body offers negligible resistance. – maple_shaft Apr 27 '12 at 11:54
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    A dry hardwood or carpeted floor is not a good conductor, though. – Paul Apr 27 '12 at 11:59
  • can you specify if there is a difference between the classic looking toaster, and a toaster oven? – Ephraim Apr 27 '12 at 21:34
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The accepted answer has said it basically all right, but in case you do manage to scratch the coating with your rescue attempt, the situation is slightly less rosy (than implied there): basically you've got the same chance as with poking your knife directly in the power outlet.

Why?

There are dangerous inaccuracies regarding the referenced straightdope article:

1.) "...current to flow through a special type of wire with a high resistance...".

It's actually a low-resistance wire. These appliances are of a few hundred Watts, and R = U^2 / P implies a few dozen ohms at most (maybe a hundred or two, with weak devices, assuming 230V). With 120V it's well below 100 ohms.

When voluntarily participating in the toasting circuitry, adding (some unknown part of!) the toaster's resistance to your body resistance, which is several thousand ohms (minimum), it makes a negligible difference compared to directly touching the power line.

2.) "...inside a toaster and making contact with the wires connecting the coil can certainly electrocute you however these are typically tucked safely away where you couldn't reach it with a knife unless you disassembled the body".

For the above reason, you don't need to reach that connection, it makes no difference from touching the heating filaments (those "coils") themselves with damaged or missing coating.

That said, while basically touching the power line with one hand, and not preparing your breakfast in your bath tube (and not attaching yourself to the grid with your other hand), you still have a fair chance of getting away (as correctly mentioned in the other answer); see e.g. this very cute article about various configurations in which you (or a bird) can (and cannot) be electrocuted, and other handy information.

So, as a safe bet: always use a wooden (butter) knife for toast mining, one that you won't regret burning. Or, well, just unplug the thing, if you can do without the excitement. ;)

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