Fact check: Bending an electrical wire won't stop flow of electricity

Miriam Fauzia

The claim: Kinking an electrical wire stops the flow of electricity

Working with electricity but don't want to get electrocuted? One Facebook post falsely claims an easy solution.

"If you need to work on something electrical but don't know where the breaker panel is, simply kink the wire like a garden hose to stop the flow of electricity," offers the March 24 post shared in the Facebook group "Construction Tips, Fun and Fails." 

"This helped me this morning.... im (sic) shocked with how well it worked," commented one Facebook user.

"Thanks for the tip!" said another user.

USA TODAY has reached out to the poster for further comment.

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How does electricity work? 

Everything in the universe is made up of the smallest fundamental piece of matter called an atom.

It can be broken down into three subatomic particles found either in its center, or nucleus – positively charged protons and neutrons with no electrical charge – or orbiting outside the nucleus – electrons with a negative charge.  

While the attractive force between negative and positive keeps the smaller-sized electrons grounded within the area surrounding the nucleus, electrons in orbits farther away don't experience the same attractive pull. As a result, these relatively untethered particles are free to move around, hopping from one atom to another, and forming the basis for electricity. 

Taking electricity and making it into something that can flow, like water in a pipe, is a bit more involved. In August 1831, British scientist Michael Faraday discovered that when a magnet was passed through an iron ring covered in copper wire, electrical flow, or current, was generated, a phenomenon called electromagnetic induction.

Today's electricity generators apply Faraday's discovery, using instead magnets produced by electricity (called electromagnets), which generate vast amounts of current carried by power lines and straight into one's home. 

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Does kinking a wire stop electrical flow? 

The short answer: Not really.

Stopping an electrical current is not at all similar to twisting a garden hose. Water moving through a kinked hose will meet resistance because of the constriction, thereby slowing the pace or completely preventing water flow altogether. 

But electricity doesn't work the same way. A kink may appear substantial to the human eye but doesn't hinder subatomic particles like electrons, which will continue moving as long as the metal threads lining the inside of electrical wires are present. (Metals like copper are great conductors of electricity.)

"Basically, for low frequencies and normal copper wires the effects of kinking the wire would be very small until/unless you worked it to break the wire or diminish its cross-sectional area," said Roscoe Giles, a physicist and professor of electrical and computing engineering at Boston University, in an email to USA TODAY.

Giles stated the impedance, or type of electrical resistance for alternating currents (what supplies power to household outlets), could be changed if a wire is bent many times. But that effect is only noticeable at high-frequency currents, not household wiring which operates at a lower frequency. 

The only surefire way to stop an electrical current is through the circuit breaker panel, the main distribution point for all electrical circuits in a home or other building.

Anyone handling live electric wires on their own without shutting off power from a circuit break panel runs the risk of hurting themselves, said William Elarton, chair of Construction, Maintenance and Utilities at Los Angeles Trade-Tech College, to Snopes, debunking a similar image in 2016.

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The path electricity takes through the body, the amount of current and duration of time exposed are what kill people, Elarton said, a fate largely avoided by electricians who are taught how to safely handle wires.

Our rating: False

The claim that kinking an electrical wire can stop the flow of electricity is FALSE, based on our research. Electricity is the movement of electrons, the negatively charged subatomic particles that make up an atom. Because of their size, electrons are not obstructed by a kink like water running through a garden hose would be. The only way to safely stop the flow of electricity through a wire is through a circuit breaker panel, the main distribution point for electrical circuits in a home or other building.  

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