What does the neutral wire do?

The neutral wire is one of the two primary wires in a standard AC system. It provides the path for electricity to take back to the electrical panel. It will run along with the positive wire, which is what brings the electricity from the panel (or other source) to the machine or whatever it is that requires the electricity. Having this looped system allows the electricity to safely travel into, and then back out of, the equipment in question safely and reliably.

Part of the Live Circuit

Some people take the name neutral to mean that it doesn’t have current running through it, but that is not the case. The neutral wire is part of the live circuit, which means anytime it is plugged in, it will likely have electrical current going through it. For this reason, one must exercise extreme caution whenever working on or with the neutral wire of a power cable. If work needs to be done on this cable, it should first be completely disconnected from any potential power source. Ideally, the lock-out tag-out procedure will be followed to help guarantee that power is not accidentally restored.

Neutral Wire is Typically White

In the vast majority of electrical systems the different wires within a cord will have different colored plastic shielding on them. This helps to keep the electrical current safely contained within the wire. It also makes it easy to see what each wire is, so they are easier to work on. In most standard AC systems, the neutral wire is going to be white.

Neutral Wire is Essential

Some electrical systems can operate without a ground wire (though that is not safe or recommended in most situations). If the neutral wire, however, is damaged or not present, it can cause serious dangers. The electricity that flows down the positive wire won’t have any return path available (unless a ground wire is present). This can result in overheating and fires, or could potentially damage the system that the wire is bringing power to. To avoid this type of danger, it is important to always ensure the neutral wire is in place and functioning properly at all times.


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