Electricty and steel wool F%$k up...

FYI - last night my wife took it upon herself to 'fix' a painted area above a switch. Because we are in the middle of a remodel in this room the switch cover wasn't installed.
Unbeknownst to her, as she 'sanded' the painted surface, little pieces of steel wool fell onto the exposed line terminals of the switch. Once enough collected, POOF the electricity arced and blew both circuit breakers and plunged her into darkness...
I'll be replacing the double switch today. I hoping that no further damage occurred to the wiring itself...
Rick
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If she's anything like my ex:
1) It's YOUR fault.
2) The fact that without exception, no home improvement writer ever mentions this hazard is NOT an indication that common sense should tell you to avoid it. Rather, it's proof that men keep this a secret so they can cash in on their wives' life insurance policies.
:-)

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Yup! What were you thinking not warning her that steelwool: A) conducts elecrticity and B) isn't the 'tool' to use for sanding wall unless it's made out of steel!
Unlikely that there was any further damage to the wiring, or even the switches themselves for that matter, other than a bit of soot from the blowout. Of course the steelwool is probably not worth much anymore!
Mark

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Yep, I can't see why the switch would be damaged; the steel wool would make only momentary contact before going whoosh and disappearing. Shorting directly across a switch won't harm the switch.
What I want to know, is why she was using steel wool. In my undiplomatic mode I would say, "Why the Hell were you using steel wool on paint?" Not suggesting that he OP say that if he ever wants breakfast served, clothes washed, and much more important things. But congrats to get the wife to help.
mwlogs wrote:

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Well, to answer your question about 'Why?'....
We had finished faux painting the exposed wall areas of the kitchen we are remodeling. For this we used a flat paint. Wanting to protect the paint, make it 'scrubbable' (sp), SWMBO used a clear gloss poly paint. Here selected method of application was a medium paint roller. First coat went on beautifully, then second coat contained tiny air-bubbles. When it dried it took on a 'pebble-grain' finish, like a basketball...
Sandpaper seemed out of place as it wouldn't get into the 'depressions' that the drywall texture had formed. Steel wool seemed apropos....
She was not holding the steel wool when the contact was made, but as you all know, when you use steel wool it breaks down into small 'fibers' (slivers). These falling slivers collected on the exposed switch (again, we failed to properly cover the switch)
It took her a few hours to get her heart rhythm back to 'normal'....
The switch is 'blackened'... I'll evaluate the condition before proceeding. I'm sure my lovely bride will feel 'safer' if the switch is simply replaced ;-).. Circuit breakers worked - LOL
Rick

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Once a device has become carbonized, things start getting a bit more risky. Switches are much cheaper than peace of mind in this case.
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It's not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
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On 11 Aug 2004 19:15:58 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@nortelnetworks.com (Chris Lewis) wrote:

Yeah, replace the switch and sell the old one on Ebay using the word "Vintage" in the description.
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Rick wrote:

You know, given the high cost of switches, take $50 out of the bank. Buy the switches and install them. Then take the remaining $45 to take her out to your local restaurant* and tell her your glad she's ok.
*it need not be fancy, just something with a table cloth that's not a chain.
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Rick wrote:

She's lucky the whole ball of steel wool didn't flare up and burn her hand or whatever it landed on when she dropped it.
Most people think of steel as non-flammable, (except in the presence of a lot of added oxygen as from a cutting torch), the thin strands in a steel wool pad have such a high ratio of surface area to volume that the pad will blaze away in plain air.
And it doesn't take full line voltage to start it. A single D-cell flashlight battery is enough, as my now 40 year old son can testify he discovered when he was about 5 years young. (And we forever had a burned spot on the kitchen floor as a memorial to that discovery.)
Jeff
--
Jeff Wisnia (W1BSV + Brass Rat '57 EE)

"As long as there are final exams, there will be prayer in public
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This is an old survival trick. Pack some steel wool, and a standard 9 volt battery. Touching both terminals of the battery to the steel wool ignites it, and makes an excellent fire starter. The 9v battery just makes it easier, since the terminals are next to each other, you can set the wool down and just touch it with the battery. It's kind of an interesting experiment, but do be careful- it gets really hot.

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I heard a story of a guy who set his living room on fire while stripping paint from the baseboard. There was an outlet in the baseboard with the cover removed. As he was cleaning off paint off the baseboard around the outlet using chemical stripper and steel wool, apparently a bit of the steel wool got between the metal J-box and the hot screw terminal on the duplex. Instantly set fire to the place.
Ken
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