Polarized Vs. Non-polarized: Household Electrical Safety

Posted by Stephanie Junek on

In North America, with a 110V circuit, polarized outlets and plugs are used as a safety feature.  They are used to help ensure the complete circle of electricity in a circuit, keeping the hot-wired pin in the hot-wired side of the outlet and the same for the neutral side and pin.  Some machines require polarized plugs for proper functioning.   

A commonly asked question is " Why does my 2-prong style plug have different sized metal pins?" (Shown in the image below.)  The answer is because it is polarized.  Both the polarized and non-polarized 2-prong household plugs will fit into your 3-prong, standard household outlet/receptacle.  To learn more about plugs and receptacles read our preview post here

2-prong plug, polarized plug, polarized, AC Works, ACConnectors, AC Works Connector

The hot pin on a polarized plug is the smaller of the two pins and is connected to the black wire on the inside of your plug and cable.  The larger of the two pins are connected to the white wire and the grounding pin on a 3-prong plug is connected to the green wire.  

A plug with two prongs of the exact same shape and size is considered non-polarized.  You cannot tell which prong is the hot side and which is the neutral side, because the metal pins are the same.  

When looking at a polarized household plug, shown in detail on our NEMA chart, (NEMA 1-15P), the smaller of the two prongs is a hot wire and the other is neutral. When plugged in, the electricity enters your plug through the hot wire prong and then exits through the neutral prong, to complete the circuit.  

polarized plug, polarized, household polarized plug, AC Works, ACConnectors, AC Works Connector

You can see, in the image above, on a polarized plug on one side is a straight blade pin and the other has a more rounded end on the pin.  The rounded end of the pin is there so you cannot insert the plug into the connector incorrectly. 

non-polarized plug, non-polarized, plugs, AC Works, ACConnectors, AC Works Connector

The best way to tell if your plug is polarized or not is to look at it.  If the 2-prong plug has two equally sized pins, as shown in the image above, then it is not polarized.  The 3-prong design has a grounding pin which is designed for extra safety measures in electrical devices like a coffee pot, where they may come across liquids.  The grounding pin will trip the breaker if the water gets into the circuit, stopping your equipment from running. 

Non-polarized outlets were common in older homes, changing any non-polarized outlets you may have in your home will keep your house current on safety codes. Every outlet should be replaced with a polarized outlet in an up-to-date home sale and for safety.  Today, outlets are being installed with a 3-prong design, to stay up to date on current electrical safety codes.

Below is an image of an older style polarized outlet type, which many people confuse for a non-polarized outlet.  You can see the slot on the right side is slightly larger than that of the left. 

old style polarized outlet, polarized outlet, polarized vs non-polarized outlets, AC Works, ACConnectors, AC Works Connector

For an accurate version of the current OSHA electrical standards please follow the link below.  As always if you have any questions, leave them in the comments or email our customer service department for help.  


Stephanie Junek, Marketing Manager, Cordtec Power Corp., AC Works Connector, Blog Author

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  • Hello Daniel.
    That’s odd that the replacement plug wouldn’t be polarized. Do you have a part number for the replacement fan and motor? If you have pictures of the plug and outlet, can you send them to me at ac-creative@acconnectors.com. I’d like to take a look and do some research on the replacement parts that you have.

    Christopher on
  • Good morning ,

    I just purchased a replacement fan and motor assembly for my Nutone bathroom fan. Very simple install , but the plug in for the new assembly is non polarized. Is there a specific way that it needs to be plugged in to be safe and correct ? If so how can you tell which way since both prongs are the same size ? Fan and light seem to be working perfectly fine the way it’s presently plugged in. Thank you.

    Daniel Jones on
  • I’m not well versed with this, I glad that I have the time to read this blog I learned so much. Now I won’t be ignorant of the difference between Polarized and Non-Polarized. Thank you!


    Wendy on
  • Hello Diana.
    The polarization of a plug would have nothing to do with a fan running slow and fast by itself. Polarized plugs exist as a safety feature to prevent hot from being plugged into neutral, and vice-versa. If the fan is running fast and slow, it would most likely be a connection issue. There could be a problem with the wiring or the outlet you are using. The plug could still be the issue, but it’s still best to stick with polarized plugs to avoid more issues. I suggest you get an electrician to double-check and verify what the culprit is.

    Chris on
  • Can i replace a polarize plug to a non polarize plug my fan goes fast and slow by itself and they told me to replace the plug

    Diana on

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