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International Electrical Frequency, 50 HZ vs. 60 Hz

One of the most common questions we receive here is "what will happen if I plug my 60 Hz hairdryer (fan, shaver, whatever) into a 50 Hz outlet?" The most likely answer is "it depends." If the appliance is not motorized, there may be no noticeable affect. Otherwise, the following observations might shed some light on what could happen.

From a helpful correspondent:

I would like to inform you about my experience with electrical equipment and the research I did about 50 and 60 Hertz (cycles).

I am an electrical engineer and live on the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean in front of Venezuela. On our island we have an electrical mains of 127 and 220 Volt and 50 Hertz.

Because we are a small island about 150.000 inhabitants and are located close to the USA, some electrical equipment sold is imported from the States, so made for a electrical mains of 110/120 volt 60 Hertz.

There is however a big problem with this and that is a lot of this equipment burns out after a while and this varies between a day or weeks or months or years. This depends on the quality of the insulation of the electrical wiring.

What is the cause of these burn-outs: the function of a electrical motor or transformer is dependent on the Hertz or cycles of the alternating voltage or current. This means that a motor or transformer would not function if the electrical voltage was not alternating.

Basically a motor or transformer is made by a manufacturer for a specific Hertz or cycles, so either for 50 or for 60 Hz. This is mentioned on the nameplate of the equipment. Sometimes it mentions both Hertz 50 and 60, but this is only for small (low wattage) motors and small transformers. Larger motors or transformers are only made for a specific amount of Hertz, so either 50 or 60

What happens if you connect a 60 Hertz motor to a 50 Hertz mains:
  • The motor turns 17% slower
  • The internal current goes up by 17%
  • The power (watt) goes down with 17 %
  • The mechanical cooling is less, because of 17% less turns
The result is a higher current, then designed by the manufacturer and the insulation of the electrical wiring deteriorate much quicker, which after sometime results in a burn-out, which could cause a

  • a hairdryer has a heating element and a fanmotor, the heating element is not a problem, but the fanmotor is made for 60 Hertz, so can burn-out
  • a mains adaptor for a battery charger , for a laptop, or for a cellular phone has a transformer in it and burns-out if it is only made for 60 Hertz
Today's laptop adaptors are mostly made for the whole world and there is no problem as long as it states on the name-plate: 110-220 volt 50/60 Hertz, if it only states 110 volt 60 Hertz(cycles) it can not be used on a 50 Hertz mains, even if you connect it with a transformer let's say to use it in Europe on a 220 Volt 50 Hertz mains.


You can use a transformer to solve part ( the internal current can be lowered but the cycles cannot be changed) of the problem, by connecting the 60 cycles apparatus to a voltage 20% lower as mentioned on the nameplate:

So a 110 volt 60 Hertz apparatus can be connected to a 50 Hertz mains on a voltage 20% lower then 110 volt=90 volt.


Connect a 110 volt 60 Hertz apparatus with a transformer to a 110 Volt or 127 Volt or 220 Volt; 50 Hertz mains, by setting the primary voltage of the transformer to either 110 or 127 or 220 volt (dependent on the mains of the country) and the secondary voltage to 90 volt for the apparatus

This solution is not a practical solution for travellers, because you would have to carry a heavy transformer of about 1500 Watt in order to use the hairdryer, simpler is to buy (or rent) a new hairdryer in the visiting country.

For all other traveling electrical equipment like a laptop check first the Voltage and cycles on the mains adaptor, which in most cases is universal for 110-220 volt 50/60 Hertz and if this is not the case buy a new universal mains adaptor.

The information on your web-site should state roughly something like the following:

Electrical Equipment

Electrical equipment is made by the manufacturer for a certain amount of Current, Voltage and Hertz (Cycles) which is mentioned on the name plate. The Current is dependent of the Voltage and the Hertz.

If the Current through the apparatus is higher then is designed for because of connecting it to a Voltage or Hertz other then stated on the nameplate, the apparatus burns out and can cause a fire.

The electrical Voltage and Hertz are different in different parts of the world, roughly you can distinguish:

120 and 220 Volt; 60 Hertz (USA)
230 Volt; 50 Hertz (Europe & Asia)

Because the electrical current is dependent of the Voltage and the Hertz you cannot connect electrical equipment with a motor and or transformer in it, to a Voltage other then stated on the nameplate. If you connect 60 Hertz equipment to a 50 Hertz mains the internal current goes up with 17% and can cause a burn-out. If you connect 120 Volt equipment to 220 Volt the current goes up with 100% and surely causes a fast burn-out.

This means even if the Voltage is the same, or if you put a transformer in between to transform the Voltage, you still cannot connect a 60 Hertz motor or equipment with an internal input transformer to a 50 Hertz mains.

A lot of equipment is made for universal use all over the world like a laptop and in that case the nameplate mentions: 110-230 Volt; 50/60 Hertz

In most cases a hairdryer is only made for one Voltage and one Hertz and can only be used for this Voltage and Hertz

Universal adaptor plugs for different type of main outlet's can only be used if the Voltage and Hertz are the same for the electrical equipment and the main outlet or if the nameplate states it can be used for different Voltage and Hertz, or if you can switch the Voltage on the equipment and it can be used for both 50 and 60 Hertz.

The message is: If you are not sure do not use your electrical equipment in other countries if the Voltage and or Hertz is not the same as in your country I hope the information is useful to you. You can also visit my web-site, which I specifically set up for the local people to inform them about this problem.

Henk Pasman

Mr. Pasman later added:

Please note that the same problem also exist in transformers as I explained, they also burn out after a while, also a transformer is made for either 50 or 60 Hertz. Take for instance the transformers which are used for printers to convert them to either a DC or AC voltage of somewhere around 12 volts, they burn quickly if there made cheap in China or Taiwan. The insulation of the wiring is done at minimum for 60 Hertz because of high volume and fine for 60 Hertz but not for 50 Hertz. Also the transformer for a celphone to connect it to the mains and charge the battery.

The input transformer like a computer or television or radio equipment is usually not a problem because they are used by the manufacturer all over the world and they make in that case only one model which can be used for both Hertz.

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