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Don't Use Male

Jun 18, 2024

The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns that the plugs can electrocute users, start fires, and pose other dangers

Consumers should immediately stop using male-to-male extension cords, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which said that the products can cause electrocution, fires, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

In an unusual warning issued on Thursday, the CPSC specifically warned consumers to stop using and discard male-to-male extension cords made by several unnamed manufacturers and sold on Amazon for $40 to $72.

The CPSC also made a general plea to consumers to stop purchasing all male-to-male extension cords and stop using the products and discard them immediately. And the agency urged people not to resell male-to-male electric cords.

The extension cords have three-pronged plugs on each end and are generally used to “back-feed” electricity to a residence during an outage by connecting a portable gas-powered generator to an outlet in the home. The cords pose several risks.

When plugged in on one end, the opposite end has live electricity, which poses a serious risk of shock or electrocution, the CPSC said.

In addition, the flow of electric power in the direction reverse to that of the typical flow of power circumvents safety features of a home’s electrical system and can result in a fire.

And last, “the short length of some of these cords also encourages the use of a generator near the home, which could create a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning,” the CPSC said. “Furthermore, these cords do not comply with applicable national safety codes.”

The CPSC said the cords were sold in multiple colors and lengths and under various brand names. They were sold on Amazon for $40 to $72. The CPSC lists nine of the known Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASINs) in its warning. Consumers can find those numbers in the product’s URL bar (typically after the product name and “dp”). The ASIN can also be found in the product details section of the listing on Amazon under “Additional Information.”

Misha Kollontai, an engineer who tests generators for Consumer Reports, underlined the importance of avoiding male-to-male extension cords when hooking up a generator to a home. “These are very dangerous, even to people who think they know what they are doing,” he says. “The CPSC also highlights that most of the sold cords were fairly short, meaning if one did use them, chances are the generator would be far too close to your home, potentially even inside.”

Generators emit odorless carbon monoxide (CO) exhaust. When placed inside or too close to a house, they can asphyxiate people and animals. CR recommends a portable generator only if it passes our newly expanded CO safety technology test.

Even if your generator has this potentially lifesaving feature, CR still advises that you follow our longstanding safety guidelines: Always operate a generator a minimum of 20 feet from your house, with the exhaust directed away from any windows, doors, air conditioners, and other structures.

Instead of purchasing a male-to-male plug, homeowners should purchase and install transfer switches for their generators. These safely connect a home standby or portable generator to a circuit panel via one cable. Prices with installation can run from $500 to $900. Any generator not connected through a transfer switch should be placed at least 20 feet outside the house, with extension cords running into the house to power appliances.

The CPSC’s warning on the male-to-male extension cords was unusual for the agency, providing few details typical of a traditional product recall.

Unlike those more common announcements, this bulletin named no manufacturers. It also provided no tally of reported injuries or death, no estimate of when and how many products had been sold, and no remedy for consumers other than to stop using and discard the cords. By listing “some of the known” Amazon Standard Identification Numbers, the CPSC could be indicating that it doesn’t have a handle yet on how widespread the sales of these products were, says Will Wallace, associate director of safety policy for CR.

A CPSC spokesperson told CR that “the information provided in the news release reflected information available to CPSC at press time.”

The agency knows the name of only one manufacturer, for only one of the nine products listed in the release, the spokesperson added. The CPSC has been in contact with that maker but could not disclose the nature of the contact due to restrictions in federal law, she said. Most recalls are voluntary, and among other limits, the law sharply restricts the CPSC from naming a manufacturer or model in connection with a hazardous product unless the company gives it permission to do so.A CPSC spokesperson told CR that while consumers shouldn’t buy male-to-male extension cords from any retailer, it was focusing on items it had identified on Amazon. “We found these products on Amazon and felt it was important to notify the public about the hazard,” the spokesperson said. The CPSC’s attempts to address the safety hazard with Amazon, she added, “have been unsuccessful to date.” Amazon didn’t put out a press release or other announcement acknowledging the CPSC’s warning. Samantha Boyd, a spokesperson for the company, told CR: “We have proactive measures in place to prevent prohibited products from being listed, and we continuously monitor our store and remove any such products and take corrective actions when we find them. The products in question in this case have been removed, and we have notified customers of the CPSC’s concerns and issued refunds.”

This morning, after the CPSC announcement, CR found two male-to-male extension cords—though not the ones named by the CPSC—still on the Amazon site. After CR alerted Amazon, the pages were removed.

Wallace says that the bulletin’s unusual wording suggests that the CPSC has a broad concern about male-to-male plugs. It also represents an alarming break from the usual way in which the public is alerted about dangerous products.

“It is a unilateral CPSC warning to the public,” Wallace says. “What that usually means is a company is refusing to do a recall. In all likelihood, somewhere in the supply chain, a company has the responsibility to do a recall and they’re not.”

“The agency probably knows that a bunch of people have these and don’t know where they came from,” he says. The hazard is so serious that the CPSC probably wants to make sure that people protect themselves until the agency knows more information about exactly which products are involved and what needs to happen in terms of a recall. “That’s a really powerful message coming from the CPSC.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this article, originally published Sept. 16, 2022, included an incomplete quote by Misha Kollontai about the risks posed by the extension cords’ short length. The updated, complete quote provides more context.

Tobie Stanger

Tobie Stanger is a senior editor at Consumer Reports, where she has been helping readers shop wisely, save money, and avoid scams for more than 30 years. Most recently, her home- and shopping-related beats have included appliance and grocery stores, generators, homeowners and flood insurance, humidifiers, lawn mowers, and luggage—she also covers home improvement products like flooring, roofing, and siding. During off-hours, she works on her own fixer-upper and gets her hands dirty in the garden. Follow her on Twitter @TobieStanger.