Is Being an Electrician a Particularly Dirty Job? (What to Know and Expect)

I can already tell you right now, that if you’re afraid of getting your hands dirty from time to time and the encounter of a spider web freaks you out, you shouldn’t read much further. Working as an electrician I’ve definitely had my fair share of days cleaning my work clothes as a consequence of dirty assignments. However most of my days I do come home just as clean as I arrived. In this article, I will introduce this aspect of an electrician’s job.

The work environment of electricians can definitely be considered to be dirty at times. They can work in dusty and even contaminated environments, which is also a health risk due to chemicals and smaller particulate matter. However, these hazards can be mostly avoided by wearing proper clothes and safety gear.

If you are preparing yourself to become an electrician you might want to know just how dirty this job really can be. I can already now assure you that will not compete with the likes of plumbers and what they have to endure. I’m also going to give one of my own examples and what I do to stay both clean and safe. In the article, you will also be provided with a survey of 618 electricians giving their opinion on just how dirty they consider their job to be.

Is Being an Electrician a “Dirty Job”?

To give you an idea of what a “crummy” day would look like, I will give you the following real-world example. And I must also provide the precaution, that most assignments will definitely not be as intense as what I’m going to share in this particular case.

Storytime: This job assignment took place at a location where the trains for the public transport were being supplied with fuel and cleaned up for travel. Upon the first day of arrival, I showed up with the logo of my company clearly visible on my work clothes. 8 hours in, no one would be able to recognize this same logo. As these trains run on diesel, the entire preparation station was also covered in soot and grease. And by the end of the workday, so was I – and my tools. At the end of each shift, myself and my colleague were provided with special chemicals to clean off the worst filthiness. After two weeks of replacing old lights, we came to the conclusion that our work clothes were no longer usable, and we ordered some new ones through our employer.

I’ve had several job assignments, over the course of being an electrician, where I have had to abuse my washing machine. However, this has not been the case in the vast majority of work tasks. So, this is not to scare anyone away from the electrical trade. But just a friendly reminder, that not every day consists of working in clean office spaces.

If I were to put it into numbers, I would say that 90 percent of my workdays haven’t been mostly dirty. Later on, in the article, I will give my advice on getting through these “crummy days”. However, in this next section, I will give you an overview of how the majority of electricians perceive this aspect of their job.

Survey: Do You (Electricians) Consider Your Job to Be Mostly Dirty?

Dirty, crummy, contaminated, dusty, filthy, grimy, messy, muddy, polluted, and stained are all words that can we can use to describe some aspects of the job of electricians. I have definitely encountered environments that would be described by all these alternative descriptions of a “dirty environment”. You coming home absolutely spotless laboring as an electrician will most likely be one of the more rare occurrences, as the following respondent also explains.

It can be filthy at times but some days u go home clean as a whistle. But those days are few and far between.

Survey Respondent, Electrician #1

My general advice, especially for new electricians and apprentices, is to remember: the dirty jobs and particularly filthy assignment “too shall pass”. At the present work, I’m maintaining and installing various electrical solutions in an indoor office environment. And as a consequence, I mostly come home with a “filth-level” close to the one when I left in the morning. Certainly, I feel gratitude towards my present job assignment when compared to the following electrician responding to the survey.

Depends on where you work, I work in a 60 year old iron ore mine/concentrator. My hands and face are black by the time I put coveralls on in the morning.

Survey Respondent, Electrician #2

Cutting to the chase, in the following table you can see the results of the survey. The general question being asked is whether or not electricians consider their job to be particularly dirty or mostly clean. The total number of respondents in this poll is 618 electricians.

Yes31851,5 %
No30048,5 %

As we can see, there is a close tie between electricians who considers their work to be either mostly dirty or clean. A general consensus among the respondents is, that every electrician will at some time or another encounter some dust, soot, and dirty environments. By comparing these answers we have a slight majority, who consider their job as electricians to be particularly dirty. I thought it would be a great idea to finish off this section by providing one respondent’s general advice on, what you can expect in the different seasons as an electrician working in dirty environments.

In the spring it’s muddy, in the summer it’s dusty in the fall it’s rather nice and in the winter it is cold.

Survey Respondent, Electrician #3

How to Stay Neat and “Mostly Spotless” as an Electrician

There are definitely some techniques and best practices you can implement to say as clean as possible. These techniques are not only great for avoiding getting greased up. It is actually also highly recommended to stave off the consequences and potential dangers of working in contaminated and polluted environments.

Also Read: Is being an electrician stressful?

As electricians work in dirty environments, we can also so be exposed to both hazardous chemicals and smaller particles. These dangers can be mostly avoided by wearing safety gear like dust masks, work gloves, and proper work clothes. In the following I will explain some of the clothing, you should consider acquiring as an electrician working in dirty environments.

Why Electricians Should Wear Long Sleeves on “Dirty Days”

I can identify multiple reasons why it would be a good idea for electricians to wear long sleeves in general. By wearing long sleeves you will also prevent yourself from collecting scratches and getting hurt in general.

Coming back to the main concern of staying “as clean as possible”, wearing a long sleeve sweater or t-shirt is a great practice. When reaching out for electrical components in walls, panels, and under ceilings – wearing some long sleeves will definitely come in handy. Electricians are known to work “behind the scenes”. This usually means that we are working in places where most people will never step foot. One of these places is definitely over the ceiling and in the walls where lights and power outlets are usually placed. As a consequence, we will also have to dig through some dirt and other messy things to reach cables and electrical components.

Pro tip: And I can also give some added advice. If you are afraid of bugs, spider webs, and some other related and “interesting” surprises, I would suspect that becoming an electrician would most likely prove to be difficult.

Use Your Work Gloves Instead of “Your Hands”

Heavy-duty work gloves are also an essential item of an electrician’s arsenal. Personally, I always have two types of work gloves on me at all times. The first type is a standard work glove that I use when touching rough, dirty, and “questionable surfaces”. In the previous example of me working at a diesel contaminated train station, the only time I ever took them off was in the bathroom when taking care of “business”.

Is Being an Electrician a Particularly Dirty Job? work gloves |

Pro tip: To avoid new electrical components getting greased up by your hand, a commonly used technique is to utilize the back of your hands when contacting cleaning surfaces. For example when lifting ceiling plates to reach ceiling lights.

Standard Work Gloves: These have actually become such a common item of my workwear, that I always have them in my left pocket. The most important parts of choosing the right pair of work gloves are to pick the ones that are so tight, they “almost” squeeze blood out of your fingers (obviously not, but I’m trying to make a point here). If you’re choosing poorly fitting gloves, you won’t be as safe handling electrical components, and you will also gather sweat easier underneath.

Also Read: 11 clothing and workwear essentials for electricians

White Gloves for Clean Surfaces: The other type of gloves I use are white ones, which I primarily use when touching clean and white surfaces. When touching old cables, power outlets, and other materials you will easily collect dust and dirt on your hands. By using a dedicated white pair of work gloves, you won’t have to constantly go to the bathroom and wash your hands in order to touch clean surfaces.

A Dirty Work Environment Can Be a Dangerous Environment

As electricians, we have to keep in mind, that working in a dusty and contaminated environment can be a health risk. Especially particulate matter (PM), stemming from dust, dirt, and soot is a danger that we want to avoid as much as possible.

Particulate matter is made up of microscopic particles or tiny droplets that can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Some particles with a diameter of less than 10 micrometers can invade deep into your lungs and even enter your blood system.

Particulate Matter Definition.

We as electricians often work closely with all sorts of materials, that can be placed in this category. And as such, your employer needs to provide you with safety gear that reduced the risk of exposure to these dangers. By always having a proper dust mask at hand, you can apply this to stay clear of some hazards.

Is Being an Electrician a "Dirty" Job |
Spaces like attics can be an especially dirty environment with many types of dangerous particulate matter.

These particular dangers cannot in some cases be seen by the human eye. By analyzing your environment, you can quickly conclude if wearing a dust mask is appropriate or not. An example of this could be when electricians are working above ceilings where isolation material is present.

Also Read: Most common dangers of being an electrician (it’s not what you think)

Isolation material typically includes small fibers of glass and wool consisting of different types of minerals. When an electrician lifts up a ceiling plate to reach a location, or by crawling around attics, these particulates can be circulated and introduced to the air we breathe. As well as proving to be a health hazard, isolation material is also an often uninvited element of irritation to your skin and eyes.

Final Thoughts

My aim in this article has been to introduce you to the dirty environment and conditions that electricians will oftentimes be exposed to. I also want to state the fact, we as electricians are equipped with both the tools, gear, and knowledge that makes us able to handle this condition.

Also Read: 5 cons of being an electrician you’ll need to know

If you were to consider an electrician’s career, I wouldn’t consider this to be a deal-breaker. However, it is certainly a part of the job, that every electrician needs to be aware of as well as knowledgeable on to avoid overloading your washing machine due to dirty work clothes.