The Pain of Electricity (AC versus DC)

Haven’t you always wanted to know which one hurts more (AC or DC)? You don’t have to guess anymore:

Again, don’t try to shock yourselves at home.

Through all my years of being shocked, I somehow came to the understanding that AC (Alternating Current) hurts more than DC (Direct Current). Then somebody, which I don’t remember who, told me that the body has capacitive properties and lets the AC electricity through better. I don’t know how true that statement is, but from experience it somehow makes sense. If you hold on to a 50V DC voltage with dry hands, you won’t feel it as I experienced. But as soon as you switch the same voltage on and off at high speeds, such as 60Hz, it will shock you badly.

What I said in the video is true: if you want to feel the electricity pain, just get a 9V battery and put it on your tongue for a short period of time. Don’t worry, that’s harmless. But don’t go any higher in voltage.

A funny story: telephone lines carry around 48V of DC when not loaded. Once, we had moved into a brand new apartment and the phone lines where not connected. I was going through the phone box to find our line that was supposed to be live and couldn’t find it. One guy came in and said I’ll find it for you, and started putting those phone line pairs on his tongue. Then when he received a huge shock, he said: “Here is your line” and I said thanks! I must be ashamed of myself that I can’t take it more than 12 volts!

Now as I show in my video, the AC seems to hurt at RMS levels half of the DC. But you should know that RMS means the effective AC voltage, meaning that from power consumption point of view an AC signal with specific RMS value is equal to the same value DC signal. But the actual peak of the AC voltage is the RMS value times 1.41. So a 6.5V RMS means that it is oscillating around 0V with 9.16V peaks in a sine wave form.

I have been shocked with 220V AC, 50Hz back in Iran, and also with 110V AC, 60Hz in Canada, and I should say they both hurt equally bad. I expected the 220V to hurt twice the 110V, but it didn’t feel that different. Either my pain sensor was saturated on both and didn’t feel the difference, or the 10Hz extra of the 110V compensates for its lower level.

35 thoughts on “The Pain of Electricity (AC versus DC)

  1. Hello great video as always

    I have a question regarding DC safety or rather pulsating DC safety.
    In the video you shock yourself with 24 Vdc and even though it was twice your pain limit you survived and seemed fine. Since AC seems to be more dangerous would pulsating 24 Vdc have done any serious harm to you like fried brain or involuntary jaw clamping? Also what is the maximum Vdc you would stick in your mouth (and still be out of real danger) at 0Hz, 10Hz, 100Hz, 1kHz, 10kHz and 100kHz. At last if you know where I can find more information about this subject I then I would to know what to look for.


    • One important thing on how much hurting you would receive from electricity is that it is dependent to how long you are exposed to it. If I had left the 24V on my tong for long time, beside the pain, it would cook my tissues slowly.

      Also it depends on the path the electricity travels into. A voltage on tong is not too dangerous, although it is close to brain and some of it can get there. But if it directly goes through brain or heart, it would be very dangerous.

      Pulsating DC or a square wave is the same as AC. If you look at my other article/video on pain versus frequency, you get some answers on their relation.

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  3. What happens if you get 220v on your tongue? I was shocked about 10 times with 220v but once I was about to get one on my tongue (for a reason I was sure that the cables are not connected to the source BUT WHEN I WAS ABOUT TO TOUCH MY TONGUE WITH THE CABLES I DECIDED TO CHECK if is as such – I’ve connected to 2 cables and exploded – that moment I knew that I just was about to die). I wonder if I could survive or not?

    • NEVER do that! If you read my other article on pain versus frequency, I describe there that although I put voltage on my tong, it is actually effecting my eyes as well. And that’s only at 4V! 220V could have fried your brain. Although that also depends on how long you would keep it there.

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  6. I have a electric plainer jointer which is 120v ac 12.5amp 60hrts however my home power supply is only 110v dc 50hrts what can i do to make my machine work ?
    oh yes my machine also says it has 1 horse power continuous something, must be a very small horse. please help.

  7. This is why Iranians should not leave Iran. Once they breathe the sweet air of freedom (yes, even in Canada), THEY GO CRAZY!!!!!

    Keep up the good work!

  8. Another awesome video. I would never in a million years do what you did here; I seriously dislike electric shocks. I’ve shocked myself (unintentionally) with everything from 220V/60Hz to 9V DC. The 220 hit made my arm numb for about 15 minutes. I think your experience with 220 may have been due to a poor return path.
    Any thoughts on 3 phase power and pain/risk of electrocution? I am morbidly curious; please don’t feel the need to test it personally.
    I also love the social commentary!

  9. Did you get such a flexible tongue by ac-tongue dancing or by birth ?
    Anyway, your video’s are great, hilarious and educational, as autodidact I unfortunately had to learn a lot by experience :)
    For one thing I only needed one lesson, never get distracted while soldering, firmly picking up a hot iron at the wrong end really hurts…

  10. Love your article, though probably not wise to suggest 9V batteries are harmless. There’s a couple of deaths a year from 9V batteries, Google it! :)

    • I did a bit of searching and didn’t find anything… yet. I believe it’s a myth. You can’t die from a 9 battery unless you stick the voltage right into your body on a critical nerve path. If a 9V tiny battery kills, I expect more people die from 12V high power car batteries. Will you send me a link to a death from a 9V battery?

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  12. Did you notice the difference in taste between positive terminal and negative one?

    When doing this with < 9V as a kid, I rapidly learned to differentiate polarity by taste. The skill persists to this day.

    Funny video. Nice humor take on the whole thing.

  13. Man! Stop doing what you’re doing! You have been “bitten” by 110V and 220V AC already! Are you going around the globe, “testing” the flavor of electricity? :-)
    Seriously now this was a great article, just how it’s supposed to be: informative and funny! Keep up the good work but please don’t kill yourself in the process…
    I work a lot with valve amplifiers and even though I haven’t been “bitten” yet, I fear the time I will have 600V DC across my body. As always the “one handed electrician” practice is a good idea if you don’t want to have all this current across your heart. It will put it out of comission as fast as you can imagine.

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  17. Really great video!

    One of my first memories is the shock of a 220 V AC @ 50 Hz. I was about three years old, and my parents were rebuilding some panels in the house and left a socket unprotected, which was obviously very interesting for a curious little boy. :-) Since then, I’ve been shocked quite a few times, most recently by a 50 V cable TV signal. Why on earth do they do that?

    Nowadays, it is rare, though, since I started to learn about how much heat high currents through thin wires generate, and having seen that in a lab kinda gives you a hint that if you have the hand of a theoritician (like me), you ought to stay away from practical matters. :-)

  18. I inadvertently applied 2 KV @ about 5 mA AC when the hipot tester proved to be faulty; I thought my shoulder-blades were going to slam together. Ouch. Glad I was on the ground because it was a shorter fall.

    Love the safety push in your video work; humour rather than pedantry.

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