Is it safe to use a step-down transformer with a Hair Styler?
August 21, 2008 6:55 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend has a GHD hair straightener purchased in the USA, it's labelled "120Vac 35W", I want to use it in Ireland (where the standard voltage is 220Vac). Is it safe to use this with a step-down (220V -> 110V) transformer?

So some complications, firstly the product (a ghd mk3 styler) is labelled 35W, but that seems like a very low wattage to me for something that gets quite hot quite quickly, the manufacturer site is devoid of information, and googling got me nowhere, is it safe to assume a transformer rated above 35W maximum (like this) is safe to use? Is it possible this product actually supports 220V also but just isn't labelled as such (I'm not very familiar with product specification standards in the USA)? In researching this I've also come across some advice that step-down transformers cannot be used with hair-straighteners/hair-dryers full stop (some saying due to the devices getting hot, some that such devices use too much power); could this be true? Any electrical geniuses willing to lend their intellects for the benefit of my loved ones hair would be greatly appreciated.
posted by nfg to Technology (11 answers total)
Speaking from personal experience, a coworker of mine in India had a "flat iron" which I think is similar to a hair straightener. It was purchased in the US and used in India, which I think uses 220V. Even though it was plugged into an transformer, the metal plates melted off the handle, and the thing died. She said that it was the best 20 minutes of hair straightening she had ever experienced, however.

It could be that her transformer just wasn't built to handle the load, or perhaps she was simply using an adapter, and not something that will change the voltage. FWIW, this thing killed my Playstation and a set of speakers while overseas. I don't know if I just wasn't using it correctly, or if some devices just aren't meant for it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:03 AM on August 21, 2008

I used my US Revlon straighteners in the UK with a step-down converter the day after I moved here. The smell of burning plastic was so sickening we had to leave the house for the rest of the day. The converter worked fine with my laptop, but the laptop power cord had a voltage adaptor already, so maybe that's why.
On a positive note, I stopped straightening my hair. Now I am a curly-head with lots more time on her hands.
posted by cilantro at 7:23 AM on August 21, 2008

I have a GHD flat iron bought in the UK (240v) which I use in Portugal (220v) with a plug adaptor. I've checked it now, and it is labeled 220-240v, 75W, so you definitely need a transformer. That said, I can't say whether your transformer would work, but I sure hope you get it up and running. That thing is hair bliss.
posted by neblina_matinal at 7:30 AM on August 21, 2008

For safety's sake, use a device that's wired for that voltage and skip the rube goldberg workaround. The risk of burnout or overheating on hair appliances when used with any sort of transformer / voltage adaptor is very high, and can be dangerous. If the heating element overheats, the appliance could conceivably melt or catch fire -- I've seen both happen firsthand.

Also, using the device with a voltage adaptor will most likely void your warranty. This may not make much of a difference to you monetarily, but the manufacturer will not be liable if say, you are burned or your hair catches fire.
posted by zarq at 9:30 AM on August 21, 2008

The ONLY time I have ever seen heated or motorized US appliances work in the UK properly (and without catching fire or causing city-wide blackouts) is when they are used with industrial-sized transformers. An American friend of ours used an American blender with a shoebox-sized transformer, and it worked gorgeously. On the other hand, anything with a motor or heating element I ever plugged in to a small transformer was destroyed immediately. Unless you have access to some serious step-down kit, I'd skip it.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2008

The problem is 50HZ versus 60HZ. Even if the voltage is right, a lot of devices won't really work correctly if the AC frequency is wrong. A simple step-down transformer takes care of the voltage but doesn't change the frequency.
posted by Class Goat at 9:45 AM on August 21, 2008

I had a friend burn off a sizable chunk of hair doing just what you propose, so I would go with no. I just purchased a 220V flat iron for travel for just this reason.
posted by marylynn at 11:40 AM on August 21, 2008

I am an electrical engineer and I see absolutely no reason this wouldn't work as long as the transformer is rated for at least 35 watts. 50 Hz versus 60 Hz has very little to do with something like this because there are likely no capacitors or AC-DC circuits in the hair styler. If the step-down transformer was rated for 60 Hz and you were using it at 50 Hz then there are some problems that can crop up
posted by robofunk at 1:52 PM on August 21, 2008

Robofunk, are there no problems with the control electronics? Even hair straighteners are little computers these days and I was wondering if the shut-off circuits might be affected.
posted by flameproof at 6:58 AM on August 22, 2008

If there are electronics there may be problems, in which case it might not work at all and not melt your face off. The designer may have used capacitors large enough to accommodate 50 Hz however, which is not a big stretch considering most electronics these days are designed for 50-60 Hz.
posted by robofunk at 8:55 AM on August 22, 2008

Thanks for all the answers guys, in the end I've decided not to risk it (although fundamentally I can't see from a physics point of view what the likely problem is), will be selling the American device and picking up a Eurocentric one.
posted by nfg at 2:12 AM on August 25, 2008

« Older my friends suck   |   I can name that tune in less than 90 seconds. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.