I wanted to test how much power a GFCI outlet uses while idle, so I hooked up my multi-meter to test the current flow. I put my test lead in the amp socket, and confirmed the current was on the order of a milli-amp, so I was safe to plug my lead into the milli-amp socket.

After doing so I measured a current of a few milli-amps. But then suddenly through testing I got a sudden current spike, and blew my 400mA fuse. I'm not sure what caused the spike... maybe tripping the GFCI, etc, but some GFCIs seem to operate this way.

Is there some way I can even this out, and absorb whatever the spike current is for that sub-second that it spikes protecting my fuse and multi-meter, but still be on the milli-amp scale? I know conceptually this is what a capacitor does, but I also know you can't simply hook a capacitor up in series and expect to get any current flow.

I'm thinking maybe there's some simple circuit, or inexpensive device I can hook up between the GFCI and my multi-meter that'll prevent the fuse from blowing, but I don't know enough about electronics to know if this is possible, or where to even begin.

EDIT: Another possibility is some sort of solid-state, fast trip 300ma circuit breaker that I put in series, before the multi-meter that'll trip before I blow the fuse? Does such a thing exist?

EDIT2: How about something like a Inrush Current Limiter? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inrush_current_limiter

On the face of it, it sounds like the solution to exactly the problem I'm having.

  • \$\begingroup\$ how do you run something like a vacuum cleaner if the power outlet only provides few milliamps? \$\endgroup\$
    – jsotola
    Sep 28, 2020 at 18:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are slow blow fuses which can tolerate short pulses above their ratings. I would never suggest using a higher rated fuse, say 1A, in such a role. \$\endgroup\$
    – user16324
    Sep 28, 2020 at 18:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BrianDrummond Wouldn't this put my multi-meter in danger? Whomever designed the multi-meter put in a fast-blow fuse for a reason. Presumably to protect the electronics from damage from say even a brief, 1 amp surge. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2020 at 19:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ "... since I have to turn off the power to the entire house." Did you not do that before you inserted the meter? Did the fridge turn on and blow your meter? I think we need a schematic of how you hooked all this up and maybe a photo too. Hit the edit link ... \$\endgroup\$
    – Transistor
    Sep 28, 2020 at 19:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BrianDrummond could you sketch what you have in mind? I have a hard time visualizing how the protection is happening, and I think there's something I can learn here. If you have time to submit an answer that would be much appreciated. \$\endgroup\$
    – P2000
    Sep 28, 2020 at 21:47

1 Answer 1


I think you're barking up the wrong tree.

You are attempting to view a momentary surge with a common DVM. They're not made for that.

You would be better off installing an ammeter shunt, and then looking for millivolt rises across the shunt. Further, you should use some sort of data recorder that will sample at a very high rate, so you can observe the transient.

Most likely this was the GFCI device's internal electronics initially charging their capacitors. It could also be some part of the startup testing that some GFCIs do. For instance some are able to detect neutral-ground faults on power-up; they can only do that by attempting to flow some current on neutral. Whatever it is has to fit inside a recep form-factor.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't really care about measuring the surge. I'm just interested in how much power these things consume over minutes, not the first initial milli-seconds. Even some sort of cheap, sacrificial fast-blow breaker, or even I guess some cheap fast-blow fuses that cost a few cents would be OK. The fuses for the multi-meter are about a $1 or $2 a piece, which, while highway robbery is what they cost. I"m using the eevblog meter, so this isn't a cheapy from the big box store or harbor-freight. I also don't really want to buy a bunch of expensive equipment to do something relatively simple. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2020 at 20:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the right approach might be just to avoid the surge in the first place. Hook the hot wire to a switch, and the other end of the switch to the hot of the GFCI. Power up the GFCI by flipping the switch. Hook the multi-meter between the hot and the GFCI, Turn off the switch. That should charge any capacitors, or get past any tests the GFCI does on initial start, and measure the current I'm interested in. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 28, 2020 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SteveSether or measure voltage over known resistor / long lead wire (see my comment above) but apply DVM in V-mode after a few seconds. Then you don't have to interrupt power to the GFCI to apply the DVM in I-mode. \$\endgroup\$
    – P2000
    Sep 28, 2020 at 21:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right. That would be the best approach @SteveSether. You only need to shunt the meter leads until the GFCI powers up. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 29, 2020 at 0:15

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