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What is an AC Cord?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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An alternating current (AC) power cord, or simply AC cord, is a cord used to connect a device to a power supply, such as a wall outlet. These types of cords are often used in electronic devices such as desktop personal computers (PCs), laptops, printers, and small kitchen appliances. They can be permanently attached to the device or removable and come in a number of types that indicate the power supply needed and the temperature threshold of the AC cord. The cord itself is typically a length of wire or wires that have been secured within a rubber exterior to shield anything outside the cord from being electrocuted.

Alternating current refers to the type of electrical current used throughout many countries today, including the United States. Promoted by several early electrical pioneers, such as Nikola Tesla, it is the type of electricity that commonly comes from a wall socket and is therefore used for powering home and office devices. An AC cord is merely a power cord that can transfer the current from the socket or power supply into a powered device.

The different types of cords have been established by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) under its specification IEC 60320. They fall under several different types that are numbered for easier reference and full names of such cords will often be shown as IEC 60320 C1 or IEC 60320 C15, though many times they can be referred to simply as C1 cords or C15 cords. Any type of IEC 60320 AC cord has a voltage rating of a maximum of 250 volts. C1 and C2 cords are unpolarized and often used for small, handheld devices such as electric shavers.

While C3 and C4 cords are not as common as other cords, C5 and C6 connectors are often used for laptop computers and projectors. These cords are commonly called “Mickey Mouse” or “cloverleaf” connectors because the shape of the three-pronged connector is similar to these shapes. C7 and C8 connectors can be polarized or unpolarized, with the unpolarized version often called a “figure eight” cord due to its shape. A polarized C7 or C8 AC cord is similarly shaped, but one of the two circular sides is flat on one side.

C13 and C14 connectors are commonly used with desktop computers and are commonly found as power cords for both computer towers and monitors. These types of cords are so common that they may often be referred to simply as “IEC cords.” C15 and C16 cords are also commonly used but are preferred for use with small kitchen appliances such as hot plates, and are designed to withstand higher temperatures than other cords. Most AC cords have a maximum temperature rating of 158 degrees Fahrenheit (or 70 degrees C). C15 and C16 cords have a maximum temperature rating of 248 degrees Fahrenheit (120 degrees C) and appear much like a C13 or C14 cord but with a small notch in the end to ensure that lower temperature cords cannot be used in C15 and C16 devices.

There are C17 and C18 cords, though they are used less commonly than other types, and appear much like C13 and C14 cords but without a third pin for grounding. C19 and C20 cords are rectangular in shape and used for devices that require higher electrical currents, such as network servers. Higher current cords also exist but are less common than those described here.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On May 31, 2014

We had a drawer full of AC cords when I was a kid. They all attached to the coffeepot, or the popcorn maker, or the waffle iron or something like that. It was always an adventure to start trying to plug cords into small appliances and you felt like you'd scored a major victory if you picked the right cord the first time.

I don't know why it didn't occur to us to label the silly cords. It would have saved a considerable amount of time and frustration. We just weren't thinking, I don't suppose.

By Grivusangel — On May 30, 2014

AC adapters are usually sold with electronic items now, but I remember when you had to buy them separately for some things that were also battery-powered, like keyboards and the like. They always cost at last $15 or so, which was a hit until you'd gone through that much cash in "D" batteries. Annoying, to say the least.

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