The Problem with Italian Plugs

I have news that might come as a disappointment to some- my life in Italy is not always about glamorous trips to grab drinks at the Colosseum.

There is one small problem that has plagued me every day since I arrived- plugs.

Round, flat, thick, thin- the problem with Italian plugs is that there are too many different forms!

Most of the outlets in my house look like the one above, BUT some (a lot) of the plugs are round.

When I moved in I was having trouble getting the refrigerator to work.  When I tried to explain this to my landlord I finally asked: “Uh.. could this be some kind of round plug/linear outlet problem?”

“No, no. Just move the circle.”

Move… the circle? I *really* wish I spoke more Italian.

So I bought a round-plug-to-flat-outlet converter. This must be a common problem because EVERY store sells these.

We finally determined the fridge is flat out broken. Sweet.

I have exactly 1 round outlet.  It is in the bathroom behind the washing machine, because washing machines are round-plug appliances.  The problem is, LOTS of appliances are round-plug.

Like hairdryers, fridges, and irons.  Things you need every day and have no where to plug in:

So I thought: “I know! The round-plug is new. Everything NEW you buy had the round plug because it is in some way superior to the flat plug.  So all Italian homes will soon have round outlets only!”

Wrong.  Exhibit A, new lamp, flat plug:

But from this outlet relic, I can tell that the issue used to be more complex. There was a triangular three-prong plug? Ugh.

My question is “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy???” WHY is something so simple turned into something so difficult?  Can’t a country decide to use one kind of cord and thus one kind of outlet?  I’m stumped. You win this round, Italy.

28 thoughts on “The Problem with Italian Plugs

  1. Cherrye at My Bella Vita says:

    Ha. That is hilarious and SO SO true. I’ve been here four years and I still get stuck and have to ask my husband which plug to use where and which adapter I need so the iron will work … stuff like that!

    The little things we take for granted … . 😉

  2. Laura from Ciao Amalfi says:

    So very true!!! We have a whole drawer of adapters of different kinds. We finally gave in last summer and added a three way adapter that takes just about every shape and size to each of the main plugs. Makes vacuuming the house SO much easier! 🙂

  3. Nerys says:

    I’ve got a ridiculous amount of adapters in my flat! What annoyed me the most though was the fact that none of the UK-EU adapters I bought before leaving home fit in ANY of my plugs, and I had to buy another lot!

    PS the triangular three-prong plug you’ve got is for the phone line 😉

    • La americana says:

      OHHHH! It’s for a phone??! haha, good to know!

      I had the same problem with adapters! I had to buy a plug adapter it Italy for the converter I brought from the US. boh.

  4. Wenderina says:

    And I thought it was just me. The landlord of the flat we rented in Rome provided an iron…sweet! I tried 4 plugs in the flat and none of them powered up the iron, even though the plug seemed to fit into the outlet. I finally gave up and went wrinkled.

  5. Fern says:

    I think the 3-prong is not a plug, but a telephone outlet – the old phones connected that way, and still when you buy a phone it will have an adapter for the 3-hole connection. The fat two-prongs are ‘grounded’ – I think – and that is why they are used for those dangerous high-current-usage electro-domestici like irons and food processors. My husband calls the 2 fat prongs “German” and the three prong Italian, I have no idea why. Pity about the fridge – hope you get a nice new one!

    • La americana says:

      ah, yes! I think my foreign-ness is showing 🙂 I never would have known that because I don’t have a landline! 😀

  6. Rosa says:

    I swear, I literally swear, each time I go back home to Italy. And ours is an old villa, the variety of plugs… and if I don’t hold the outlet when I remove the plug, it sometimes comes out of the wall.

  7. simon carey says:

    Yes the problem with plugs is really frustrating. With the modern ones the oblong inserts can be changed to the round ones very easily (with the help of an electrician) and these take both flat and round (both the thin flat two prong and the fat flat two prong). I am modernising my home now and am making sure that this will not longer be a problem. I am currently renting a 3kw apartment and dont try cooking with an electric oven and do the washing or ironing at the same time it is not possible and I have to go to the end of the road to put the switch up again with a torch!

  8. Alex says:

    I feel the pain. Italian plugs are a pain. Like many things in Italy they are too darn complex!

    And it’s not just the plugs, pull one too hard and you risk pulling the socket out of the wall, especially in older houses. This is a little dangerous, especially when young children are around.

    You should plug this post some more.

    Will tweet it!



  9. romesecret says:

    I have a pile of “presa siemens” which only now am I writing for the first time and realising that its a Siemens product and all this time I thought it was a presa Simmons and wondered if Mr Simmons had gone totally crazy at the plug situation and invented one which fixed everything. Nothing is easy in Italy and if you keep asking “why” you will lose it. There’s never an answer to this question.

  10. Richard says:

    It is really fairly straightforward 🙂 Italy has two standards, one at 10Amps and one at 16Amps. The 10amp plugs have 4.0mm pins and a 16Amp plugs have 4.8mm. This stops you putting a 16Amp appliance on a 10Amp receptacle and overloading it. Your round plug (Schuko) is 16A plug and as such has 4.8mm pins so if you are attempting to use in a 10A curcuit you are blocked.
    If you buy an adapter make sure it covers the earth/ground pins on the Schuko plug and connects to the center pin in the Italian socket otherwise you have a potential to make an un-earthed connection and that can be a little dangerous 🙂

    Why not cut off the round plugs (Schuko) and fit Italian plugs and problem solved. Just be sure to read the appliance tag and make sure it draws less than 10 Amps if fitting a 10A plug otherwise fit a 16Amp plug.
    Good luck:)

  11. Pingback: Italian Toilets, or Going to the Bathroom in Rome – An American in Rome

  12. Tailorone says:

    I’ll point out the issue: many electrical applies in here, they are from German brands (Bosch, Rowenta, AEG, Siemens etc) In germany they use the so called “Siemens” indeed plug (two round poles) which is just not fit for our receptacles, typically 3 poles.

    If you are lucky enough to still find a “made in Italy” item, then you’ll have no connections trouble.

    Otherwise go for adapter, confidentially “la tedesca” (the German). This is how people use to call THAT adapter. 😉

  13. blinski says:

    Just like Richard said, these are two standards: Italian one (because established and used specificaly in Italy) and German one (Schuko, established in Germany but used throughout continental Europe). Those are the standards for GROUNDED plugs/outlets.
    But they have the same base: the ungrounded C-standard (two rounded prongs, 4-4,8 mm thick, 18 mm apart), as ALL of the standards of the continental Europe:
    The flat two-prong plug of the new lamp isn’t the Italian one, it is the so called europlug (ungrounded plug used throughout the Europe) and it is used in over 140 countries around the world. It fits all of the C-standard based outlets, both the Italian and the German ones.
    You can also fit the round German plug into the flat Italian outlet (of course not the way around because of the central prong), but the question woud be 1) the amperage, 2) the grounding, which would be none.

  14. Mark Hinshaw says:

    The answer to this question is quite simple. Unlike some other countries, such as the U.S. and U.K., Italy has never had a uniform model electrical code that manufacturers and contractors could follow. Moreover, some appliances draw more power and need a ground for safety (which is also true in the U.S.). And in particular, certain areas that get prone to being wet (bath and laundry area) must have a ground so you don’t accidentally electrocute yourself. (Also true in tge U.S.)
    Finally, practices changed over time. So if a house was repeatedly renovated or added to, as many have been in Italy, newer styles were used.

    Actually, the author should consider herself fortunate. Our 400 year old house has four different types of outlets and our appliances use four types of plugs, including one totally different made in Germany. We have to carry around a bag of adapters to use for mobile appliances.
    But we are reducing the variety this summer as part of the superbonus program when the electrical system is upgraded.

    Now don’t get me even started on the 3.2 kw limit for the house at the main box. We can only have three things going at once or we are plunged into darkness. (This is definitely being upgraded…for our sanity.)

    One additional aggravation not borne by the author: The new washing machine that came with our house has twenty dials, buttons, and lights. All the labels are in Greek. And each process requires an exact sequence. We did find the 20 page manual on a shelf. All in Greek.

  15. sverx says:

    > There was a triangular three-prong plug?
    No, that’s an old phone plug.
    But you’re lucky, all the sockets have 220 Volts. Once some were 110 Volts only…

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