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Varieties of Voltage Converters: What You Need to Know

If you aren't aware of the need for voltage converters - or the varieties available - you're not alone. Voltage converters can allow you to use your personal electrical devices and consumer electronics in other countries even if the voltage of the electrical system doesn't match the voltage required by your device. Electrical devices can be as finicky about their diets as kids. They'll only work right if you supply the right kind of electricity. Luckily for you, there are essentially only two flavors of electricity for personal consumer electronics - 110 volt and 220 volt, which actually deliver electricity that varies from 110-120 volts in the former and 220 to 240 volts in the latter. If you're bringing a hair dryer, DVD player, curling iron, coffee maker or other small electrical appliance from a country that uses 110V electricity to a country that uses 220V electricity, you should get familiar with the different kinds of voltage converters available on the market.

Step Down Voltage Converters

Most step down voltage converters are designed to allow US 110 volt electrical devices to work with the 220-volt electricity in foreign countries. Most are inexpensive - less than $20 - and easily available. They convert 220V electricity down to make it useable with 110/120-volt appliances. They're best for use with a single appliance or piece of electronics, and shouldn't be used for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time.

Step Up Voltage Converters

Step up voltage converters pump up the electrical power from a 110v outlet, like those used in the States, to 220-240v so that you can use 220-240v small electrical appliances in a 110v outlet. Keep in mind that the 220v outlets in Europe and other parts of the world are not the same as the 220v outlets for heavy appliances such as dryers and stoves. They will not work to deliver a higher voltage to those heavy appliances from a regular 110v outlet. Like step up converters, they should not be used for long periods of time.

Step Up and Down Voltage Converter Transformers

Heavy-duty step up and down voltage converter/transformers are designed to be used continuously and usually have multiple outlet sockets so that you can plug in more than one electrical or electronic device at a time. They can convert electricity from 110v to 220v or from 220v to 110v, and often will automatically detect the right conversion without you having to adjust any settings. In addition, many have integrated transformers so that they can be used with battery chargers, laptops, tablet PCs and other consumer electronics.

Travel Voltage Converters

A basic voltage converter is ideal if you need to plug in non-electronic appliances with small motors and/or heaters, such as hair dryers, irons, electric toothbrush and curling irons. They're designed to convert voltage for a short period of time and often come with a set of plug adapters so that you can plug in your appliances safely anywhere in the world.

110v to 220 Volts Consumer Electronics

One way to avoid the hassle of messing with voltage converters is to purchase 110v to 220 volts consumer electronics. Dual voltage travel appliances, such as hair dryers, curling irons, electric shavers and even coffee makers are designed to work on either 220 volt 50Hz or 110 volt 60Hz electricity, and can be used worldwide without a voltage converter or transformer. Dual voltage consumer electronics will have a label denoting that they can use 110-240v electricity. You may need a plug adapter so that you can plug your appliance into the wall, but you won't need to worry about voltage converters.

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