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The Facts about Capacitors and Capacitive Electrical Filters...

What are CAPACITORS? What are their MEASURES? How are they BUILT? What do they DO? How are they used in FILTERS?

#1) What is a capacitor?

A circuit device that conducts AC current and doesnt conduct DC current. Physical examples of commercial capacitors
You can buy them in all sizes and values.

#2) What are a capacitors measures?

Basic unit of capacitance: Farads (F).
Just like Volts of a battery or Ohms of a resistor. Very large unit usually we use milli-Farads (mF=0.001 F), micro-Farads (F=10-6 F), nanoFarads (nF=10-9 F) or pico-Farads (pF=10-12 F). They are rarely equal to the value marked. Most are W 20% tolerance.

They have a maximum working voltage specification.

Exceeding that specification may damage the device.

They must be specifically designed and marked for DC use or for AC use:
For DC use, the polarity should be marked.
Reversing the polarity may damage the device.

Using a DC rated capacitor for large voltage AC use may damage the device.

#3) How is it constructed?

The simplest capacitor is a parallel plate type as shown here. Two conductive plates that do not touch are separated by a dielectric space region.
The dielectric may be one of the following:
Metal plate Metal plate Dielectric region Air Certain plastics: Paper & mineral oil Polyamide Mica Polycarbonate Glass Polyethylene Ceramic Polypropylene Tantalum oxide Polystyrene Aluminum oxide Polyester PVC Mylar

Parallel plate test capacitor

Two Aluminum plates separated by a small air gap. One wire to each plate

Insertable Plexiglas dielectric

What difference does the dielectric material make?


If more AC current flows through the circuit, a greater voltage will be measured across Zin.

INPUT WAVE 4 V. pk-pk, 10 kHz

Plastic dielectric increases the capacitance over an air dielectric.

An increased capacitance allows more current to flow at a given frequency. AIR DIELECTRIC

VOLTAGE ACROSS Zin 1.7 V. pk-pk


2.3 V. pk-pk

C=22 pf

Constructing a practical capacitor.

Just roll the two plates together with dielectric material as a separating medium.

Aluminum foil (2 sheets)


Overall plastic covering

Waxed paper (2 sheets)

Hand-building a prototype capacitor

Two aluminum strips and two wax paper strips ready to align and roll. (Three feet long, 4.5 inches wide.) Rolled up and taped.

1 Resistance check: open line (OL)

2 Capacitance value = 0.067 F.

#4) How is a capacitor used?

As a temporary store of DC electric charge almost like a battery. As a timing element in DC circuits. As a phase shifting element in AC circuits. As an RMS voltage support element in AC power circuits. As a block of DC signals and a passageway for AC signals. As a AC circuit filter element.

How does a capacitor react to DC current and voltage?

The reaction is temporary. No steady state (long-term) DC current flows through the capacitor. See the charge/discharge schematic and waveform in the next two slides.

Charging/discharging with DC
Capacitor discharged Capacitor charging, temporary current flow

Capacitor charged, but discharging by leakage

Capacitor discharging, temporary current flow

Charging/discharging with DC
Charging through R1 Naturally discharging slowly through its own internal leakage resistance

2 3

Discharged Discharged

Quickly 4 discharging through R2

#5) What is an electrical filter?

A filter selectively passes or does not pass a portion of the total range of AC frequencies applied to its input (pass means unattenuated). Practical filters begin their filtering at a frequency of 1/10th the knee frequency or end their filtering action at 10 times the knee frequency depending on the filter type.

Four types of filtering action: Low pass High pass Band pass Band reject

Low Pass Filter

Knee frequency

No attenuation of the input frequency until a certain frequency point, then as the frequency through the filter increases, the input is attenuated more and more.

High Pass Filter

Knee frequency

As the frequency through the filter increases, the input is attenuated less and less until a certain frequency point, then there is no attenuation of the input.

Band Pass Filter

Knee frequency 1 Knee frequency 2

Within a certain range of frequencies, there is no attenuation of the input, below a certain frequency point and above a second frequency point, the input is attenuated.

Band Reject Filter

Knee frequency 2

Knee frequency 1

The input is attenuated within a certain frequency range, below a certain frequency point and above a second frequency point, the input is not attenuated.

Low Pass Filter Action


Low frequency


High frequency

High Pass Filter Action


Low frequency Unattenuated

High frequency

A real filter
Knee frequency = 1 kHz

4 V. pk-pk.


Higher frequencies that pass through are more attenuated.

Input Frequency
10 Hz

A real low pass filter



100 Hz

Filtering action beginning

1,000 Hz

Knee frequency, filtering very evident

10,000 Hz

Very attenuated

Size does matter!


Continuous Input Sinewave Low Pass Filters (fixed frequency)

Knee frequencies for test fixture:

Capacitor Knee freq. Results for LP filter 0.001 F 10 MegaHz 0.01 F 0.1 F 1.0 F 10.0 F 1 MegaHz 100 kiloHz 10 kiloHz 1 kiloHz
Unattenuated Unattenuated Filter action just beginning Filter action very evident Very attenuated

Remember: Input frequency = 10 kiloHz

Switch position

0.001 mfd

R e s u l t s

0.01 mfd

0.1 mfd

1.0 mfd

10.0 mfd

Results of capacitor size

As the microFarad size increases, the 10 kHz input frequency current is more easily shunted to ground. This increased current flow through the capacitor (lower and lower impedance) results in less and less voltage drop across the capacitor.
Vin = 4 v. pk-pk R1 = 100 Ohms Frequency = 10,000 Hertz

Impedance Capacitor 0.001 mfd 0.01 mfd 0.1 mfd 1.0 mfd 10.0 mfd in Ohms 15900 1590 159 15.9 1.59

Calculated Vc pk-pk 3.98 3.8 2.5 0.55 0.06

Capacitor filter conclusions

The higher the AC frequency of a current through a capacitor, the less attenuation occurs. The lower the AC frequency of a current through a capacitor, the more attenuation occurs. The larger a capacitor (in microFarads), the less attenuation for high frequency AC currents through it. The smaller a capacitor (in microFarads), the more attenuation for high frequency AC currents through it.

A Capacitor Across Home Power Lines (Phase to Neutral) Acts like a Low Pass Filter For a low frequency (60 Hz) circuit that has some additional high frequency (noise) content, the filter will pass the low frequency and not the high ones.
60 Hz with high frequencies 60 Hz

In saying that, however, we must realize... ... ...

electrical energy does not simply disappear. It flows through the capacitor from the phase conductor to the neutral conductor.

The high frequency

Home wiring without capacitor

Home with Capacitor

Before After


Experimental test set up



RESULTS Lamp on V dimly

Test Condition No 20 mfd installed

Same voltage wave

20 mfd installed

The low pass filter action of the capacitor allows more current flow through the neutral.

Does Neutral-to-Earth voltage change?

0.2 v pk-pk

0.9 v pk-pk

0.8 v pk-pk

1.2 v pk-pk

What would it look like if I used a 10kHz high pass filter to view the voltage and current waveforms before and after the capacitor is installed?

The oscilloscope will not show the 60-Hz 120 Volt wave

The 10 kHz high pass filter reveals a lot about what this capacitor filter does.
No 20 mfd capacitor With 20 mfd capacitor
Small voltage spike

Large voltage spike

Small current spike

Large current spike

What if I just used a Fluke 77 DMM?

LAMP OFF OFF OFF OFF ON ON ON ON no 20 mfd filter 10 kHz filter V or I NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES V V I I V V I I value 120.8 V. 9 mV. 0 0 120.4 V. 13 mV. 0.46 A. 0 20 mfd filter installed LAM 10 kHz P filter V or I value 122.6 OFF NO V V. OFF OFF OFF ON ON ON ON YES NO YES NO YES NO YES V I I V V I I 8 mV. 1 A. 0 120.5 V. 14 mV. 0.82 A. 0

This DMM has a moderately low frequency response, so you cannot discern much other than an increased current with the capacitor installed.

Use a Fluke 87 III DMM....

This DMM has a much higher frequency response.
no kHz 10 20 mfd filter HP filter V or I NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES V V I I V V I I 20 10 kHz installed mfd filter value 120.7 V. 14 mV. 0 0 120.3 V. 105 mV. .64 A. 18 mA. LAMP OFF OFF OFF OFF ON ON ON ON HP filter NO YES NO YES NO YES NO YES V or I V V I I V V I I value 122.5 V. 14 mV. 1 A. 0 120.4 V. 48 mV. .87 A. 25 mA.


The increased noise current with the capacitor installed has most of its frequency content below 10 kHz.

NEV changes
Fluke DMM NEV measurement
LAMP Capacitor Off Out Off In On Out On In Fluke 77 0.02 0.29 0.13 0.23 Fluke 87 0.007 0.28 0.19 0.25 Units Volts Volts Volts Volts

Where is the neutral connected?

Current source point

Code: Neutral and grounding conductors are bonded at the service entrance panel.

Without capacitors, noise voltage is only on the phase wire that you do not touch.

With capacitors installed, noise voltage is on the neutral/ground system which you do touch.

Some claims from a commercial vendor

The monitor has a highpass filter that only measures noise voltage from the phase to neutral above 10 kHz. This voltage will be reduce by the capacitors. The monitor measures neither NEV nor current on the neutral.

What happens to the level of EMF near the capacitor?

1.9 mG without capacitor plugged in. 3.9 mG with capacitor plugged in.

So what EMF is reduced?

What about the proof that is offered?

Oscilloscope pictures of Phaseto-Neutral voltage.
Before capacitor is installed. After capacitor is installed.

Picture of phase-to-neutral noise voltage using a 10 kHz high pass filter on the oscilloscope input.
Before capacitor is installed. After capacitor is installed.

No NEV picture. No picture of current on Neutral.

Waveforms offered as Proof of capacitor action. Before picture.

Note the scale

Noise voltage can be seen on phase conductor Nominal amount of expected noise voltage, common to all electrical systems. Approx. 40 mV pk-pk with occasional spikes.
20 mfd

10kHz hi-pass

This is the wave they claim they see:

Same vertical scale

Same vertical and time scale.

Time scale expanded by factor of 10 to see sinewave shape.

Waveforms offered as Proof of capacitor action. After picture.

Note the scale

The 60-Hz wave is still noisy after the 20 mfd. filters are installed!!
20 mfd

The spikes are filtered, but the average noise voltage is not reduced. It is still approx. 40 mV pk-pk.
10kHz hi-pass

This is the wave they claim they see:

Same vertical and time scale

1) 2) 3)


The noise spikes appear to be random and are not a continuous waveform. Being random, they will have different durations of existence and various amplitudes whenever they occur. There is no way to determine a frequency because there is no continuous waveform, other than the 60-Hz wave the noise is riding on. RF Energy is a term that only applies to frequencies above 10 kHz and more usually above 100 kHz. RF means radio frequency which are the frequencies receivable by a radio.

Note that the voltage analysis below does not always jibe with the instrument data

96 mV difference

1/0.06ms = 16.6 kHz in this one area only

10kHz hi-pass


1/1.28 ms = 781 Hz at this point only

Max. amplitude = 80 mV pk-pk, Avg. = 40 mV pk-pk.

10kHz hi-pass

20 mfd


The best you can say is there occurred 3 noise spikes of about 100, 500 and 750 millivolts of about 60 microseconds duration that appear to be nonsynchronous with the power wave. Source is unknown but most likely from a near-by equipment switching event (on or off).

1 2 3

These three spikes appear on this waveform too, but are too small to see in comparison with the 340 V. pk-pk. of the 60-Hz wave. If you dont touch the 340 V. pk-pk wave, you will not contact the 750 mV, etc. spikes.

The filter obviously shunted some the spikes, if they recurred, to the neutral/ground circuit, leaving a continuous background noise level of about 40 millivolts peak (=28 mV rms). This level is imperceptible to humans as universal common electrical noise. No discernable frequency exists. The conclusion that spikes were solely from the utility is unsupported. There is no RF energy involved since there is no steady-state frequency above 10 kHz.

Select any two other adjacent wave peaks and the calculated frequency will be different. It is random, not fixed. On this horizontal scale, 10 kHz would occupy 1/20th division. 100 kHz would occupy 1/200th division. This is not RF voltage.

To say that the installed capacitors reduce noise voltage on the phase conductor is generally true, but.... It only reduced the spikes, if they recurred, not the commonly found background noise voltage. What is also true, but unstated, is that there is an increase in neutral conductor noise current and an increase in neutral conductor 60-Hz current as well as an increase in Neutral-to-Earth voltage (NEV) due to those currents.

Anyone can touch this NEV, but they do not usually touch the 120Volt rms phase voltage. Therefore, the conclusion that adding these capacitors will reduce a persons exposure to high frequency electricity is wrong. Capacitors enable a person to be exposed to more high frequency (and 60-Hz) electricity in the form of elevated touch potentials on all grounded objects.


Conclusion about RF energy being involved is wrong there is no RF energy involved in these graphs. There is only a normal amount of environmentally common noise that can be found at any and every similar measurement point at any time using this inappropriate measurement protocol.