Toggle Switches Overview

What Is a Toggle Switch?

Toggle switches are among the most basic and most common of all electronic components. At the simplest level, they consist of a rocker device—usually a lever, though there are other designs—that allow a circuit to be powered or depowered by throwing the switch from the open to closed position or vice versa.

This term is used in a very broad fashion. In practical usage, a toggle switch is most any type of switch with a handle that allows a circuit to be energized and de-energized. The devices include everything from very large switches, oftentimes provided with two toggles joined by a linking bar to very small switches, many of which can be located on a single switch board.

The toggle switches most people will be familiar with are light switches. They are representative of the basic design on the whole. The switch moves contacts that either provide a path for current to flow through or moves those contacts in such a way that the path is cut. Like other toggle switches, the operator is safe from the current flowing through the circuit when the operator toggles the switch. There are usually face plates or some other covering devices involved in the installation of these switches, making them both safe and attractive for installation in certain settings.


Which Parts Reside Within a Toggle Switch?

There are many different types of switches used in electronics. The type of switch—single pole single throw, single pole double throw, etc.—will dictate which parts one finds inside a toggle switch, or at least the number of parts. The basic mechanism however is very simple and consists of the following.

The interior parts are contained in a case that may vary significantly between one design and the next, owing to different applications. However, inside the case, there will be a moveable contact, which is moved from the on to off position by the actuator. The switch will have a stationary contact that the moveable contact meets when the circuit is energized. The switch will have terminals for input and output power. There may be spring mechanism that gives the switch its distinctive “click” when it’s turned on or off, which makes it what is called a positive on/off switch.


How Does a Toggle Switch Function?

Toggle switches may vary a bit in function from one to the next depending upon their configurations. However, the basics are the same.

When the actuator—the toggle itself—is moved, the armature in the switch moves the moveable contact into position either energizing the circuit or de-energizing it.

Once the switch is moved from one position to the other, it typically stays that way. There are some designs, however, with mechanisms in them that cause the switch to move back to its normal position—typically open or off—if pressure is released from the armature. This is accomplished via a spring mechanism that exerts force on the armature from the inside.

The very simple design of these switches makes them incredibly durable.


Which Applications Use Toggle Switches?

Toggle switches are used in so many different applications that it is impossible to list them all.

The most commonly seen application for toggle switches is in the role of a light switch. These can be designed so that they simply turn a circuit on or off or can be designed so that they allow a light to be controlled by a combination of two switches. Using what is called a traveller wire, these toggle switches can turn a light on or off regardless of the position of the other switch on the circuit.

Toggle switches are used extensively in industry. They can be made exceptionally durable, with metal housings. They can also be made so that they take up very little room and can be installed in great numbers on panels. They’re easy to organize. With the addition of light indicators that show whether they’re on or off, they’re ideal ways to control large groups of machines.


Which Types of Toggle Switches Exist?

There are myriad different types of toggle switches. Some are designed to be used in large panels with many other switches and others are designed as standalone devices, such as light switches. They have many options for leads, the actuator design and material, the configuration of the switch and so forth. They also come in designs suitable for handling high and low voltages and currents.

Some toggle switches have designs that make it very fast and simple to add switches to an existing setup by hooking up the contacts and adding the switch to a board with a washer and nut. These are popular in industrial applications.


Who Makes Toggle Switches?


This manufacturer has been in business since the early 1950s and specializes in human interface devices, including Switches.



Arcolectric makes many different components related to switches, including indicator lights and more.



This manufacturer is well known for their switches and pilot devices, with products aimed at industrial users.


C & K

This company manufacturers interface technology components and switches. They also make more advanced products.


Carling Technologies

This manufacturer is primarily known for the switches that they manufacture, including ones for marine and industrial use.



An electrical supply company that concentrates on energy efficient components for industry.



This component company specializes in various types of switches, including relay switches.



A manufacturers of a range of different switch components.



This company specializes in making various types of switches for industrial usage.



This manufacturer produces human interface devices in a wide range of designs, including customized designs.



A massive company producing an incredible range of advanced electronic components for the aerospace, defence and many other industries.



Switches are the primary business of this manufacturer, with a wide range of their styles being available.



Another manufacturer whose primary products are switches of various designs.



NKK makes switches for many different applications and industries, including broadcasting, military use and beyond.



Omron is located in Japan and makes a variety of different components for the industrial, healthcare and vending machine industries and many others.



A high-tech manufacturing firm that makes many different types of components.



A UK-based company and the leader in worldwide component distribution, RS has an impressive line of switches and other components on the market.


TE Connectivity

Many different industries make use of the components that TE Connectivity manufactures, including switches.



A Swiss company that specializes in security systems, but that has many other products available on the market, as well.



What Is the Contact Configuration of a Toggle Switch?

The contact configuration of a toggle switch can be changed to give it vastly more potential as a control device.

A single pole single throw (SPST) switch is the simplest and most common type of toggle switch. These switches allow simple on and off operation for a single circuit. Most light switches are SPST switches.

SPDT, single pole double throw, switches can be used to change where a voltage is directed. The double throw means that the switch can be used to energize two different circuits—one at a time—from a single source of energy.

Double pole single throw (DPST) switches allow operation that is very similar to having two SPST switches hooked together in one device. The switch can turn two circuits on and off. These are very convenient when more than one device needs to be controlled with the same switch.

Double pole double throw (DPDT) switches allow two different circuits to be served by the same pole. These are used in applications where a circuit may need to have changing voltages applied to connected devices.

There are also switches with the designation CO, such as SPCO—single pole changeover—switches. These have an off position in the middle of the switch and can be used to energize or de-energize two different circuits attached to the device.


What Is Considered Switch Operation?

This designation describes how the switch actually operates in use. It may be a simple on and off switch or it may be a switch with an on-off-on arrangement. There are also momentary switches, which energize or de-energize a circuit for as long as they are actuated and then go back to their normal state once the actuator is released.


What Does the Contact Current Rating Define?

This is the amount of current that the switch can handle across the contacts. Exceeding it will diminish the reliability of the component or cause failures.


What Is Contact Resistance of a Toggle Switch?

This is the amount of resistance the contacts in the switch introduce into the circuit. It is typically very small.


Which Terminal Types Exist for Toggle Switches?

Toggle switches are used on so many different types of equipment that there needs to be many connection options for the terminals. These include soldered types, such as tabs, legs and lugs. There are also screw terminals, PCB terminals and many other designs available.


What Is an Illuminated Toggle Switch?

Illuminated toggle switches give a visual indication as to their state. They have a light on them that provides this indication, in addition to the typical “click” that indicates positively whether the switch has been closed or opened.


Which Contact Material Is Used for Toggle Switches?

Common conducting materials such as copper, brass and alloys are frequently used for the contacts. Precious metals including gold and silver are also used in some applications. Nickel, zinc and other materials are also used in the construction of the contacts.


What Is and Actuator and Which Material Is It Made Out Of?

The actuator is the device that the switch operator actually toggles to open or close the switch. It is sometimes referred to as the toggle. It can be made out of synthetic materials such as nylon or natural materials, such as metal. Brass, aluminium, and other materials are commonly used.


What Is Considered the Mechanical Life of a Toggle Switch?

This is measured in operations, meaning the number of times that the switch can be turned on and off before it breaks down. These are incredibly durable devices and some of these devices are rated to last tens of thousands of operations and more.


What Is the IP Rating of a Toggle Switch?

This is a rating that defines ingress protection, the ability of the switch to resist the ingress of liquids and other materials into the case, potential shoring out the device.


Which Accessories Exist for Toggle Switches and what Does Each of them Do?


Toggle Switch Boots

These devices provide protection for the switch, insulating the armature and case against the ingress of some materials by covering the actuator.


Toggle Switch Caps

Caps fit over the top of the actuator. They provide some degree of protection, but are also useful for colour coding switches when there are large groupings of them.


Toggle Switch Ground Tags

Ground tag is another name for a grounding lug. They are easily installed on switches to provide a safe ground.


Toggle Switch Guards

These provide a way to prevent the switch from being operated accidentally. Many of these designs flip off to allow access to the switch, but prevent access when they are flipped down.


Toggle Switch Hex Nuts

Hex nuts are commonly used to hold toggle switches in place, particularly on industrial mountings.


Toggle Switch Legend Sheets

These offer a fast visual indication of the state of the switch. They’re easily added to existing switches.


Toggle Switch On-Off Plates

On-off plates mount directly to the switch with a notch to keep them in proper orientation. They indicate whether the switch is in the on or off position.


Toggle Switch Sealing Hoods

These hoods are particularly useful for applications where the environment may be hazardous to the workings of the switch. They cover the switch and keep it safe from water and other hazards.


Toggle Switch Washers

These are simply washers that are designed to be used with toggle switch mounting systems. They come in standard and locking ring designs.


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