Arduino 8: Relays

A relay is a switch that allows a small current from the Arduino to turn on or off a device drawing a much larger current.  This is usually a concern if you want the Arduino to control an electric motor, which will typically want to draw more current than the Arduino can handle. Relays are the key to turning your Arduino into a controller for any motorized project, and are great fun in combination with any motorized construction kit like Lego, K’Nex or FischerTechnik. I bought a set of Fischertechnik Mechanic and Static kits with a grant a few years back, and combined with the Arduinos they make wonderful platforms for computer-controlled mechanical models, like working elevators and light-seeking robots.

Relays come in different shapes, but typically have four pins:   an input voltage Vin from a power supply, ground, a data pin to turn the relay on or off (this is what the Arduino does), and an output voltage pin to the device you want to control.  Buy a relay that can be controlled by 5V DC (the Arduino) – the output depends on what you want to control with it. Lots of larger motors want 12V DC or so, so get a relay that can handle a bit more than that. The relay should come with a spec sheet telling you which pin is which. If not, Google “relay spec sheet” and the part number, and you’ll probably find the document online.

Image made with Fritzing (

In this project we have the Arduino read the state of a pushbutton, and use that to turn a small DC motor on and off. You might wonder what’s the point – just wire the pushbutton to the motor power supply and forget the Arduino. The point is, the pushbutton can be replaced by any sensor, so the Arduino can use any input signal to trigger the motor.  Use a 9V battery to power the Arduino and motor, so it doesn’t have to run off the weaker supply delivered by the USB cable. This means you need to get a 9V battery clip (or wall power supply), and solder it to a 2.1mm center-positive plug to fit the Arduino power connector. The new Duemilanove board will automatically sense the power supply when connected, but older boards have a little jumper next to the USB connector that needs to be switched from USB to EXT.

In the picture, the top left pin of the relay is the data pin, going to pin 13; the bottom right pin is ground; the pin just right of that is Vin on the Arduino; and the bottom right pin goes to the motor’s + terminal. The other motor terminal goes to ground. The pushbutton has one terminal connected to +5V, the other connected both to digital input pin 2 and to a 10K resistor leading to ground.


int buttonPin = 2;
int relayPin = 13;
int state=0;
void setup() {
pinMode(buttonPin, INPUT);
pinMode(relayPin, OUTPUT);
void loop() {
state = digitalRead(buttonPin);
if (state==HIGH) {
digitalWrite(relayPin, HIGH);
} else {
digitalWrite(relayPin, LOW);

8 responses to “Arduino 8: Relays

  1. I suggest buying the relay “boards” which come with a relay mounted on PCB and male header pins. These relay boards typically have the protection diode that others here note you need, they’re cheap, and kids can order them off ebay, DX, etc.

  2. really bad idea to use an arduino pin to drive a relay directly

  3. There are relays that use very low power and will drive a fair amount. Just grab the broken automatic coffee maker. The computer chip drives the little relay and thus operated the 120V heating element. By the way the relays work well on little robotic projects. Great way to teach de-soldering

  4. I know this is old, but I found it on google and others will too. You don’t want to use the digital io pins to directly power the coil of a relay. It could draw too much current and fry the pin. It is much better to use a transistor that is biased for saturation when the pin goes high.

  5. nice work but i looking for that can we control alot of relays with same Aruduino digital one port?


  6. Hi, without any diodes in your circuit you are going to kill your Arduino via EMF pretty quickly using the above circuit diagram.

  7. hi,

    just saw you are driving the relay direct by arduino – this is maybe not a good idea ;o) …

    if you want to drive motors or relays – maybe h-bridges chip L293d are a good (and simple) choice.

    with one chip you can drive two motors – switchable in direction (also with higher voltages then 5V if needed) or up to four relays.

    if you want to use just one relay use a transistor – see here:


    • Hi Kiilo,
      I went with the relay because I wanted the kids to have a general tool they could use to control pretty much anything. To keep it general, i didn’t want to get into an H-Bridge just yet (though I did show that to the kids later), though perhaps the transistor would be a better item to introduce here. Do you see the relay as being a problem for the Arduino to control?
      Thanks, Paul

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