Having an outlet that doesn't seem to work can be frustrating. You plug something in and it just doesn't turn on or charge. But with a few simple tools and some basic knowledge, you can probably fix that troublesome outlet yourself.
Identifying the Problem
The first step is to figure out exactly what the problem is. Here are some things to check:
Over time, vibrations and plugging/unplugging can cause wires to become loose inside the outlet. This interruption in the flow of electricity will cause the outlet to not work properly.
To check for a loose connection:
- Turn off the power to the outlet at the breaker box.
- Unscrew and remove the outlet cover plate.
- Gently pull the outlet out from the wall (it should still be attached).
- Inspect the side and back wires for any loose connections. The wires should be firmly attached to the outlet and terminal screws.
Faulty GFCI Outlet
If the outlet has a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) button on it, this safety device may have tripped. When tripped, it cuts power to the outlet to prevent shocks.
To check a GFCI outlet:
- Press the "Reset" button on the outlet. This will reset the GFCI if it's been tripped.
- If that doesn't fix it, the GFCI may be faulty and need replacing.
Worn Out Outlet
Outlets do wear out over time. The electrical contacts inside get bent or corroded, interrupting the flow of electricity.
Signs of a worn out outlet:
- The outlet is loose and you can wiggle it even when screws are tight.
- The plastic has cracks or burn marks.
- Plugs fall out easily or don't make a good connection.
- Frequent popping of GFCI even when reset.
It's possible the circuit breaker powering the outlet has partially tripped, cutting power while not fully flipping to the "off" position.
To check the breaker:
- Locate the breaker controlling the outlet at the breaker box.
- Flip it fully to the "Off" position, then back "On."
Replacing the Outlet
If you've determined that the outlet itself is faulty, replacing it is an easy DIY fix.
What You Need
- Replacement outlet ($3-5)
- Phillips screwdriver
- Needle nose pliers (helpful)
- Voltage tester (to confirm power is off)
Steps to Replace Outlet
Turn off power to the outlet at the breaker box. Double check it's off with a voltage tester.
Remove cover plate screws and set aside.
Disconnect wires from the outlet. There will be 2 or more wires attached to side or back.
Carefully pull outlet out from the electrical box while not stressing the connected wires too much.
Detach wires from old outlet using needle nose pliers. Take note of where each wire was connected.
Connect wires to the same terminals on the new outlet. Screw them securely in place.
Position new outlet back into the electrical box being careful not to pinch wires.
Screw outlet firmly into place through front mounting holes.
Replace cover plate and screws.
Restore power at the breaker box and test outlet.
And that's it! With a basic outlet replacement, you can often get that troubling outlet working again. Just be sure to always turn off power first and double check with a voltage tester anytime you work on electrical.
When to Call an Electrician
While many outlet issues are DIY fixable, there are times you may need to call a professional electrician:
- You turned off the breaker but outlet is still hot.
- Outlet won't stay tight in the wall.
- Electrical box itself is damaged or crowded.
- You lack experience working with electrical.
- Issue involves the home's wiring rather than just the outlet.
Safety should always be the #1 priority when dealing with electrical problems. If the issue is beyond your skill level, don't take risks and have an expert handle it.
That one outlet driving you crazy doesn't have to stay that way. In many cases, you can troubleshoot the problem and fix it yourself in under an hour. Just make safety the top priority, take time to correctly diagnose the issue, and be prepared to call an electrician for complex electrical matters. With a few tools and some basic DIY knowledge, you'll be able to say goodbye to that troubling outlet for good.