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How to Replace an Electrical Outlet

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Outlet vs Receptacle

Electrical outlet is a very common name for a receptacle. Many home improvement stores use the term “electrical outlet” when referring to a receptacle. Outlets are the points at which the electrical system are accessed (receptacle outlet or lighting outlet). A lighting outlet is an electrical box where a light fixture is mounted and gets power. A receptacle outlet is an electrical box where a receptacle is mounted and gets power.

When to Replace a Receptacle

The most common reason receptacles need to be replaced is because of physical damage. Rarely will a standard receptacle fail electrically (line and neutral present at the terminals, but not at the plug). If a receptacle is cracked or a plug is loose fitting, it is time for it to be replaced. When replacing a receptacle, consider replacing the cover unless it looks new or cleans up nicely.

Types of Receptacle Terminals

There are three types of terminals on the back of receptacles and switches.Terminal Wires

  1.  Screw type terminals. The stripped wires that connect to this type are formed into a “C” shape, mounted under a terminal screw in in the clockwise direction, then tightened. Sometimes the wires are wrapped completely around the terminals of the old receptacle and are difficult to remove. When the wires are removed, they are cut as close as possible to the terminals. The insulation is then stripped from these wires about ¾ of an inch, formed into a “C” shape, then attached to the receptacle and tightened.
  2.  Slide-in terminals (common on GFCIs). The terminal screw is loosened, a stripped wire is inserted into the slot, and then tightened.
  3.  Push-in terminals. A stripped wire is inserted into the terminal hole and is held in place by tension inside the hole. Wires can be removed by inserting a 3/32” screwdriver into the slot next to the terminal, or by grasping the wire, pulling and twisting at the same time. The wires can also be cut close to the terminal.
Receptacle WiringReceptacle Wiring Slide-in terminals

Slide-in terminals

Wires incorrectly wrapped around terminals

Wires incorrectly wrapped around terminals

Receptacle Wiring Push-in terminals

Push-in terminals

Tools Needed to Replace a Receptacle

The tools needed and the steps to take when replacing a receptacle may vary if the wires are wrapped tightly around the terminals of the receptacle to be replaced. The optional tools listed are for this condition.

Optional Tools

Needle nosed pliers

Wire cutters

Wire strippers


Receptacle tester

Philips screwdriver

Slotted screwdriver

Before Replacing a Receptacle

The instructions on most electrical devices state that they should be only installed by a qualified electrician. does not encourage people to do their own electrical work. The following instructions are for reference only.

Replace Receptacle Instructions

A receptacle tester is plugged into the receptacle and the tester should show voltage is present (if there is no power at the receptacle, see “no power at plug end of receptacle” above). At the panel, power is shut off to the receptacle and the tester lights should turn off, verifying power is off. This tester will also be used on the newly installed receptacle to verify the receptacle is wired properly.

  1. The cover is removed and the receptacle is unscrewed from the electrical box. The receptacle is then pulled out of the electrical box.
  2. The wires are removed from the receptacle terminals.
  3. If needed, about 3/4” of insulation is stripped from the end of the wires.
  4. The wires are attached to the new receptacle terminals. The hot wire is attached to brass colored terminal, neutral to the silver terminal, and ground to the green terminal.
  5. The receptacle is placed back inside of the electrical box, the mounting screws are tightened, and the cover is installed.
  6. Using a receptacle tester, the receptacle is then tested for proper wiring.

No Power at the Plug End of a Receptacle

WARNING - voltage may be present at a standard or GFCI receptacle terminal inside the electrical box, but not present at the plug end. A known good tester may indicate no voltage at the plug end of a receptacle, but there could be voltage present at the terminals of the receptacle inside the electrical box. There also could be a loose live hot wire behind the receptacle inside the electrical box that is no longer connected to the receptacle terminals. It is dangerous to remove a receptacle with live voltage present inside the electrical box.

When a tester shows voltage is present on a receptacle at the plug end, it is easy to tell when power is shut off at the receptacle when shutting off the circuit breaker (voltage is no longer present at the plug end of the receptacle). It is difficult to determine which circuit breaker supplies voltage to a receptacle that has no voltage at the plug end. Unless it is known which circuit breaker supplies power to a certain receptacle, all of the circuit breakers may need to be turned off before the receptacle is removed.

Sometimes the plastic is broken just below the ground pin opening. This usually happens when a plug is yanked out improperly from the receptacle. As long as the plug fits snugly into the receptacle, and there is no other damage, the receptacle should not need to be replaced.

Damaged receptacle