How to Safely Troubleshoot a Dead Outlet

Posted On: August 30, 2017

When an electrical outlet seems to have suddenly died, hope is not lost. Before you pick up the phone or pull out your toolbox, there are some very simple steps you can take to troubleshoot a dead outlet.

For safety’s sake, be sure to turn off all power at the main breaker before you attempt any actual DIY electrical repairs. Call your local electrician if these basic troubleshooting tips do not solve the problem. Outlet replacement should ideally be performed by a professional, but it’s not a time-consuming or costly job.

Basic Tips for Safely Troubleshooting Dead Outlets

What seems like a dead outlet might also be bad wiring, a tripped breaker, or something else. Here’s what anybody can do, without even requiring tools, to safely test a dead outlet.

  • Try another appliance in the outlet. Plug in a lamp or another simple device that currently works to see if the problem is with the appliance you were using.
  • Test other outlets in the room. See if other nearby outlets are working. Multiple dead outlets can be a sign of a wiring problem, not just a single bad outlet. Note that outlets in a room may be on different circuits, so be sure to try several.
  • Look for a GFCI switch. Outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, and certain other areas have GFCI protection that shuts down the outlet when it detects a short circuit. Hit the “reset” button and try the outlet again.
  • Check the circuit breaker. A tripped circuit or blown fuse means that too much power was being drawn on the circuit at one time. Reset the breaker or replace the fuse and try the outlet. But don’t keep resetting a constantly tripped circuit; move appliances to other circuits or call an electrician.

Advanced Troubleshooting

If the above steps don’t shine a light on the problem, you probably want to call a residential electrician to diagnose it and make repairs. If you’re handy with wiring and have safety gloves and appropriate tools, here’s what you can do next:

  • Turn off power at the main breaker
  • Unscrew the outlet cover and pull the receptacle out of the wall
  • Look for signs of melted plastic, burnt metal, or other overheating damage
  • Tighten any loose wires, which may require a wire stripper
  • To be safe, replace the entire outlet if you find any signs of physical damage

Sometimes wires just come loose, especially with stab-in connections. However, loose wires give off excess heat which damages the outlet and may eventually lead to sparks or fire. Err on the side of replacing the dead outlet.

Electrical Repairs in MD, VA, or DC

Licensed electricians are your fastest solution for troubleshooting and the best way to ensure reliable, safe power in your home. In the Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. area, call Jaffe Electric at 301.253.3778 or contact us to request electrical repairs.

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