- Many homeowners experience the frustration of an outlet not working, but the breaker not being tripped.
- In this blog post, we’ll walk you through a few things you can check to diagnose the issue and get your outlet back up and running.
If you’ve ever gone to plug something in only to find that the outlet isn’t working, you know how frustrating it can be. Fortunately, there are a few things you can check before calling an electrician.
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Note: This information applies to standard-voltage household electricity, not high-voltage receptacles. Never attempt a project that is beyond your skill level. Knowing when to call a professional may help prevent electrical fires, injuries, and fatalities.
- Plug-in Circuit Tester – get one from Amazon.
- Flathead Screwdriver
- Phillips Screwdriver
See this related post: Light Switch Is Not Working | Advice To Fix
Outlet Not Working, Breaker Not Tripped
An outlet, or receptacle as it is correctly termed, that is not working will be caused by either a fuse or breaker, an issue in the wiring, or an issue with the receptacle itself.
What to look for and how to diagnose the issue. Work your way down this list:
1. Check The Fuse or Breaker Panel
Even though you think the breaker is not tripped, go to the breaker panel and locate the correct circuit controlling the outlet in question.
Turn the breaker for this circuit off and then back on.
Why: You want to establish that there is power feeding the wiring to the receptacle.
2. Check The Outlet
One way to test an outlet that’s not working is to use a plug-in tester. You simply plug it into the receptacle. If the tester doesn’t light up, the outlet is not receiving power.
You can find a plug-in outlet/receptacle tester at most hardware stores and many have indicators that report various issues.
The next step is to check for a tripped GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet. GFCI outlets are designed to shut off power when they detect a ground fault, so if one of your outlets isn’t working, it may be because the GFCI outlet has been tripped.
To reset a GFCI outlet, simply press the “reset” button located on the face of the receptacle itself.
3. Check The Outlet Wiring
One of the most common reasons why a receptacle might not be working is because there is a loose wire somewhere along the line. To check for this, you’ll first need to turn off the power to that specific circuit at your breaker box.
Once the power is off:
- Remove the faceplate of the receptacle with your flathead screwdriver.
- Unscrew the receptacle from the box, it is secured with two screws.
- Carefully pull the receptacle from the box bringing with it the electrical wires.
If any of the wires are loose or not connected properly, that could be causing the issue. To fix it, simply twist the wire around the screw and then tighten the screw.
Tip: Use fine sandpaper to lightly sand and clean the ends of the exposed wiring.
Inspect all the wires connected to the receptacle and tighten them as needed. Replace the faceplate and test the outlet.
4. Check Nearby Outlets
If this has not resolved the issue, test nearby receptacles for power and check for loose wiring on any that are not working. Follow the same procedure as above, and make sure the circuit has been turned off at the service panel.
Why: Several receptacles are connected to a single circuit and a fault on one outlet can extend to the others.
Tip: Start your testing with the receptacle closest to the breaker panel.
Why would outlets and a ceiling fan suddenly stop working?
Note: I once had a ceiling fan stop working and I discovered a couple of outlets also were not working. It turns out a connection on one of the receptacles had come loose causing the whole problem. All I had to do was reconnect the wire and everything started working again.
5. Replace The Outlet
Though it is not common, over time, outlets can become worn down and stop working properly. If this is the case, you’ll need to replace the outlet entirely.
While the power is still off to the circuit, inspect the receptacle for brittle parts that have broken, scorch marks on the back or sides, or loose plugs.
Note: Replace with an identical receptacle of the same amperage and slot configuration.
To do this:
- You’ll first need to turn off the power to that specific circuit at your breaker box.
- Once the power is off, remove the faceplate and receptacle and disconnect the wires from the old outlet.
- Then, connect them to the new outlet (in the same configuration) and replace the faceplate.
- Finally, turn on the power at your breaker box and test out your new outlet.
Still No Joy?
After following all these steps and your outlet is still not working, the issue is likely more serious and you should call a licensed electrician at this point. For example, you may have a break or partial break in the wiring in your attic that will need to be repaired or replaced.
An experienced electrician will be able to pinpoint and diagnose your specific issue rather quickly and is money well spent for peace of mind.
Receptacle Problems and Repairs
The circuit breaker repeatedly trips
- Faulty lamp or appliance plugged into the outlet.
- Loose receptacle wiring. Fix as shown above.
- Faulty receptacle. Replace as shown above.
The receptacle buzzes or is warm
- The circuit may be overloaded.
- Loose receptacle wiring. Fix as shown above.
- Faulty receptacle. Replace as shown above.
Outlet Not Working FAQs
Yes, an outlet (receptacle) can fail without tripping the circuit breaker. The most likely cause is a loose wire connection. Outlets have internal components that can also fail, causing the receptacle to stop working.
Most homes built after 1950 will have three-pronged grounding outlets. You can test for a ground connection with a circuit tester. The third prong is the ground wire. If the outlet is not grounded, you’ll need to have an electrician install a grounding rod and wire.
Multiple outlets not working may be due to a wiring issue. Check for a loose connection on the outlet closest to the service panel.
This may be a faulty receptacle, or it has been installed correctly this way to allow an appliance such as a lamp to be plugged in and controlled by a light switch.
Outlet Not Working, Breaker Not Tripped – Summary
Outlets provide power to our devices and appliances so that we can stay connected and productive. However, sometimes outlets stop working for no apparent reason. Before you start tearing apart your walls looking for a loose wire, there are a few things you can check.
If your outlet stops working and you’ve checked that the breaker hasn’t been tripped, there are a few things you can try before calling in an electrician. The easiest is to use a plug-in tester, next check for loose wires by removing the faceplate and inspecting them. If all of the wires seem to be secure, try replacing the outlet entirely by following the steps above. With any luck, one of these solutions will solve your problem quickly and easily.
I’m J.S., I created and am the content manager at DIYHouseSkills.com. I do the research and write the articles that appear on this website. I’ve learned many household skills during my life and think it’s important to at least know the basics so that you can save yourself time and money… READ FULL BIO >
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