How to Replace an Outlet

Whether you’re replacing a defective outlet or upgrading to an outlet with USB plugs, learn how to do it safely with these tips from Mr. Electric.

Is your house rockin’ old outlets? There’s some amazing new outlet technology available in the aisles of your area home improvement store, as well as online. Whether you’re replacing a worn-out outlet with a run-of-the-mill replacement, or going high-tech with USB plug enabled or smart outlet options, the steps to replacing an outlet are pretty straight-forward but require a few common-sense safety precautions... 

How to Replace an Outlet

Be sure to purchase the right outlet type for your installation, including GFCI-enabled outlets for outdoor areas and rooms with exposure to water (baths/kitchens/laundries). Use caution during installation. (NOTE: Installing a GFCI requires a different procedure that is not covered here.)

To Replace a Typical 120-Volt Receptacle, Follow these Instructions:

  • Tools & Materials
    • New outlet(s) that match the circuit amperage rating
    • Non-contact voltage tester
    • Wire cutter/strippers
    • Screwdrivers
    • Needlenose pliers
    • Electrical tape
  • Go Shopping.
    Do your homework, determining what upgraded outlet options you’d like to replace your antiquated outlets with. Ensure your choice is up to code for the room it’s being installed in, including GFCI features for areas exposed to water. Likewise, ensure the amperage of your replacement outlet matches the amperage of the circuit/breaker: 15 or 20-amp.  Vertical slots on 20-amp outlets have a ‘T’ shape for special plugs on certain appliances, but you can plug standard appliances into them as well. When in doubt, buy a new receptacle that looks exactly like the old one. You can install a 15-amp receptacle on a 20-amp circuit, but you should never install a 20-amp outlet on a 15-amp circuit.
  • Turn off Power to the Outlet.
    Never rely on a switch to cut power. Trip the breaker to the outlet you are replacing to avoid being shocked. Don’t assume, test with a voltage tester prior to replacing to ensure safety. (Compare to a known live outlet.) (If you can’t figure out the voltage tester, hire a pro.)Working outside? While the power is off, now may be a good time to Power Wash Your Outdoor Surfaces.
  • Remove the Plate Cover with a Screwdriver.
    Test all wires for current again.
  • Remove the Receptacle from the Wall Box.
    Remove the mounting screws on the receptacle strap and gently remove the receptacle from the wall box, pulling from the top and bottom.
  • Identify Wires.
    NOTE: Depending on home/receptacle age, your wiring may look vastly different. If this is the case, and you don’t understand what’s happening in the box, call a pro. Otherwise, identify these wires:
    • Black ‘hot’ wires connected to brass-colored screws.
    • White ‘neutral’ wires connected to silver-colored screws.
    • Green or bare ‘ground’ wires connected to a green grounding screw on the receptacle.
  •  Verify Proper Wiring.
    15-amp circuit to 14-gauge wire; 20-amp circuit to 12-gauge wire. Any other combination is dangerous and should be addressed by a pro ASAP.
  • Carefully Disconnect and Reconnect Wires.
    It is best to disconnect one wire at a time and install that wire on the new outlet before moving on, recreating the same connections on the new receptacle. This way you won’t mix the wires up and install them incorrectly, resulting in potentially hazardous electrical pyrotechnics and/or damaged electronics. Begin with the bare copper/green insulated ground wire. Next, attach the white (neutral) wires to the silver screw terminal(s). Then the black (hot) wires to the brass colored screw terminals or hot slots.
  • Wiring Tips:
    • To make connecting wires easier, bend a C-shape at the end of each wire, looping it in a clockwise direction around screw terminals, then tighten screw firmly. Be sure to carefully trim wires so no excess bare wire is exposed.
    • Some receptacles will house wires connected to screw terminals, while others use push-in ‘back-wire’ slots. Poke a nail into the release slot next to back-wired connections to release; on screw-style, simply loosen screws and remove. When relocating to the new outlet, opt for screw terminals when possible, which are more secure.
    • Before reinserting the receptacle, wrap a loop of black electric tape around the sides, covering bare screw terminals, to prevent accidental contact.

Outlet issues? From missing ground wires to melted outlets, Mr. Electric, a Neighborly company, has you covered. Ensure a safe outlet installation. Contact Mr. Electric today.

"This blog is made available by Mr. Electric for educational purposes only to give the reader general information and a general understanding on the specific subject above. The blog should not be used as a substitute for a licensed electrical professional in your state or region. Check with city and state laws before performing any household project."