Why Your Outlet Isn't Working (and How to Fix It Yourself)

by Team eLocal
electrical wall outlet

If an electrical outlet suddenly stops working, you might find yourself panicking about repair costs.

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Understanding how to fix an outlet — and which issues require an expert — can help you save money and recognize potentially dangerous faults.

Why Isn't My Outlet Working?

There are several potential reasons for an outlet not working. The good news is that they don't all require an expensive electrician visit to fix.

Here are some of the most common causes of non-functioning electrical outlets:

Faulty Appliance

If you always use the same outlet for your phone charger or another appliance and it stops working, your outlet might not be the culprit. Sometimes, it's a sign that's something wrong with your device or appliance, instead of the outlet itself.

GFCI Outlet Shutoff

Building regulations require that all outlets in potentially wet areas are GFCI outlets. These outlets shut off if the electricity surges to prevent electrocution, but they sometimes shut off for no apparent reason. Therefore, a false shutdown could be to blame if an outlet in your kitchen, bathroom or laundry area suddenly stops working.

Overloaded Circuit

Plugging too many appliances into a single circuit can cause it to overload. This situation is more likely if you plug in multiple heat-generating items, such as ovens and hairdryers. An overloaded circuit causes the breaker on your home's electrical panel to switch off, cutting off the power supply to the entire circuit.

Half-Hot Outlet

Half-hot outlets have a separate wall switch that controls them. For example, your washing machine may have a wall switch that allows you to cut the power to your appliance without switching off the circuit at the breaker. You might not realize you have a half-hot outlet if you never switch it off, leaving you scratching your head if you accidentally knock it and flip the switch.

Short Circuit or Loose Wires

A short circuit occurs when two wires touch each other, causing the breaker to flip. A short-circuited outlet is hazardous because it can cause a house fire, so you should have it fixed as soon as possible. Loose wires can also stop an outlet from working correctly.

Faulty Outlet

Occasionally, outlets can develop faults that stop them from working. This sometimes happens when key components burn out due to another issue, such as an overloaded circuit.

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How Do I Fix an Outlet?

You can try several things to troubleshoot the cause of your non-functioning outlet and get everything up and running again. However, you should call an electrician as soon as possible if you suspect a potentially hazardous fault, such as a short circuit.

Step 1: Plug Something Else In

If there's something wrong with your appliance or fixture instead of the outlet, it should work when you plug something else into that same outlet. Try plugging in another device and see if it works. If it does, it's time to replace or repair your gadget.

Step 2: Check Wall Switches

Look around your outlet to see if there's a wall switch nearby. Try flipping the switch to see if this restores power to the outlet. If it does, you probably just turned off a half-hot outlet by mistake.

Step 3: Try Nearby Outlets

If these simple fixes don't work, it might be because you've lost power to an entire circuit. Try plugging the same item into nearby outlets to see if they work. You may have a flipped breaker switch if they don't.

Step 4: Inspect the Breaker Panel

Check your home's electrical panel to see if any switches have flipped. Flipped switches sit between the on and off position, and you can reset them by switching them off, then back on again.

Next, go back to the outlet and try using it again. Sometimes, resetting the breaker switch is enough to solve the issue. If not, you might have too many appliances plugged into the same circuit. Try unplugging some appliances, and then reset the breaker again to see if the issue resolves.

Step 5: Call an Electrician

If none of the above steps work, there's a good chance you have a short-circuited or faulty outlet. You may also have loose wires inside the outlet.

If you have electrical knowledge and understand how outlet wiring works, you can try unscrewing the outlet plate to replace any loose wires. It's essential to switch off the circuit at the breaker panel first to avoid an electric shock.

However, it's often safer and easier to just call an electrician, especially if you're not confident that you can fix the problem yourself. Faulty outlets and short circuits always require attention from a qualified electrician, as they are too complex and dangerous for homeowners to tackle.

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