Changing Out an Old Outlet
So, this is one of those not so pretty posts, but I promise it is Oh So Handy! Learn how to easily change out an old outlet.
Changing Out an Old (UGLY) Outlet
Our home was built in 1978 and most of our outlets are almond colored and many are so worn that they won’t hold a plug anymore. I used to get annoyed EVERY TIME I vacuumed downstairs and turned the corner only to have the vacuum plug slip from the outlet. Not only is this frustrating, but it is also a fire hazard. Old outlets should be replaced for safety reasons (but, hey, I’m okay if you just want to change them to a pretty white outlet.). Changing Out an Old Outlet is easy!
I distinctly remember my father showing me how to wire an outlet when I was about eight years old. I didn’t remember exactly what he taught me, but I do remember the feeling that – yes, I can do this myself! Being the father of three girls, Dad taught us all the things he would have taught a son. This is a picture of my Dad, my sisters and me teaching him all we knew about bows, barrettes and bobby pins.
I know several of you would never think of taking apart your outlet. You might say electricity scares you. Well, that is a good thing! A healthy fear of electricity will make you more cautious, so don’t lose that fear. It is a good thing to double and triple check your safety when working with electricity. Now, are you ready to update your outlets? Changing Out an Old Outlet is a relatively easy task to do. And, I promise I will show you step-by-step instructions.
I highly recommend performing outlet replacements during daylight hours (or have a lamp that you can plug into an extension cord from another room.) Also, don’t let your little ones watch you, we don’t want them to stick a screwdriver in the outlet when you aren’t looking. Therefore, it is best to handle this fix during nap times.
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- Needle-nosed pliers with rubber or plastic handles*
- Flat head screwdriver*
- Phillips head screwdriver*
- Wire Strippers*
- Wire cutter*
- Voltage tester
- Night light
- 15 amp/ 125 volt or 20 amp/ 120 volt duplex outlet
- outlet cover
* It is safest to work with tools that have rubber or plastic handles that won’t conduct electricity.
- vacuum to clean out the receptacle box (there will be dirt and dust in there and this may be the only opportunity you will have to clean it!)
- cushion to sit on
- power drill with screwdriver bits to speed up the process
Required Safety Instruction:
Turn off the power to the outlet you are working on. I highly recommend putting a night light or light in the outlet and turn it on. Then shut off the circuit at your circuit breaker and check to see that the light has gone out.
Also note that just because two outlets are in the same room, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are on the same circuit. Plus, it is possible for the top and bottom of one outlet to be on separate circuits. Always check both the top and bottom of an outlet before you work on it.
Okay, let’s begin. Take a deep breath and realize that if an 8 yr. old can do it, so can you!
1. First, turn off your power, double check both outlets with your light to make sure the power is out to both top and bottom outlets.
2. Then take out your voltage tester. Insert a probe into each of the top two holes. If the tester lights up, you need to back up and turn off the power to the outlet! If it doesn’t light up, then check the bottom outlet as well. Still no light? Perfect, the power is off to your outlet.
3. If you haven’t done so already, remove the face plate from your outlet by unscrewing the middle screw.
4. Unscrew the two mounting screws as shown below.
5. Gently pull the outlet out of the receptacle box. Inspect the outlet and see if you have the same amp replacement outlet. (Usually there are marking denoting 15A 125V or 20A 120V on the silver tabs, on the back or near the screw hole in the middle of the outlet.)
6. Note which wires are attached to the outlet and where. Then make a drawing if you need to of their position. Or work by transferring one wire at a time.
7. If the wires are wrapped around screws (lucky you), unscrew your wires and skip to step 10. If your wires are poked into holes in the back of the outlet, you may choose to try to release them by poking a flat head screwdriver into the slot next to the wire, or you will need to cut the wires as close to the outlet as possible.
8. Now strip about 1/4 inch of the insulation from the end of your wire.Then gently use your wire strippers to clamp down on the wire being sure it is scoring the insulation. If you need to, rotate your wire strippers 90 degrees and cut through the insulation again. then while the strippers are still around the wire, pull gently towards the end of the wire to remove the cut insulation.
9. Next take your needle nosed pliers and grasp the end of your wire and twist the end to make a shepherds hook shape. Do this for all your remaining wires.
10. Looking at the back of your new outlet, you will see that one side has silver screws and/or markings on the back that says white wire. The other side of the outlet should have gold screws and/or markings indicating hot wires (the black wires). And one screw towards the bottom that is green, this screw is for your bare or ground wire.
11. Hook each of your wires around the appropriate screw (Gold Screws = Black wires; Silver screws = White wires; Green screw = bare or green wire).
12. Further, using your needle nosed pliers, pinch your wires tightly around the screws attempting to close the loop.
13. After that tighten each screw being sure that the wire stays tightly wrapped around the screw.
14. If all your wires have been screwed tightly onto the outlet you can gently push your outlet back into the receptacle box. Try to rock the outlet in by alternately pushing on the top and then the bottom. If your outlet doesn’t go in, pull it out and rearrange the wires so they fold neatly behind the outlet and try again.
15. Screw in the mounting screws.
16. Finally, replace the faceplate.
Now you can turn the power back on and use a nightlight or lamp to make sure your outlet works!
Hey, you are done! Congratulations, you did it. Reach up and pat yourself on the back because I’m proud of you! Now that you know Changing Out an Old Outlet is easy as can be, I have a next level swap for you! You can use the same tutorial to install a USB Charging outlet!
Let me know how you did. Changing Out an Old Outlet was easy, wasn’t it?!
All good advice. Perhaps one more thing: Occasionally it is hard to tell on older plugs which screw is silver and which is gold. In such case, just remember that the neutral wire screw(s) are always on the same side as the ground wire screw (and the black hot wire is always opposite from the ground screw side).
wow, thank you for this post. It can at an appropriate time for me. I am so afraid of gas and electric, This post is exactly what I need. Thank you!
Please note some important cautions
1. The device is not intended to create a connection for the incoming and outgoing circuit. Connect the two wires by twisting them together with a third jumper wire and securing them with a wire nut. Connect the jumper to the device.
2. Make sure that wires that are looped to go under a device screw are placed so that tightening the screw is pulling the wire around the screw. Putting the loop backwards can create a loose connection.
3. Avoid using push in connections unless the are secured pay tightening the device screw. Connecting wires without this feature are damaged by the device.
4. Mount the device with the ground connection on top. This helps keep you safe if from something metal touching a life plug that has sagged loose.
Glad to see help online.
My husband was a contractor who died last year. Now I get to do these chores. Thank you for the boost of confidence.
We have lived in this house for 20 years. All outlets except 3 were new when we moved in. I’ve asked at least 3 times a year if he would replace those 3 and it’s never happened. Guess who’s going to work now ? I’m not telling him either. Thank you for the great tutorial. I’ll keep it beside me for step by step instructions.
Why did you use the screw and not just push the wires in?
Sometimes I find it easier to use the screws, but you could push into the back too.
Thank you so much for the easy way of changing a outlet, IAM 1of 4 girls my father was a electrical engineer but IAM the one that’s too scared to try on my own .IAM single so IAM on my on so I will try with your confidence. Thank you so much from Texas
You are the only one who addressed *how* to remove wires from those OLD receptacles, thank you!!
Great article for the woman who wants to do the good and idealistic way of putting their home good one and unique in styles and decor. Thank you for sharing your tips and knowledge to be part of this real world.
Should one be concerned if the bare wires are touching the plastic side as they extend from the screw? Or should you try to make sure the bare wire is only touching the screws and not long enough to make contact with the plastic on each side? Thanks for a great tutorial.