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Electrical outlets sure get taken for granted — until they stop working. If you can’t get power from an electrical outlet or you notice recurring problems with the performance, test the outlet to see if the receptacle needs to be replaced or if you have a bigger wiring problem on your hands.

How to Test for a Dead Outlet

When an appliance stops working, don’t assume the electrical outlet is dead. First plug in something else (an item that you know for sure is working) and see if the outlet works.

If the electrical outlet will not power anything, you do have a problem. However, you still need to find out if the electrical outlet is dead — or if you have faulty wiring.

After you determine that an electrical outlet isn’t working, here’s what to do:

  • Test other outlets in the same room by plugging in working appliances. If multiple outlets are not working, the wiring likely has a problem.
  • If no outlets have power, check the circuit breaker. If the breaker switch has tripped, push it firmly off and firmly back on.
  • Even if only one outlet is dead, your best option is to call a local electrician to check the wiring. Replacing an electrical outlet is not a great DIY project for most people. And you still might have wiring problems.

How to Test for Proper Voltage in an Outlet

You can test the voltage at an electrical outlet with a device called a multimeter. A multimeter is a handheld device that connects to an outlet with two metal prongs and provides a variety of data. Testing an outlet’s voltage may be helpful if you have flickering lamps, weak power, frequently tripped breakers, or constantly burned out light bulbs.

Here’s how to test with a multimeter to see if your electrical outlet is supplying the proper voltage:

  • Set the multimeter to AC voltage
  • Insert one probe into each of the outlet’s two vertical slots
  • Wait a few seconds and remove the prongs
  • Look for a reading between 110 and 120 volts (a few volts higher or lower is okay)

If your electrical outlet reads more than a few volts outside of that range, contact a local electrician for diagnostics and service.

How to Test a GFCI Outlet

Ground-fault circuit interrupters — the outlets in kitchens and bathrooms that protect against water — should be tested to make sure that your home and electrical system is actually getting the proper GFCI protection.

This is what the “test” and “reset” buttons are for on a GFCI electrical outlet. Plug in an appliance and turn it on. Hit the “test” button and the appliance should turn off. If it doesn’t the GFCI needs repairs.

Note that circuits often have non-GFCI outlets located on the same line. After a GFCI trips, a non-GFCI outlet further down the circuit will probably also trip and you need to hit the “reset” button to turn it back on. If this keeps happening, don’t just keep hitting “reset,” because there may actually be a wetness problem or miswiring. Call a professional electrician to check it out.

Found a problem? Remember that electrical work can be dangerous. Call your friendly local electrician for a quick visit to troubleshoot and get your electrical system working properly.

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