How Do You Know If a GFCI Outlet Is Bad?

Faulty GFCI outlets can cause many issues for your home’s safety, so regular checkups are essential for GFCI outlets to ensure they remain in working order.

GFCI outlets are common in many US households these days. Whether it’s your bathroom or kitchen, GFCI outlets play a major role in protecting your home. Because of that, I always ask my clients to check their GFCI outlets occasionally.

To check a GFCI outlet, carry out these 4 tests:

  • Use a non-contact voltage tester to ensure there is power in the outlet.
  • Press the test button to ensure the GFCI outlet remains capable of tripping.
  • Use a digital multimeter to ensure the outlet’s voltage is within the range of 110V- 120V.
  • A general inspection by opening the GFCI outlet to ensure all the wires are properly and securely connected and there are no burn marks on the wires and outlet.

With these 4 simple tests, anyone can tell whether or not the GFCI outlet is bad. Continue reading the article for more details.

Four Tests to Check a GFCI Outlet Effortlessly

Can a GFCI Outlet Go Bad?

Usually, GFCI outlets are expected to last around 15 years.

But GFCI outlets can go bad for various reasons. Most of the time, overuse and improper use are causes of faulty GFCI outlets. For instance, a loose wire connection can cause a GFCI outlet to trip repeatedly.

The Four Tests

I’ve described 4 tests below that can identify faulty GFCI outlets:

  • (Test 1) A non-contact voltage test to check for power
  • (Test 2) Test button test to confirm the outlet’s ability to trip
  • (Test 3) Voltage test using a voltmeter or multimeter
  • (Test 4) A general inspection test to look for signs of damage

Test 1: Using a Non-Contact Voltage Tester

The 1st test requires a non-contact voltage tester to confirm that the GFCI outlet has power.

A GFCI outlet illuminates a small green light when power is supplied to the outlet (in the ON position). This is a simple test to check GFCI outlets. Follow this test before conducting further tests.

Take a non-contact voltage tester and check the active GFCI outlet by inserting it into the hot slot. If the voltage tester lights up, the outlet is getting power.

If you detect a faulty outlet using a voltage tester, you won’t need to conduct the next 2 tests. You can skip to the last one to open and inspect the outlet and replace the outlet, if necessary.

Test 2: Checking a GFCI Outlet’s Ability to Trip

The 2nd test only requires pressing buttons, i.e., you won’t need to use any measuring instrument.

Every GFCI outlet has two buttons: a reset and a test button. In this test, I’ll explain how to use them to identify a faulty GFCI outlet.

Check the above image. The button located at the top of the outlet is the reset button. The bottom one is the test button.

Whenever you press the test button, the GFCI outlet will trip because of a simulated short circuit situation. This behavior is expected. Go ahead and press it.

At the same time, when pressing the test button, the reset button will pop out. See the above image.

As a result of pressing the test button, the GFCI outlet won’t get power anymore. Take a voltage tester and confirm that. The voltage tester won’t light up while the outlet is not getting power.

If your GFCI outlet reacts this way after pressing the test button, the outlet is working properly. Press the reset button when ready to restore power.

Test 3: Checking a GFCI Outlet’s Voltage

The 3rdtest requires using a digital multimeter to check for the exact voltage at the outlet.

Grab your digital multimeter and follow the steps below.

Step 1: Set up the Multimeter

Firstly, set the multimeter to the AC volts settings.

Then, insert the black lead into the COM port and the red one into the VAΩ port.

setting up the multimeter to AC volts settings
Video | S.E.R. Safety

Step 2: Press the Reset Button (if necessary)

If the outlet is not getting power after the previous test, press the reset button to restore power to the GFCI outlet.

hand pressing the reset button of a GFCI outlet while holding down on his thumb the multimeter
Video | S.E.R. Safety

Step 3: Insert the Probes

Now, turn on the multimeter and insert the red probe into the outlet’s small slot and the black probe into the large one (see the image in the next step).

Step 4: Check the Outlet’s Voltage

Next, look at the reading on the multimeter’s display.

If the GFCI outlet works properly, the multimeter should display a reading between 110V and 120V.

A person using a multimeter to determine if a power outlet is faulty
Video | S.E.R. Safety

After that, press the test button one more time.

It will trip the outlet and disconnect the power supply from it. Now check the multimeter reading. You should get a reading of zero. If you get a reading other than zero, the GFCI outlet is faulty.

A multimeter is used to determine if a GFCI outlet is functioning properly
Video | S.E.R. Safety

Remember to press the reset button to restore power when you need it.

A white outlet with a reset button, indicating how to determine if a GFCI outlet is faulty
Video | Ryan Homes

Test 4: A General Inspection of a GFCI Outlet

The 4th test is easy as it doesn’t require pressing a button or using a tester or voltmeter, but you must open the GFCI outlet for a proper inspection after turning the power off.

This test is appropriate if the GFCI outlet has no power or it is intermittent even when the circuit breaker is on. It is also recommended during a general maintenance inspection.

Step 1: Turn the Power Off

Turn the power off at the circuit breaker panel before opening a GFCI outlet. You only need to switch off the one controlling the circuit on which the outlet is installed.

A person is pointing at an electrical panel with the words power off
Video | HandyDadTV

Step 2: Open the GFCI Outlet

Open the GFCI outlet using a screwdriver after turning the power off.

A person getting out the outlet from the wall
Video | Just for you

Step 3: Inspect the Wires and Terminals

Inspect the wires and terminals attached to the GFCI outlet for the following:

  • Any loose wiring or contacts
  • Any burn marks on the terminals or wiring
  • Correct wiring

Ensure all the wires are firmly and securely connected to the right terminals:

  • The black (hot) wire should be securely connected to the hot (brass) terminal.
  • The white (neutral) wire should be securely connected to the neutral (silver) terminal.
  • The bare copper or green (ground) wire should be securely connected to the ground (green) terminal.

Also, ensure all the wires look fine. There should be no sharp bends, signs of wear and tear (of the insulation), cracks, or burn marks. If there are, replace the wire or GFCI outlet as necessary.


Website Resources:

Video References:


Just for You

Ryan Homes

The Electrical Guide

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S.E.R. Safety

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About Alex Robertson

AvatarCertifications: B.M.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Mechanical Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Hi, I’m Alex! I’m a co-founder, content strategist, and writer and a close friend of our co-owner, Sam Orlovsky. I received my Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (B.M.E.) degree from Denver, where we studied together. My passion for technical and creative writing has led me to help Sam with this project.

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