Learning, Outlet,

How to Tell if an Outlet is Bad (Troubleshooting Tips)

We’ve all been there. You plug in your favorite appliance, and nothing happens. It’s frustrating, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you that sometimes, it’s not the device that’s the problem – it could be a bad electrical outlet.

Several signs can indicate a faulty outlet, including flickering lights, burning smells, loose connections, or sparking when you plug in an appliance. If you notice that some of your devices are not working or charging properly, it could indicate a faulty outlet.

But don’t worry! I have tips and tricks to help you determine if your outlet is bad and how to troubleshoot and possibly even fix it yourself. Trust me; it’s easier than you think!

So, let’s dive in and figure out what’s going on with those pesky outlets!

Signs of a Bad Outlet


Sign of a Bad OutletDescription
Physical DamageBurn marks, melting, cracks, or chips on the faceplate, outlets, or even the wall
Burning SmellContinuous burning smell, indicating short-circuiting or sparking
Flickering LightsLights connected to a specific outlet keep flickering
Loose OutletsDevices falling out of the outlet due to wear and tear
Electrical ShocksFeeling a shock when touching an outlet
Warm or Hot OutletsOutlets that feel hot or warm to the touch
Frequent Circuit Breaker TripsCircuit breaker trips frequently when using a specific outlet

Physical Damage

I’ve noticed that one of the easiest ways to identify a bad outlet is to look for physical damage.

burnt outlet besides a switch
Video | TheRenderQ

If you see burn marks, melting, cracks, or chips on the faceplate, outlets, or even the wall, it’s time for a replacement. This is usually a sign that something is not working properly and could be unsafe.

Burning Smell

Another warning sign I often encounter when an outlet is bad is a continuous burning smell. This might indicate that there is short-circuiting or sparking happening inside.

A dangerous situation that requires attention!

Flickering Lights

Do you know what I can’t stand? Flickering lights.

If the lights connected to a specific outlet keep flickering, there’s a chance that your outlet is the culprit. It might be sending intermittent power or have a loose connection. Time to get it checked out!

Loose Outlets

When I plug in a device, and it keeps falling out, it’s a clear sign that the outlet is worn out.

a man's hand holding a loose electrical plug into the outlet
Video | Ron Hazelton

These loose outlets can be frustrating and even hazardous, as they might cause a poor electrical connection.

Electrical Shocks

Feeling a shock when you touch an outlet? Not great.

It’s important to have this issue addressed by a professional electrician. Electrical shocks from outlets might indicate faulty wiring or other underlying issues.

Warm or Hot Outlets

Now, when I touch an outlet that feels hot or warm, that’s a sign of a problem.

Outlets should not be hot to the touch – heat usually means excessive current or poor connections. Call an electrician because this can be a fire hazard!

Frequent Circuit Breaker Trips

man's hand opening the main electrical panel
Video | Mr. Electric

Finally, let me tell you about one more red flag that tells me an outlet might be bad: frequent circuit breaker trips.

If you notice that a specific outlet is causing your circuit breaker to trip, that’s a sign that something is not quite right.

Testing a Suspect Outlet

You know, I’ve seen my fair share of bad electrical outlets in homes, and let me tell you, testing them is pretty important!

In this section, I’ll walk you through a couple of ways to test a suspect outlet: using a plug-in outlet tester and testing with a multimeter. Trust me; you’ll be a pro in no time!

Using a Plug-In Outlet Tester

One way to test an outlet is with a handy plug-in outlet tester. These little gadgets are easy to use and widely available at hardware stores. Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • First, plug the outlet tester into the suspect outlet.
  • Check the lights on the tester – they’ll tell you if the outlet has the correct wiring or if there’s an issue like an open ground, reversed polarity, or more.
  • If there’s a problem, it’s time for some professional help! Never attempt to fix an electrical issue alone if you’re uncomfortable; call a licensed electrician.

Testing with a Multimeter

man testing the outlet with a multimeter
Video | AMRE Supply

Ready to kick it up a notch? You can also test an outlet using a multimeter. This tool might seem intimidating, but it’s not as tough as it looks. Check out these step-by-step instructions:

  • Safety first! Make sure to turn off the power to the outlet you’re testing.
  • Next, set your multimeter to the “volts” setting and connect the red and black leads to their respective inputs.
  • Carefully insert the red probe into the smaller slot of the outlet and the black probe into the larger slot.
  • The multimeter should display a voltage reading between 110-120 volts. If it does, you’re good to go! If not, an issue might require a professional electrician’s attention.

Now that you know how to test a suspect outlet, you’ll be able to identify any issues quickly!

How to Fix a Bad Outlet

Turn Off Power at the Circuit Breaker

man switching off the main electrical panel
Video | MonkeySee

First things first, safety is always a priority. Before diving into any outlet fixes, turn off the power at the circuit breaker.

Trust me; you don’t want to feel the shock of your life while trying to fix something!

Replace the Outlet

man installing a new outlet on the wall
Video | TheRenderQ

Once you’ve cut the power, you can start working on the outlet. I always recommend grabbing a screwdriver and carefully removing the outlet cover, followed by the outlet itself.

Look at the wire connections – sometimes, loose or disconnected wires are the culprit. If that’s the case, tighten or reconnect them, and your outlet should be ready!

However, If the wires look fine, but the problem persists, it’s time to replace the outlet completely.

Consult a Licensed Electrician

a field engineer working on outlet wall

Even if you’re a hands-on person like me, I always advise folks to keep a healthy respect for electricity. Sometimes, the best action is to call in a licensed electrician.

If you’ve tried the steps above and your outlet still isn’t working, or if you see signs like extreme heat or discoloration, it’s time to call in a professional.

Trust me; it’s better to be safe than sorry about your home and your family’s safety.

So there you have it! Those are the steps I follow to handle a bad outlet. Remember to keep safety in mind, and don’t be afraid to call in a pro if things get too complicated or hazardous. Good luck, and happy fixing!

Wrapping Up

Whew, I’ve got to tell you – bad outlets can be a real headache! But luckily, there are some handy signs to look out for that can help you identify issues early on.

Keep an eye (or ear) out for frequent and unexplained circuit breaker trips. This could be another sign of a bad outlet. And, of course, always be on guard for any signs of discoloration, melting, or burning odors.

It’s important to address these issues promptly. Bad outlets can pose a serious risk to your home’s safety, even leading to fires or electrical shocks.

So, if you notice any of these warning signs, don’t hesitate to call a professional electrician to diagnose and fix the problem.




  • “The Complete Guide to Home Wiring” by Black & Decker

Video References




Mary Handy Hands

Ron Hazelton


AMRE Supply

Mr. Electric

How helpful was this article?

Were Sorry This Was Not Helpful!

Let us improve this post!

Please Tell Us How We Can Improve This Article.

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.

| Reach Me

Leave a Comment