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What is a 20 Amp Outlet? (Differences & Features)

The 120-volt system used in the United States allows for installing 20-amp circuits. So if you’re dealing with an outlet, you should know about 20-amp outlets, like how it differs from a regular 15-amp outlet.

This article covers both aspects of using 20-amp outlets and their advantages and disadvantages.

20-Amp Outlets

20-amp outlets are designed for higher-powered appliances than 15-amp outlets can handle.

Appliances such as microwave ovens, refrigerators, and washing machines may require 20-amp outlets. So they are usually necessary for the kitchen and dining room. Receptacles in these areas of the home should be rated at 20 amps [Carson Dunlop, 2003].

20-amp and 15-amp Outlets

Compared to a regular 15-amp outlet, a 20-amp one looks almost identical.

One difference you will notice on the outside is the t-slot on some 20-amp outlets, whereas a 15-amp one has a vertical slot. The extra t-stroke is part of the neutral slot at right angles to the hot one. Some even have a u-shaped slot.

These 20-amp outlets with t-slots accept both 15-amp and 20-amp plugs. But an older type of 20-amp outlet has a horizontal neutral slot (not a t-slot). You cannot fit conventional plugs into them.

Another important thing to know is that you can’t use 20-amp outlets on 15-amp circuits. The wiring and circuit breaker must support 20-amp outlets on its circuit.

Usually, a 14/2 wire is used on a 15-amp circuit, and a 12/2 wire on a 20-amp circuit. Also, as you would expect, a 15-amp circuit will have a 15-amp circuit breaker, and a 20-amp circuit will have a 20-amp circuit breaker.

Advantages and Disadvantages

A 20-amp outlet offers two key advantages over a regular 15-amp outlet:

  • It’s suitable for high-powered appliances.
  • It usually provides GFCI protection.

However, the 20-amp outlet will allow you to run appliances requiring greater power, but it’s more expensive than a 15-amp outlet. It also relies on a 10 or 12-AWG wire and a 20-amp circuit breaker, which are costlier than their equivalents for a 15-amp circuit (12 AWG wire and 15-amp circuit breaker).


Can You Replace a 15-Amp Outlet with a 20-Amp One?

A common scenario is when you have a 15-amp outlet installed and must replace it with a 20-amp one. Can you take out the 15-amp outlet and replace it with a 20-amp outlet?

No, as explained above, you can’t do that. You would need to look at the wire used on the circuit and the circuit breaker.

If it’s a 14/2 wire, you can’t, and shouldn’t, do it without replacing the wire with at least a 12/2 one. It might be better to install the 20-amp outlet on a separate dedicated circuit instead of replacing the wire, especially if it’s concealed. However, if it’s a 12/2 wire, you might only need to change the 15-amp circuit breaker with a 20-amp one before installing the 20-amp outlet.

Can You Install a 15-Amp Outlet on a 20-Amp Circuit?

If you’re wondering whether you can install a 15-amp outlet on a 20-amp circuit, you can.

A circuit capable of supporting 20 amps of electrical current requires a 10 or 12 AWG wire and a 20-amp circuit breaker. Although designed for use with 20-amp outlets, you can also install 15-amp outlets on it. NEC standards permit it, but an unnecessary expense unless you also have 20-amp outlets.

However, the circuit will not protect if the current exceeds 15 amps, which may be necessary unless it comes closer to 20 amps.


20 amp receptacle: https://www.lowes.com/pd/Eaton-White-20-Amp-Decorator-with-Wall-Plate-Outlet-GFCI-Residential-Outlet/1002337410.

Carson Dunlop. Principles of home inspection: Systems & standards. Kaplan Financial Series. Vol. 14. Dearborn Home Inspection (Firm). Dearborn Real Estate, 2003.

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About Sam Orlovsky

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

Electrical engineering is my passion, and I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. This gives me a unique ability to give you expert home improvement and DIY recommendations. I’m not only an electrician, but I also like machinery and anything to do with carpentry. One of my career paths started as a general handyman, so I also have a lot of experience with home improvement I love to share.

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