How to Change an Electrical Outlet: It’s Not as Hard as You Think!

So, you want to change out your old electrical outlet for something a little more modern? Or maybe your outlet has stopped working properly and you’re worried the wiring has come loose?

Either way, swapping out an old electrical outlet with a new one is a task you shouldn’t be intimidated by. You might think a professional is needed to tackle this job, but trust me, if you can use a screwdriver and pliers, you can change an electrical outlet!

Let’s take a closer look at how to tackle this job like a pro, so you can confidently change any outlet in your house should the need arise.

Tools & Materials

  • Screwdriver
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Wirecutter
  • Wire stripper (optional)
  • Voltage tester or multimeter (optional)

How to Change an Electrical Outlet – Guide

Step 1: Turn Off Power to the Outlet

The first thing you need to do – and this step is an absolute must – is turn off the power supply to the outlet you’ll be working on. Be sure to do this every time you work on an outlet, as electrocuting yourself is not a good time.

Locate your breaker box, and look at the markings next to the switches for an indication of which switch you’ll need to turn off. Turn off the switch that corresponds to the location of the outlet.

breaker box

Now before you jump into it, you’ll want to check to make sure you’ve actually turned off the outlet’s power. Breaker boxes can be mislabeled sometimes, and even if the lights go off in the area, there still may be current flowing to the outlet.

If you have a voltage tester or multimeter, use it to check that the current is actually off. If not plug in a lamp or something else to ensure there is no power.

Step 2: Remove the Face Plate & Outlet

Now, remove the faceplate from the outlet using your screwdriver to remove the screw(s) holding it in place.

When the faceplate is gone, you’ll still need to remove an additional two screws that mount the receptacle inside the electrical box.

unscrewing receptacle
Removing the screws holding the receptacle in place.

Step 3: Remove Outlet from Electrical Box

At this point, there is nothing holding the outlet in position, and you can pull it free from the electrical box.

Take a close look at the receptacle and where the various wires coming from the wall attach to it. You should notice three different wires attached to various parts of the receptacle.

receptacle removed from electrical box
Receptacle pulled out of the electrical box. Note the three different wires attached to it.

The black wire is the live wire, meaning it is the wire that carries live current from the electrical panel to the outlet. The white wire is the neutral wire, which takes unused electricity and sends it back to the breaker panel.

There is one wire attached to the receptacle, and that is the ground wire. This is a safety feature, and gives excess electrical charge a place to “ground”.

The ground wire can either be green-colored or a bare copper wire.

Take note of the points where the various wires attach to the screws on the receptacle, as you’ll need to replicate this on the new one.

Step 4: Detach Wires from Receptacle

The wires are held in place by small screws that clamp them in place. Loosen these screws just enough to slip the wires free from the receptacle.

Step 5: Examine the Grounding Wire

If your outlet was working fine before you decided to replace it, then the live wire and neutral wire should be in good shape. The ground wire is another story, however.

Many times you’ll open up an electrical outlet or a light switch and you’ll notice the ground wire is not attached properly and sometimes it’s missing altogether!

To make sure your outlet is grounded properly, the ground wire should be attached to the grounding screw in the back of the electrical box as well as the green screw on the receptacle.

wires electrical box
Here you can see a close-up of the electrical box. Notice the ground wire is properly attached to the grounding screw in the very back.

Step 6: Attach Wires to New Outlet

Examine the new outlet, and you’ll notice that the screws on it are color-coded. One side will have brass-colored screws, while the other side will have silver-colored screws above the green-colored ground screw.

If you’re not sure which wire goes where there is an easy way to remember:

Black goes to brass. White goes to silver. Ground goes to green.

You also notice that there are two brass and silver screws on either side of the receptacle. It doesn’t matter which one of these you attach your wire to, either one will work fine.

tightening screws on receptacle
Tightening the screws on the receptacle.

To attach your wires to the screws simply hook the ends of the copper wire underneath the screw and then turn the screw until the wire is locked in place. Try not to leave too much wire exposed or hanging out.

Pliers or vise grips can be helpful for twisting the copper wire into shape.

Step 7: Mount the Receptacle in the Electrical Box

One thing you might want to consider at this point is marking the outlet with the correct breaker switch needed to power it off. This will make any further work on that outlet easier in the future.

At this point, your outlet is wired and ready to mount back inside the box. Carefully push it into place in the electrical box.

Then, line up the screws on the top and bottom of the receptacle with the screw holes and then tighten them until the receptacle is tight against the box.

mounting faceplate

At this point, all that’s left to do is attach the faceplate, and flip the breaker switch to send power back to the outlet! Now you know how to change an electrical outlet.

A Word About Amperage

This may not be an issue for you, but be aware that there are actually two different amp circuits and receptacles that can be used: 15-amp and 20-amp. 

20-amp circuits are fairly rare in most houses and those that do have them tend to have them only in areas where heavy appliances would be installed like a kitchen or a garage.

The rule of thumb as far as replacing old receptacles is that you can use a 15-amp receptacle on any circuit, but you can only use a 20-amp receptacle on a 20-amp circuit. This is because the receptacle can allow a large appliance to overload the circuit by drawing too much power.

Just remember if you’re in doubt, install a 15-amp circuit and you won’t need to worry about this issue.

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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