Reasons Why Your Electrical Outlet Isn’t Working and What You Should Do

Marwa Hasan
Written by Marwa Hasan
Reviewed by Tyler Keezer
Updated March 29, 2022
electrical outlet above bedside table in bedroom with brick wall and gray accents
Photo: brizmaker / Adobe Stock

If your outlet is not working, there is a chance that you'll need a pro to fix it, but some troubleshooting would come in handy

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You’ve already popped your popcorn for movie night, but when you turn on the TV… nothing.  Don’t panic—more than likely it’s not your TV that’s dead; it’s the outlet.

Outlet malfunctioning is a common problem homeowners face. In some cases, it’s not a bad idea to take a few troubleshooting steps to see if you can solve the problem yourself before calling a pro. (You might also be able to change the outlet.) Here’s a guide to some of the most common reasons for a dead electrical outlet.

Safety warning: You have to take safety precautions when dealing with electricity. Unplug all devices and appliances from dead outlets. It’s also a good idea not to come near an electric plug or outlet without switching off the breaker from the main electric panel first.

Why Is My Electrical Outlet Not Working?

If you found yourself stuck with an electrical outlet that doesn’t work, it's not always because of a major electrical problem. Here are some reasons you might be having trouble and some troubleshooting tips to try before calling the professionals. 

Switched Plugs

Sometimes outlets are controlled by wall switches. It’s common for rooms that do not have overhead lighting to have wall switches to turn operate a floor lamp, but sometimes these outlets get used for other items by accident. So before you stress yourself out about your outlet not working, check to see that the switch is actually on first. It sounds like a silly thing to overlook, but (let’s be real) we’ve all been there.

A Problem With The Device Not The Outlet

Sometimes you think the outlet is dead, but the problem is actually with the device or appliance you’re trying to use. To make sure that's not the issue, plug a different device into the same outlet. If it works, then it’s a problem with the device. 

If you’re still not seeing results, check other outlets in the same room. Are they all dead? Now it's time to call your local professional electrician.

Tripped Breaker

closeup of outlet on wood wall with slight view of black television plugged in with black cord
Photo: PJ_JoE / Adobe Stock

If you tend to plug too many things into the same circuit, it can get overloaded when drawing more electricity than the circuit can handle, leading the circuit breaker to trip

If your outlet doesn't work, check your home’s breaker panel. If a breaker is tripped—the switch is in the middle, between ON and OFF—reset the breaker by flipping it to OFF and then back to ON. 

If this doesn't solve the problem and the breaker reverts back to the tripped position, this could be a sign you have a potentially dangerous situation, and you need to call a local emergency electrician right away.  

Tripped GFCI Outlet 

Many new buildings require GFCI outlets (ground-fault circuit interrupters) near sinks or damp areas. Instead of a flipped circuit breaker, this device shuts itself off (and the other outlets on the same circuit) when it detects excess heat. 

When this happens, locate the same outlet nearby and press the reset button on the outlet. If it resets and your outlet is working again you are good to go, but if it doesn't reset or your outlet still continues to not work, you will need to contact a professional electrician.

Faulty Outlet

Although it isn't common, an outlet can burn out and quit functioning. If the outlet is faulty, you might want to consider having a local electrical handyperson replace it. 

Improper Installation 

In some cases, the outlet doesn’t work because of an improper installation or loose connection, such as the following situations:

  • Backstabbing: Instead of using screws to connect wires to outlets, the wire is pushed into a connector inside the device. This creates a loose connection and causes the wires to burn out. 

  • Incorrect use of wire nuts: Wire nuts keep all wires covered and tied together. But not using wire nuts properly will cause an outlet to stop functioning properly. 

  • Loose connections: If any of the wires have come loose, they need reattaching—this problem is more common with old wiring. 

To determine if this is the issue contact a local professional electrician to have your wires properly connected.

If you don’t know much about electricity, we recommend avoiding DIY attempts that could lead to dangerous mistakes. Electricians are trained to work with safety codes. Plus, they have special equipment and testers to help them locate and diagnose electrical issues that are difficult to pinpoint.  

Is a Dead Outlet Dangerous?  

Home electrical issues can be deadly serious, even causing house fires. This is why you should always take any electrical issue seriously. 

There are many types of electrical outlets, and diagnosing their issues can be tricky. If your electrical outlet is not working and signs of a burning smell, discolored outlet, or outlet spark appear, you need to talk to a local electrician inspector as soon as possible.

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