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How do you know if an electrical outlet is blown?

Feb 09, 2021


Knowing whether or not you have a dead electrical outlet can be extremely helpful as a homeowner. As with any electrical issue, it’s important to know the warning signs to look for. We’ll walk you through indicators of outlet damage, how you can safely test your outlet, and what to do when an outlet stops working.

Four Signs of Outlet Damage

Keep an eye out for these indicators when assessing whether or not you have a dead electrical outlet:

1. Sparks

We’ve all had the experience of an occasion spark when plugging a device into an outlet, and while it can be a bit jarring, it’s not uncommon. If sparks occur frequently, however, or in large amounts, this may be a sign that your electrical outlet has shorted out. Call a licensed electrician to inspect the outlet before it becomes a fire hazard.

2. Tripped Circuit Breakers

If plugging in an appliance trips a circuit breaker, it may be due to overloading the circuit. Too many appliances, especially high-power appliances, plugged into one outlet could be the reason your circuit breaker keeps tripping, so try to redistribute your appliance across several different outlets. If an outlet keeps tripping the circuit breaker regardless of the amount of appliances plugged in, the outlet itself is likely malfunctioning and will require attention from a professional electrician.

3. Discoloration

If you notice the outlet cover or wall surrounding your outlet has discolored or appears in any way burned or melted, unplug any appliances from the outlet right away and call a licensed electrician. Do not use that outlet until an electrician has inspected it and informed you it’s safe to use again. Burn marks indicate a serious fire hazard due to loss of wire insulation, faulty wiring, or a bad outlet.

4. Outlet is Warm to the Touch

If your outlet ever feels excessively warm to the touch, stop using the outlet until a licensed electrician can conduct an inspection and ensure it’s safe for use. Like discoloration, an outlet that gives off heat may be compromised and presents a fire hazard that could endanger you and your family. 

How to Safely Test an Outlet

Whenever working with electricity, even to safely test a dead electrical outlet with a multimeter, you must be sure to implement all the appropriate safety measures to reduce your risk of electric shock. 


Here are a few key rules to follow:


  • Always work slowly and carefully
  • Wear rubber-soled shoes
  • Don't cross wires or touch conductive surfaces like metal or copper
  • Hold all tools by their insulated rubber handels/grips
  • Check all equipment for loose wires or cracked handles before using 
  • Don't touch the multimeter probes with your hand
  • Don't allow the multimeter probes to touch each other


If you’re able to implement these safety rules, then proceed with checking your outlet carefully. 


Start by connecting the leads of your multimeter, ensuring you connect the red wire to the “volts” input and the black wire to the “com” input. Set your multimeter to read alternating currents and then place the leads into the outlet sockets. Be sure the power is still on to the outlet when you do this so your multimeter can read the voltage. Additionally, you’ll need to place the leads into the socket in the right order: the red lead should start by entering the narrow slot on the right which carries voltage; the black lead will go into the wider slot on the left which should be ground or negative.


Most American outlets run between 110 and 120 volts. If your outlet is blown or working improperly, your multimeter will read a voltage outside of this normal range. 

What to Do When an Outlet Stops Working?

If your outlet has stopped working and your multimeter reads a lack in voltage, you’ll need to contact an electrician to replace the outlet. Luckily, replacing a dead electrical outlet is an inexpensive repair that most electricians can complete very quickly. Repairs can become more complicated, however, if the electrician determines that a greater wiring issue exists beyond the one dead outlet. 

Work with Electricians You Can Trust

Don't settle for a wall outlet that just won't work. One of CroppMetcalfe’s 5-Star electricians can solve the problem for you. Our local electricians are the smart, safe bet to get that wall socket back into action. Plus, they can answer any and all electrical questions to help keep you, your family, and your home safe. Call CroppMetcalfe or schedule electrical service online now.


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