The correct name for an electrical outlet is an electrical receptacle. After all, it is a receptor for a plug. Just like anything else, receptacles wear out. You can tell when they are worn out and need replacing if plugs constantly fall out of the receptacle holes. If the receptacle just stopped working, there may be a deeper problem. You can still inspect it for loose wires, but anything more complicated should be looked at by a qualified electrician.
Step One: Turn Off the Power
Any time you are working with electricity, the first thing you have to do is turn off the power to that particular area of the house. If you don’t have or don’t know how to use a meter, then your best bet is to plug something, such as a light or a fan, into the receptacle that is working. Turn the light or fan on, and then go to your electrical box and flip off the circuit breaker (or pull out the fuse). When the item that you plugged in turns off, you know you have the correct circuit.
Step Two: Remove the Cover Plate
After you turn the power off, the first step is to take off the cover plate. One trick I have learned over the years is to put the tiny cover plate screw back into the screw hole (without the cover) so that you won’t lose the screw. I do this with everything. Whenever I take something apart to fix or move, the screws go back into their original holes so they don’t get misplaced or put into the wrong hole. They don’t have to go in tight -- just a few threads to keep them in place.
Step Three: Remove the Receptacle Screws
Unscrew the top and bottom screws that are holding the receptacle in the wall. In this case you will not have to put the old screws back in because in most cases new receptacles come with new screws.
Step Four: Pull Out the Receptacle
Carefully pull out the receptacle using the pliers. Be careful not to pull out too far, since the wires are not very long.
Step Five: Attach the Wires to the New Terminals
When you pull out the old receptacle, make note of which wire goes where. The best way to keep track is to only remove one wire at a time and attach it to the correct screw on the new receptacle. Typically there are two wires on each receptacle. One hot wire (usually black and attached to a brass screw) and one white (the neutral wire that typically goes to a silver screw). In newer buildings there may be a bare wire. This wire is a ground wire and connects to a green ground screw. Use the needle-nose pliers to attach the wires. Once the wires are reattached to the terminals you're almost done.
Step Six: Finishing Steps
All that is left is to put the receptacle back into the box in the wall.
- Reattach the screws to keep the receptacle in place
- Replace the cover plate
- Turn the power back on