How to Fix Loose Outlets

Electric Outlet

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 - 15 mins
  • Yield: Fix one loose single-gang outlet
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $2 to $5

Loose outlets wiggle side to side or they sink when you plug in a device. While this is frustrating, it can also be dangerous if left unrepaired. If you'd like to know why your outlets are loose and how to fix loose electrical outlets, this complete guide begins with the easiest fixes and progresses to more involved solutions. Most loose outlets can be fixed in just a few minutes for less than $5.

Safety Considerations

Turn off power to the outlet at the electric service panel (or, breaker box) before fixing a loose outlet. Verify that the power is dead at the outlet with a non-contact voltage tester.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Non-contact voltage tester


  • 1 electrical outlet plastic shims, kit
  • 1 electrical box extender, 1/4- or 1/2-inch as needed
  • 1 metal wall plate spacer


  1. Tighten the Wall Plate Screw

    A loose outlet can sometimes be quickly fixed by tightening the center wall plate screw. This draws the wall plate and the outlet together. Permanent solutions should be explored, but this is often enough to temporarily stabilize the outlet.

    With the flathead screwdriver, turn the center wall plate screw clockwise to tighten it against the wall plate. Do not over-tighten. Over-tightening plastic covers can cause them to crack. Newer nylon covers won't break, but they are not ridged enough to put proper pressure to prevent movement. Metal covers will often secure and won't crack.

  2. Tighten the Outlet Screws

    The outlet may be loosely attached to the electrical box, causing the outlet to move side to side or in and out. Securing the outlet to the box will fix this.

    1. Shut off the power.
    2. With the flathead screwdriver, turn out the wall plate screw and remove it.
    3. Remove the wall plate.
    4. Use the Phillips head screwdriver to tighten both the upper and lower outlet screws.
    5. Replace the wall plate and screw it back into place.
  3. Add Shims to the Outlet Screws

    The electrical box should be flush-mounted or no more than 1/4-inch behind the finished surface of the wall. If there is a gap, some installers or homeowners compensate by leaving the gap open and free. Adding plastic shims holds the outlet tightly against the box.

    1. Shut off the power.
    2. Remove the wall plate.
    3. By hand or with a utility knife, break off enough of the connected plastic shims to fill in the gap.
    4. Slightly loosen the top and bottom screws on the outlet.
    5. Add shims to the top, behind the yoke.
    6. Add an equal number of shims to the bottom, also behind the yoke.
    7. Tighten the outlet screws.
    8. Replace the wall plate.

    What Is an Outlet Yoke?

    A yoke is a T-shaped metal mounting strap that is part of an electrical outlet.

  4. Add an Electrical Box Extender

    If the box is recessed deeply within the wall (more than 1/4-inch), the open gap between the outlet and the box will create a loose outlet. Adding a solid, one-piece plastic or metal extender to the box will close the gap and will secure the outlet tightly to the box.

    1. Shut off the power.
    2. Remove the wall plate.
    3. Turn the top and bottom screws of the outlet counter-clockwise to detach the outlet from the box.
    4. Pull the outlet away from the box, leaving the outlet attached to the wires.
    5. Slip the extender over the outlet and press it against the box.
    6. Screw the outlet back into place, directly into the extender.
    7. Replace the wall plate.
  5. Tighten the Electrical Box in the Wall

    If the electrical box is an old work or remodel electrical box, the swing clamps that hold the box to the wall might be loose. This will cause the box and the outlet to be loose, as well.

    1. Shut off the power.
    2. Remove the wall plate.
    3. With a Phillips head screwdriver, tighten the two screws located diagonally from each other. Do not over-tighten to avoid breaking the swing clamps.
    4. Replace the wall plate.

    What Is an Old Work or Remodel Box?

    An old work or remodel electrical box is not attached to a stud but rather is attached directly to the wall by swing clamps located behind the wall. This type of box can be identified by the two screws located diagonally from each other.

  6. Add a Metal Wall Plate Spacer

    When a stud-mounted electrical box is loose in the wall, it can be difficult to secure the box against the stud. Access to an open wall cavity is required.

    Instead of removing the drywall, use a metal wall plate spacer. A simple C-shaped piece of flat metal, the wall spacer lets the outlet use the wall as a stabilizer.

    1. Shut off the power.
    2. Remove the wall plate.
    3. Slightly loosen the top and bottom outlet screws.
    4. Slip the spacer behind the outlet screws.
    5. Tighten the outlet screws down onto the spacer.
    6. Replace the wall plate.
  7. Replace the Electric Outlet

    Electrical outlets generally are sturdy devices. But in the event that the plastic body and the metal yoke are no longer secure to each other, the outlet will be loose. The outlet should be entirely replaced.

    1. Turn off the power.
    2. Remove the wall plate.
    3. With the Phillips head screwdriver, remove the top and bottom outlet screws.
    4. Pull out the outlet by the yoke.
    5. Take note of the wires and their positions.
    6. Unscrew the gold, silver, and green terminal screws to remove the wires.
    7. Replace the wires on the new outlet, duplicating the previous positions.
    8. Fold back the wires and replace the outlet.
    9. Add the outlet screws to secure the outlet to the box.
    10. Replace the wall plate.

    These instructions are for a single-gang 15- or 20-amp outlet and not for a GFCI outlet.

When to Call a Professional

Most loose outlets can be fixed by the homeowner. If you have tried all repairs yet the outlet is still loose, call a licensed electrician.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. 314.20 Flush-Mounted Installations. National Electrical Code (2020)