How to Wire and Install an Outlet

  • 01 of 09

    Outlet Wiring Basics

    Electrical outlet supplies
    tacojim / Getty Images

    Electrical outlets, also called receptacles, are easy to install, but the wire connections must be made carefully to ensure safety and proper operation. A wire coming loose from an outlet can create a serious fire or shock hazard. This happens all the time and usually is the result of improper connections or faulty connection devices. The safest way to connect wires is by using the outlet's side screw terminals or the rear push-in terminals if they have a screw clamp. Rear terminals that don't have a screw for clamping down on the wire are unsafe because the wire can come loose from the push-in fitting.

    Warning: Never connect more than one wire to a single terminal. If there is more than one circuit cable in the outlet's electrical box, use pigtails to connect the receptacle. A pigtail is a short length of wire that you install between the outlet terminal (or ground screw) and a connection of multiple circuit wires. 

    Supplies Needed:

    • New outlet with cover plate (voltage and amperage ratings must be compatible with the circuit wiring)
    • Non-contact voltage tester
    • Cable ripper
    • Cutting pliers or utility knife
    • Wire strippers
    • Scrap circuit cable (as needed)
    • Wire connectors (wire nuts)
    • Needlenose pliers
    • Phillips screwdriver
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  • 02 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 1

    Fuse box
    Yo / Getty Images

    Turn off the power to the circuit for the new outlet by switching off the circuit breaker at your home's service panel (breaker box). Use a non-contact voltage tester to test each of the wires in the outlet's electrical box. The test should verify that no voltage is present in any of the wires. 

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  • 03 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 2

    Cutting Romex Sheath Covering
    Timothy Thiele

    Prepare the circuit cable(s), as needed (if the new outlet is replacing an old outlet, this step is not necessary). Cut through the sheathing, or outer jacket, of each cable, using a cable ripper. Clamp the ripper over the cable and pull the tool toward the end of the cable to cut through the sheathing. Peel the sheathing away from the wires inside the cable and trim it off about 1/2 to 1 inch from where the cable is clamped to the electrical box, using cutting pliers or a utility knife. If necessary, trim the ends of the wires so they extend 6 to 7 inches from the cable clamp. 

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  • 04 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 3

    Stripping Wire Conductors
    Timothy Thiele

    Strip 3/4 inch of insulation from the end of each insulated wire in the box, using a wire stripper. If you're replacing an old outlet, make sure the ends of the wires are in good condition and have no nicks or scorch marks; if they do, trim off the damaged portion and strip the insulation 3/4 inch from the end of the wire. 

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  • 05 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 4

    Install pigtails if there is more than one cable in the box. Using a scrap of the same type of circuit cable, cut 6-inch lengths of each type of wire in the cable and strip 3/4 inch of insulation from each end of the wire. Join the bare copper (or green insulated) ground wire to the ground wires in the circuit cables using a wire connector, following the manufacturer's directions. Do the same with the white (neutral) wires, then the black (hot) wires, so you have one ground, one white and one black pigtail.  

    Note: If the electrical box is metal, install an additional grounding pigtail and connect it to the ground screw on the box, as described in step 5. The outlet will have its own separate grounding pigtail.  

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  • 06 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 5

    A ground connection on an outlet
    Timothy Thiele

    Form a U-shaped hook on the end of each wire (or pigtail), using needlenose pliers. Fit the hooked end of the ground wire around the ground screw of the new outlet so the open end of the wire is on the right. Use the pliers to squeeze the hook closed around the threaded shank of the screw. Tighten the ground screw with a Phillips screwdriver. 

    Note: Because the screw tightens clockwise (turns to the right), and the open end of the wire is on the right, tightening the screw pulls the hook tighter around the screw shank. If the hook faces the opposite direction, tightening the screw can open up the hook, making a weaker connection. 

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  • 07 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 6

    Making the Neutral Connection
    Timothy Thiele

    Connect the white neutral wire or pigtail to one of the silver (neutral) screw terminals on the outlet, using the same techniques used for the ground screw. Connect the black hot wire or pigtail to one of the brass (hot) screw terminals on the outlet. For standard outlet wiring, the white neutral wire can go on either silver terminal (they are interchangeable). Likewise, the black hot wire can go on either brass terminal. 

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  • 08 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 7

    Attach an Outlet to a Box
    Timothy Thiele

    Confirm that all wiring connections are secure by gently tugging on each wire. Reconnect and retighten any loose wires. Carefully tuck the wires into the box; it often helps to bend them in one or two places, but do not create sharp bends. Hold the outlet against the box edge and secure it to the box with the screw at the top and bottom of the outlet.

    Note: The outlet can be oriented with the ground slot (D-shaped hole) facing up or down. Technically it's safer to have the ground slot on top: If a cord plugged into the outlet is partially pulled out, exposing the plug's prongs, and something was to fall onto the prongs, it's safest if the object contacts the ground prong rather than the hot or neutral prongs. 

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  • 09 of 09

    How to Wire an Outlet: Step 8

    Install the Outlet Cover Plate
    Timothy Thiele

    Fit the outlet cover plate over the outlet and secure it to the box with one or two screws, as applicable. Restore power to the circuit by switching on the circuit breaker. Plug in an electrical device to the outlet to make sure the outlet is working properly. You can also use an inexpensive plug-in receptacle tester to confirm that the outlet has power and is wired correctly and properly grounded.