How to Safely Remove a Circuit Breaker

Unscrew Outer Panel of Service Panel

Removing circuit breaker
Lee Wallender/The Spruce

A convenient rule of thumb: if you ever feel uncomfortable dealing with an electrical project, ​call an electrician. It doesn't matter if the project is as simple as changing an outlet or as difficult as a whole-house heavy up.  ​

However, if you feel comfortable opening the inner section of your service panel, you will find this to be an easy task that requires basic tools and is safe if you take the proper precautions.

Safety Issues

Working with the electric service panel is not like working on an electric receptacle or light switch. With receptacles and switches, you can shut down all power coming into the outlet box. 

But in the service panel, all of the electricity is still live. Even shutting down the main breaker (usually located at the top of the service panel) shuts down only part of the service panel. The lugs​—the terminal point for the power line coming in from the street—will remain live.

So be aware that high voltages are involved in service panel work, and even a stray movement may cause you to come into contact with live electricity, possibly injuring or killing you.

Gently Remove Outer Panel of Service Panel

Removing outer panel of service panel
Lee Wallender/The Spruce
  • Step 1. Use a cordless electric drill with a flat-head attachment to remove the screws of the outer panel of the electrical service panel. An electric drill, rather than manual, is recommended because some service panels have extremely long screws.
  • Step 2. Make sure to press your free hand against the service panel when unscrewing the last couple of screws, so the heavy panel doesn't drop down.

Be very careful with this next step because it will help you avoid electric shock.

  • Step 3. Rock the outer panel of the service panel backwards (as shown) or pull it straight out. Do not accidentally touch components inside the service panel with the edge of the outer panel—or with anything else—as electric shock will result.

You are now dealing with high voltage. If you touch the wrong components inside, a fatal electric shock is possible. This is not the same as a shock received from an outlet in your house. This is power coming straight into your house from the exterior service drop.

Turn Off Circuit Breaker

Turning off circuit breaker
Lee Wallender/The Spruce

First, turn off the main breaker. This is the large switch at the top of the service panel. This will shut down all power in the house, so make sure that you have natural or battery-powered light to work by. Once again, parts of the service panel will remain powered.

Next, turn off the circuit breaker. Flip off the circuit breaker that you intend to remove. This step is optional, as it serves almost no practical purpose. Turning off the circuit breaker within the service panel will not protect you from shock. However, you may wish to make a habit of always turning off circuit breakers, so that it becomes a rote procedure.

Rock Circuit Breaker Out

Rocking circuit breaker out
Lee Wallender/The Spruce

Remove the circuit breaker ​by gently rocking it in the direction shown, toward the outside of the service panel.

It should come out easily by hand. Do not use tools.

Pull Breaker Straight Out

Pulling breaker straight out
Lee Wallender/The Spruce

Now, pull the circuit breaker straight out. It may require a good, firm tug.

Unscrew Wire to Circuit Breaker

Unscrew wire to circuit breaker
Lee Wallender/The Spruce

Pull circuit breaker with​ the attached wire out as far as practically possible, to give yourself working room. Remove wire with a manual or electric screwdriver.