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Is A Dead Outlet Dangerous? Why & What to Do About It

A hand plugging a plug into an outlet.

A dead electrical outlet is always a hassle. You go to use an outlet only to find it is not working. Now you need to move the appliance and find out why it is dead in the first place. But a dead outlet may be more than just a hassle. Outlets conduct electricity, so you need to take it seriously when one becomes faulty.

A dead electrical outlet can be dangerous. Faulty wiring, receptacles, and switches may cause the outlet to stop working, but these same faults may also cause a fire in the outlet box. Some of the hazards that may be caused by dead outlets are:

  • fires
  • shorts
  • circuit breaker trips

Because a dead outlet may be dangerous, it is best to take some time to understand why it may be dangerous and what to do about it. Keep reading to find out if a dead outlet is dangerous and what to do about it.

Dead Electrical Outlet Safety Notice

Whenever you work with electrical outlets, always practice safety first. Even if an outlet is dead and will not power an appliance, there may still be an electric current running through the outlet. Opening the outlet and working on the wires and components inside remains dangerous.

Turn off the electricity supply to the outlet or the entire building to ensure there is no chance of electric shock or electrocution. Test the outlet to be sure there is no electricity coming to it before working on it.

What Do You Do With A Dead Electrical Outlet?

If an electrical outlet is truly dead, the only option is to replace it with a new and working outlet or receptacle. Most of the time, this will fix the problem of a dead electrical outlet.

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But before you replace a dead outlet, take some time to troubleshoot the reason the outlet died in the first place. If the outlet has an underlying problem and breaks again soon after you’ve repaired it, you’ll be very frustrated!

One dead outlet in a house or building is usually an isolated problem. Before doing anything else, check to see if the circuit breaker for that outlet has tripped. Often a simple explanation is the correct one. If the breaker did trip, it might be overloaded. Unplug all appliances from that outlet and plug in only essential appliances.

If the circuit breaker is still on, try one of these troubleshooting tips for a dead electrical outlet:

  1. Plug another working appliance into the outlet. If that one works, it may be the appliance that is faulty and not the outlet.
  2. If the outlet is a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter), usually found in rooms that may have water, this may have tripped. Push the reset button in the middle of the outlet to reset and test the outlet again.
  3. Use one or more appliances on other outlets to check they are working. If more than one outlet is dead, it may be a bigger fault than just one outlet.
  4. Turn off the outlet’s circuit breaker, open the outlet’s faceplate, and check for faulty or loose wires and bad connections.
  5. If none of these troubleshooting tips is why your electrical outlet is dead, it may be time to call an electrician.
A lamp that isn't lit, with a navy lampshade, and a white wall in the background.
Test your plugs in different outlets to see if it is the appliance that doesn’t work

Is It Dangerous If An Outlet Doesn’t Work?

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) suggests that electrical fires in the home are serious and deadly:

  • An estimated 51,000 fires each year are electrical fires.
  • There are nearly 500 deaths each year as a result of these fires.
  • There are more than 1,400 injuries.
  • An estimated $1.3 billion in property damage is reported.

A dead outlet may not cause any problems for years. Still, the underlying fault may be dangerous if an electrical outlet is dead. It is better to check the outlet to make sure the dead outlet is not dangerous than to wait until the worst happens.

How Do You Tell If An Outlet Is Dangerous?

Whether the electrical outlet is dead or not, there are many signs that an electrical outlet may be:

  • damaged
  • faulty
  • dangerous

Signs That An Electrical Outlet Is Faulty

Check electrical outlets for the following warning signs that the outlet may be damaged:

  1. The outlet feels hot to the touch or is discolored. This may be a loose connection in the outlet and should be addressed immediately before it becomes a bigger hazard.
  2. The outlet emits smoke or sparks from any part of the outlet. This may be a once-off or ongoing. Turn off the breaker switch to this outlet immediately because a short is happening in the outlet. This is extremely dangerous and a fire hazard.
  3. You smell burning in or near the outlet. Turn off the breaker switch to this outlet immediately and call an electrician.
  4. Plugs are loose or do not fit correctly into the outlet socket.
  5. For outlets with plugged-in lamps, the lamp flickers or doesn’t light up even with working bulbs.

As a homeowner, you must put safety first. Check all the outlets in your home outlets regularly to prevent fires and other electrical hazards.

Can An Outlet Cause A Fire If Nothing Is Plugged In?

There are some instances where a faulty or dead electrical outlet can cause a fire, even when nothing is plugged into the outlet.

An outlet on fire.
A dead outlet can still cause a fire

The following issues may cause an electrical outlet to catch fire:

  1. Old outlets that are not properly grounded. Wires loosen over time and may cause a fault or spark.
  2. If the circuit cable termination is not properly tightened during installation. This may cause overheating and, in time, may cause a fire.
  3. Homes with aluminum wiring are at a higher risk of faults. Aluminum reacts to heat more than copper, making it more susceptible to breaks and faults.
  4. Old or worn outlets and appliances. Older appliances often draw more electricity than newer energy-efficient ones and become worn over time. These have a higher chance of electrical fire.

NOTE: If you need new kitchen appliances, read this article to learn if kitchen appliance insurance is worth it. It’ll talk you through making the right choice for your circumstances.


While not every dead or faulty outlet is immediately dangerous, it is best to regularly check all outlets and appliances in your home to ensure they are safe and compliant. Dead outlets can be dangerous, but the good news is that there are some checks you can do yourself to ensure they are safe. If you discover something that requires an electrician’s attention, call one immediately.

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