Troubleshooting Dead Outlets and What to Do When GFCI Won’t Reset

Try these electrical tests before calling an electrician.

Next Project

Introduction

Usually when an outlet goes dead, the fix is something simple and you can save the cost of a service call by doing the work yourself. We'll show you what's involved in troubleshooting a dead outlet. This article covers how to start your search for the problem by checking in the most likely places. If that doesn't work, we'll show you where to look for loose connections that may be to blame, and how to fix them.

Tools Required

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Flashlight
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Safety glasses
  • Voltage tester

Troubleshooting the Outlet

When an outlet goes dead, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and assume the worst. But more often than not the problem is something simple, and you can save the cost of a service bcall just by taking a few steps to trace the cause. Don’t worry if you’re not comfortable doing electrical work. Better than half the time, you’ll solve the problem without even lifting a tool.

We’ll show you how to start your search for the problem by checking in the most likely places. If that doesn’t work, we’ll show you where to look for loose connections that may be to blame, and how to fix them.

Of course, there will always be problems that are best left to an electrician. But if you take these steps first, there’s a good chance you’ll find the solution.

Watch this video to learn what to do first when you find a dead outlet. 

Check for Simple Solutions First

Shortly after moving into our house, we had an electrical problem. The exterior outlets and bathroom lights didn’t work. I knew enough to check for tripped circuit breakers and GFCI outlets. But I couldn’t find the problem. I was just about to start pulling apart the wiring when I double-checked the main panel and noticed the GFCI circuit breaker up in the corner.

Sure enough, the GFCI breaker was protecting the bathroom and exterior outlets and needed to be reset. Don’t jump to conclusions, the fix for a dead outlet is usually simpler than you think.

Project step-by-step (18)

Step 1

Check for Simple Solutions First

Shortly after moving into our house, we had an electrical problem. The exterior outlets and bathroom lights didn’t work. I knew enough to check for tripped circuit breakers and GFCI outlets. But I couldn’t find the problem. I was just about to start pulling apart the wiring when I double-checked the main panel and noticed the GFCI circuit breaker up in the corner.

Sure enough, the GFCI breaker was protecting the bathroom and exterior outlets and needed to be reset. Don’t jump to conclusions, the fix for a dead outlet is usually simpler than you think.

See if Other Outlets are Dead

Before you head for the circuit breakers, take a few minutes to check if other outlets, lights or appliances are affected.

  • Switch lights on and off and test nearby outlets for power.
    • Use a voltage tester or plug in a lamp to test the outlets.
  • Unplug lamps and appliances from dead outlets.
    • Pro tip: Mark dead outlets with a piece of masking tape so you’ll be able to find them again after you’ve turned off the power.

loose outletFamily Handyman

Step 2

Check the Circuit Breakers

  • Locate the panel and open the metal door to reveal the fuses or circuit breakers.
    • Pro tip: The photos below show a typical main panel and the process for resetting a tripped circuit breaker.
  • Remember to turn off your computer before you switch the circuit breakers on and off.

fix sensitive arc fault circuit breakerFamily Handyman