How to Replace a 120-Volt Electrical Wall Outlet

15-amp and 20-amp wall receptacles

15-amp (left) and 20-amp (right) wall receptacles.

Choosing an Electrical Outlet

When replacing a wall outlet, it’s important to use the correct type of receptacle. To determine the receptacle you need, start by locating the circuit breaker that controls the outlet you plan to replace.

Circuit breakers that control the lights and outlets in your home will be marked as either 15-amp or 20-amp. A 15-amp circuit is wired with smaller 14-gauge wire, while a 20-amp circuit has heavier 12-gauge wire for handling larger electrical loads.

Armed with this knowledge, choose a receptacle following these rules:

  • 15-Amp Receptacle: These are the most common outlets in homes, with the familiar two slots and one rounded grounding plug. A 15-amp receptacle can be attached either to a 15-amp or a 20-amp breaker and 12-gauge or 14-gauge wire.
  • 20-Amp Receptacle: These heavy-duty receptacles are more common for commercial use, such as with power tools and hospital equipment. They look similar to a 15-amp receptacle, except that one of the slots is “T” shaped. A 20-amp receptacle MUST be attached to a 20-amp breaker with 12-gauge wiring.
  • Grounded or Ungrounded Receptacle: If your house has grounded wiring (with a bare or green ground wire in the electrical box), use a three-prong grounded outlet. If your home doesn’t have grounded wiring, like many older homes, you should use a two-prong, ungrounded outlet. Attaching a grounded receptacle to ungrounded wiring is unsafe and misleading, as it implies that the circuit is grounded. To provide protection from shocks on ungrounded wiring, you can install a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) type receptacle.

When in doubt, take the old receptacle with you to the store for help buying the same kind of replacement receptacle.


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7 Comments on “How to Replace a 120-Volt Electrical Wall Outlet”

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  • Official Comment:

    Thomas Boni Says:
    July 8th, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    Hi, Casey,
    It could be a breaker problem, it could be another outlet in the series, it could be a bad GFCI. This one is better left for a pro that can troubleshoot and pinpoint exactly where the problem is.
    Good luck!

  • Casey Dombrowski Says:
    May 19th, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    I have a gfi outlet in my kitchen that stopped working and would not reset. It did not trip a circuit breaker. I replaced the outlet and still no power. None of the others in the same room are broken. Could the problem be further back in the wall?

  • erica jones Says:
    July 18th, 2016 at 10:07 am

    my electrical outlet in the kitchen does not fit my oven i need to replace it to fit my oven cord which is a three prong what do i need to do

  • Lonnie Ayers Says:
    November 8th, 2015 at 10:34 am

    I am replacing some old lighting in my kitchin, the lights I will be putting back are lumens link able. What I would like to do is remove the switch that is there fore the old light and rewire it for a outlet can you help?
    Thanking you in advance,
    Lonnie Ayers

  • Deborah Fairchild Says:
    August 17th, 2014 at 10:21 am

    How do I figure out which circuit breaker turns off which outlets and then how do I double-check to be sure its off?

  • Bill Says:
    December 18th, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Good safety tip! Always check a switch or outlet to be sure it’s off before working on it.

  • Santa Says:
    July 24th, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I have two ceiling fans (bedroom & living room) which are controlled by wall touch switches. One or both will go during severe storms. I have questioned various Home Depot workers who had no idea what could be causing these occurrences. I don’t want to call an electrician to come over for something I could possibly do myself. I have installed dimmer switches, installed thermostats, toilet repairs, under the sink repairs, faucet repairs… I think I can tackle this one. I just need to know whether if I disconnect it at the wall switch, will it function manually directly from the fan?

    I thank you.

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How to Replace a 120-Volt Electrical Wall Outlet