How To Update An Electrical Outlet

If you live in an older home, chances are your electrical outlets may be a little outdated or possibly even have been painted over more than once. If your outlets are all covered by furniture and you can't see any of them, your outdated outlets may not bother you, but if you can see that off-white colored outlet out of the corner of your eye each time you step into the room, you may want to continue reading for instructions on how to change that outlet to update it.

Here's What You'll Need:

  • Screwdriver (flat and phillips)
  • Wire strippers
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Voltage tester (optional)
  • Outlet and cover (new)


  1. Begin by turning off the electricity to the outlet you are going to be working on. If you have all of your fuses marked in the fuse box, good for you, but most people don't have them marked. You can plug in a nightlight or other small electrical appliance, then turn off the fuses one by one. When you get to the one that turns off the light (or other appliance), you have turned off the electric on that outlet. Next, use your voltage tester to be sure there is no electricity running to that outlet.
  2. Once the electric is turned off, you can begin taking out the old outlet. Take off the outlet cover first using your flat head screwdriver, then take out the screws from the outlet itself.
  3. You should now be able to see the exposed wires behind the outlet, as well as the receptacle box. If the receptacle box is dirty, now is a good time to vacuum it out to get rid of the dust/dirt.
  4. Pay attention to the way the wires are attached. There should be three wires, which may be wrapped around screws, or they could be poked into holes in the back of the outlet. Write down which wires are attached where (or make a drawing of the outlet), then unwrap the wires from the screws. If your wires are poked in the holes, you can try to use your flat head screwdriver to get them out or cut them as close to the outlet as possible. Toss the old outlet.
  5. If you cut the wires, you'll need to expose the wirings. Do this by using wire cutters to cut through the wire insulation.
  6. Next, use your pliers to arch the wires into a shepherd's hook shape. Do this for all three wires.
  7. Attach the white wire (neutral wire) to the silver screw, the black wire (hot wire) to the gold screw, and the bare wire (ground wire) will go to the green screw. Wrap each wire around the appropriate screws on the new outlet using your pliers to hold them tightly around the screws. Then use your screwdriver to screw the wires in tightly to help hold the wires.
  8. Push the outlet back into the wall, then hold it in place using the new screws that came with the new outlet.
  9. Plug in the nightlight or other small appliance, then turn the fuse on for that outlet. Check to be sure the outlet is working properly.
  10. If the outlet is working properly, you can screw the new cover onto the outlet.

Replacing an old outlet with a new one is fairly simple to do. Be sure to always turn off the electricity first before attempting to change out any electrical wiring in your home. If you're unsure about doing this type of work, contact a company like E.J. Gray Electric.