How to Use an Outlet Tester


Household outlet testers, also called 3-wire or receptacle testers, detect faulty wiring, open grounds and neutrals, and reversed connections in 3-wire outlets. They do this by measuring the difference in voltage between each of the three wires in turn, and displaying the results through three small lights or LEDs. The device is easy to use and requires no electrical training to operate.

Things You'll Need

  • 3-wire outlet tester
  • Gently insert the testing instrument into the outlet.

  • Note and write down which light on the tester corresponds to which wire. From left to right, they are "hot," "neutral" and "ground."

  • Pay attention to which of the three indicator lights turn on, and which do not. If the outlet is correctly wired and no connections are damaged, the first light should remain dim, but the second and third ones will light up.

  • If the first light activates (often red in color), note which of the other two light up. This line and the "hot" are reversed.

  • Examine the pattern of the other two lights. Whichever light fails to illuminate is the faulty line. For example; if the first and second lights ("hot" and "neutral") are dim, but the third ("ground") glows brightly, it means the ground line is "open" or not connected. If neither light glows, then no power is coming into the tester, because the "hot" line is not connected.

Tips & Warnings

  • Observe and follow all safety instructions and warnings by the tester's manufacturer.

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