How to Wire an Outlet

By Amanda Lutz Updated March 7, 2024

Whether you’re upgrading to ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets in your kitchen or bathroom, changing ungrounded outlets in an older house to grounded outlets, or adding new outlets for your electronics or new home office, you’ll need to know how to wire an outlet. No matter the project, having a solid understanding of how to perform this task will help you manage the job without the help of a professional and more confidently handle wiring projects around your home.

In this guide, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how to wire an outlet, address common safety concerns, and discuss the necessary equipment for this project.

Before You Begin

Before you begin any electrical project, take the necessary safety precautions. Most residential electrical outlets conduct 110 volts of electricity, which can cause injuries or death, so it’s important to adhere to basic safety rules. Some outlets and wiring in your home—such as those used for ovens, stoves, HVACs, and water heaters—conduct 220/240 volts and are extremely dangerous. We recommend hiring a professional electrician for any wiring projects involving these high voltage levels.

Follow these safety steps before wiring an outlet:

  1. Tell everyone in the house what you’re doing: To avoid someone accidentally flipping on the power while you’re in the middle of the project, make sure everyone in your household knows that you’ll be working on an electrical project.
  2. Turn off the electricity: Go to your breaker panel, and identify the breaker that connects to the outlet you want to work on. Turn off the power to that specific outlet by flipping the breaker off. If you’re installing multiple sockets or adding new wiring, turn off the power to the entire home so there’s no risk of injury.
  3. Test the outlet: Verify that no electricity is reaching the outlet. Use a voltage tester or multimeter, and stick the probe into each prong hole. The voltage should read zero.

Necessary Tools and Equipment

Wiring an outlet requires several specialized tools and equipment. Ensure you have all of these items available and within arm’s reach before starting your project.

Here are the specific materials you’ll need to wire an outlet:

Safety Precautions

Electricity can be incredibly dangerous, but homeowners can manage electrical home improvements independently with the appropriate safety precautions. Adopt these safety best practices when you want to wire an outlet in your home:

Step-by-Step Guide to Wiring an Outlet

A common electrical home improvement project is to replace an existing outlet with a new one. You might do this to install a GFCI outlet, replace a cracked or malfunctioning outlet, or change the color of your outlet from beige (a typical builder-grade option that many homes have) to white.

Follow these steps to replace and wire a new outlet:

1. Access the Outlet’s Interior

Complete your safety steps, including flipping the appropriate circuit breaker and testing the power outlet. Afterwards, you can manipulate the wires.

Unscrew and remove the cover plate in front of the outlet. Unscrew the receptacle—the body of the outlet—by loosening the screw that sits in the middle of the vertical bar of the receptacle. This could also look like two screws that sit at the top and bottom of the receptacle.

2. Remove the Receptacle

At this stage, the receptacle is loose but still connected by the wires. Carefully pull the receptacle forward until you can access the wires on either side. You have two choices for removing the receptacle:

  1. If there’s a lot of extra wire, simply snip the wires and discard the receptacle. 
  2. If there’s not a lot of excess wire length, loosen the terminals securing the wires on either side of the receptacle. Use your screwdriver to turn them counterclockwise and unwind the wires. Then, discard the receptacle.

Before moving to the next step, inspect the wires. Clip any portion of the wire that looks damaged, but don’t make the wire so short you can’t connect it to the new receptacle.

3. Wire the New Receptacle

Look at the new receptacle—there should be a silver terminal and brass terminal for each outlet on the receptacle; most two-plug receptacles will have two silver terminals and two brass terminals. There should also be a green grounding screw on the unit.

The silver terminals will match to the white wires in the electrical box, and the brass terminals will match to the black wire. The bare copper wire will match to the green grounding screw. This ground wire is an extremely conductive path that will safely lead electrical current from a fault far away from appliances and occupants.

Visually check to ensure you see the wires corresponding to each terminal. Align each wire under the correct terminal and tighten the terminals until they securely hold their wires.

Double-check your work to make sure the connections are secure and that extra wire isn’t poking out of the terminals and hitting other components. An extra safety step is to tape down each wire and terminal with electrical tape.

4. Install the Receptacle

Align the receptacle with the frame of the electrical box so the middle screw hole or the top and bottom screw holes align. Insert the screw(s) to hold the receptacle in place and tighten them.

Position the new plate in place over the receptacle, and install the screws that came in the receptacle package. Don’t overtighten them—this can crack the thin plastic of the cover plate.

To finish, flip the breaker for the socket back on. If possible, have a second person watch the outlet as you do this so they can alert you to any signs of problems. Use your volt tester or multimeter to ensure the socket is active and has the right voltage of 110–120 volts.

You can follow a similar process to install or replace a light switch.

Wiring an Outlet from Another Outlet

If you’re installing a new outlet in your home, use the wiring from an existing outlet. Follow these steps to wire the new outlet:

  1. Choose the position for your new outlet: Ideally, there will be an outlet on the other side of the wall (in the adjacent room), so you don’t have to fish or push wires through the wall cavity. Use a stud finder to position the new outlet against a stud that will support its electrical box. If you don’t want your new outlet to be an eyesore, try these ideas for a hidden outlet.
  2. Turn off the power to the area of the home where you’re working: Ensure the power is off to avoid electrical shock, burns, or other injuries.
  3. Position the new electrical box for your additional outlet: Cut through the drywall using the new box as a guide.
  4. Access the wiring from the original outlet: Remove the cover plate, and unscrew the receptacle to pull it out of the electrical box. Punch out the perforated back of the electrical box.
  5. Install the new wiring: Feed the new outlet’s wires from the new hole in the wall and out through the back of the electrical box so the wires can reach the original outlet. Rewire the original outlet by loosening the terminals and pulling each wire free. Twine the bare wire edges of the new and old wire (black to black or white to white) and insert the combined edge of the wire into the terminal. Repeat this for each terminal.
  6. Reattach the old outlet: Tighten the receptacle, and cover plate.
  7. Install the new electrical box: Go back to the new outlet hole, punch out the perforated back of the new electrical box, and feed the newly connected wires through it. Attach the outside edge of the box to the stud inside the wall.
  8. Install the new receptacle: Attach the wires to the new receptacle following the steps outlined in the section above. Push the wires and receptacle into the box, screw the receptacle in place, and attach the cover plate.

If you only occasionally need more outlets than a room provides, consider using a power strip with an extension cord.

Converting a Two-Prong Outlet to a Three-Prong Outlet

Older homes will likely have two-prong outlets, which don’t accommodate modern three-prong plugs. Follow these steps to update your outlets:

  1. Follow the steps outlined in the first procedure to uninstall the original receptacle.
  2. Check the electrical box for a grounding cable. Most boxes include this feature, even if they have two-pronged outlets. If there’s no grounding wire on the box, you’ll need to hire an electrician to add grounding throughout your home. Some homeowners install a GFCI instead, which can protect you and your electronics from ground faults.
  3. Fasten the ground screw if it’s available. Add the green ground screw to a threaded hole at the back of the box, and secure a length of grounding wire to it as you tighten the screw.
  4. Install the receptacle. Attach the wires to their matching terminals. Connect the white wires to silver terminals and black wires to brass terminals, as well as the green wire to the receptacle ground screw.
  5. Attach the receptacle, and cover plate to the box.
  6. Turn the power back on and test the voltage.

Our Recommendation

Wiring or rewiring an outlet is a project that homeowners can complete without hiring an electrician. You can upgrade your outlets, install additional outlets, or make your home safer with modern GFCI outlets.

Whenever you’re completing electrical home projects, the most important thing is to stay safe. Always power down the work area by flipping the breaker, and test a socket or fixture to ensure there’s no current running through it. Once the area is safe, you can complete these simple repairs and improvements with some tools and materials from your local home improvement store.

How to Wire an Outlet FAQ

What is the proper way to wire an outlet?

The proper way to wire an outlet will vary based on the type of outlet and whether you’re replacing an outlet or adding a new one. Always begin by shutting off the power to the outlet.

Can you wire an outlet wrong?

Yes, you can wire an outlet incorrectly. The differently colored wires must match with the properly colored terminals. Review our installation instructions before completing this project.

What color wire goes where in an outlet?

Differently colored wires go to different terminals of an outlet. Black wires should attach to a brass terminal, and each white wire should attach to a silver terminal. The green or copper wire should attach to the green grounding terminal.

Which wire goes to which outlet?

Wires should go to the first outlet in a circuit. If you want to add more outlets to your home, always attach the wires so the electricity moves downstream through the circuit.

Is it dangerous to wire an outlet yourself?

Working with electricity is always dangerous. But by turning off the electricity via your breaker box to prevent hot wires and testing the voltage of every outlet before touching it, you can safely handle outlets to do wiring projects yourself.