Loose Plugs Falling Out of your Outlets? Here’s How to Fix It.

I moved into a new house recently and I’ve realized that every single outlet is loose.

Trying to charge your phone? The plug slips out of the outlet. Trying to vacuum? The plug slips out of the outlet when you’re on the other side of the house. It was driving me mad. But worse, it was driving my wife mad.

She eventually got fed up and asked (ordered) me to fix them. Reluctantly, I went by room by room around the house and counted all of the loose plugs, and too my dismay, there was a total of 18 loose plugs! Well, this is going to be a bigger project than anticipated.

After a long weekend of work, I eventually finished the project and I’m happy I did it. I’ll walk you through exactly what I did right so you can avoid wasting your time scouring the internet for advice (like I did).

So if you want to avoid (most of) the hard work, keep reading and you can skip the following mistakes:

  • Four trips to Home Depot. Just order everything online, it’s so much easier and you won’t buy the wrong stuff.
  • 2 whole days of work. If I had to do it again, armed with my new knowledge, I could knock out all 18 outlets in an afternoon.
  • Watching 4 YouTube videos and reading 5 blog posts. Just read this one post and follow along (or watch my video).

So let’s get into it.

Loose plug falling out of outlet

How to Fix Plugs Slipping Out of the Outlet

Here is a basic outline of how to fix loose outlets. We’ll go step-by-step in detail further on.

  • Step 1: Shut off power to the outlet with the circuit breaker. Do not skip this step!
  • Step 2: Test the outlet to confirm the power is off.
  • Step 3: Remove the cover plate by unscrewing the center screw.
  • Step 4: Unscrew the upper and lower screws securing the outlet against the wall.
  • Step 5: Remove the wires from the outlet with a set of pliers. Note where each wire is attached.
  • Step 6: Reattach the wires to your new outlet with either a J-hook or back wiring.
  • Step 7: Reinstall the outlet to the wall and put the cover plate back on.
  • Step 8: Turn on the power again and test the outlet.

Now, there is a lot more that goes into each step. Everything down to the safety, technique used to attach the wires, and the type of outlets you buy all have an impact on the final product.

Let’s get started.

Tools Needed

Tools needed for outlet replacement including new outlets, wire strippers, pliers, outlet tester, and screwdriver

Before jumping into this project, let’s get into the tools required. Luckily, this is a super cheap project you can do with minimal tools. You don’t need anything fancy and everything can be found online or at your local hardware store.

  • Screwdriver: A simple screwdriver with both a Flat head and Philips bit will work great here. I have a Husky screwdriver that I love using.
  • Wire Stripper: You’ll need a wire stripper so you can properly attach the wires to the outlet. I recommended getting a pair that’s 10-20 AWG (refers to wire size). I bought the wrong size the first time around and had to go back to the store for the right pair. This pair of Klein wire strippers worked beautifully for me.
  • Long Nose Pliers: A set of pliers will help with bending the wire and shaping it to fit around the terminals. You’ll want long nose pliers, specifically.
  • Outlet tester: The outlet tester isn’t needed, but I highly recommend it (especially if you’re new to electrical work). It will tell you if the power is turned off before starting. In addition, when you are done it will tell you if you made any errors with the installation. These are quite affordable and are great for peace of mind.
  • New Outlet: New outlets can be found anywhere in the $1-$4 range making this one of the cheapest projects you can do around the house. If you want to save extra you can buy in bulk (packs of 10). I went with tamper-resistant outlets that are also commercial grade, you can find the one I bought here on Amazon. I have a 3-month old who’s going to be crawling around soon, so the tamper-resistant outlets offer extra safety.

And that’s it for tools! If you already have everything but the new outlets, the cost to repair a single outlet is less than $4! Granted I had 18 outlets so it was more in the $50-60 range.

How to Fix Outlets where the Plug Slips Out

Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of how to actually fix out the outlets.

Step 1: Shut off Power to the Outlet

Before beginning your project, you want to make sure there is no power going to your outlet. Plug in your outlet tester before starting and you will see two lights on, that shows that power is currently on.

Now, go to your circuit breaker. If you have no idea where yours is, the circuit breaker will usually be an electrical box hidden somewhere out of sight in a closet, outside, or in your garage (like mine).

You’ll want to flip off the switch that turns off the power to the specific outlet you are working on. This may take some trial and error, especially if your circuit breaker is 30 years old and the switches are labeled in a completely non-sensical way. For me, it’s always the very last switch after testing everything else.

Step 2: Test the Outlet to Confirm the Power is Turned Off

Once you find the correct switch, you’ll notice the lights on your outlet tester have turned off. This means the power is off and you are good to move onto the next step. For good measure, remove the outlet tester and check both power ports to ensure it’s turned off.

If you don’t have an outlet tester, you can use an appliance to make sure the power is off, but I like using the outlet tester for peace of mind. It will also tell you if you installed the wires backwards once your done, making it easy to help avoid making mistakes.

Step 3: Remove the Outlet Cover

Grab your screwdriver and use a flat head bit. We are going to remove the screw in the middle that holds the outlet cover up. Once the screw has been removed put it somewhere safe where you won’t lose it.

Now pull off the outlet cover. Your outlet cover might try to stick to the wall (this happened to me as well). I found that using the flat head screwdriver and sticking it between the cover and wall made it pop off easily.

Step 4: Unscrew the Outlet

Now it’s time to remove the outlet itself. We’re going to remove the upper and lower screws that secure the outlet against the wall. For this one, we’ll need the Philips bit. Unscrew them until the outlet comes loose from the wall.

You won’t be able to fully remove the screw as it’s attached to the outlet bracket.

When the screws come out, you’ll want to pull on the outlet until you can see and access the wires attached to it.

Step 5: Unscrew the Terminals where the Wires Attach

Now we need to unscrew the terminals that hold the wires in place. In this case, the wires are wrapped around these screws on the side. You can use a Philips head for this, but you may have a better time using a small square bit.

Rotate the screws counter-clockwise until you can’t turn them anymore with your hand. With my outlet there are screws on the left and right side, so we want to unscrew both. Some outlets will only have screws on one-side.

This specific outlet had two screws on the right side (hot wires), two on the left side (neutral wires), and one on the bottom left (ground).

Step 6: Remove the Wires with Pliers

Now, we need to remove the old outlet by detaching all of the wires. When doing this, note where each wire is routed to and the color of the wire.

For example, I had two black wires routed to the right side, two white wires routed to the left side, and one bare wire attached to the bottom left.

The black wires are considered hot wires and the white wires are neutral wires. The bare wire (also sometimes green) is the ground.

Step 7: Attach the Hot Wires

side wiring correctly

Now it’s time to attach the hot wires. These will typically be black wire(s).

Note: Sometimes you’ll have multiple black wires and white wires, other times it will be a single wire of each, it just depends on where the outlet is located and if it’s the end-of-run outlet or middle-of-run outlet.

These will attach to the gold/brass screws. A good way to remember this is the saying “black to brass”.

There are two ways you can attach them, with either a side-wire or a back-wire method to attach the wires. I tried both and I found back-wiring to much easier and harder to mess up, but I recommend learning both. The ground wire will always need to be attached via side-wire, so learning both is ideal.

Let’s break down both types of connections so it’s easier to understand.

Side-Wiring

A side-wire, also know as a J-hook or Shepard’s hook, involves looping the wire around the screw and tightening it down. This is the most secure method of attaching the wires, but it’s also easier to mess up. If you are going to side-wire your electrical wires, here are some tips:

  1. Always wrap the wire around in a clockwise direction. This is because you will tighten the screw in a clockwise direction and doing so will secure the wire better against the terminal.
  2. Don’t touch the terminal with the outer sheath of the electrical cable. At the same time, don’t leave too much exposed either.
  3. Use the hole in the wire strippers to make the bend in the wire.

If you need to strip a section of the outer sheath, use the wire strippers at 12 or 14 gauge settings.

Back-Wiring

A back-wire is when you slide the wire behind the contact plate (located behind the screw) and tighten it down, not to be confused with a technique called back-stabbing where it’s pressed into a hole in the back of an outlet.

Back-wiring is the easiest and fastest way to connect the outlets and it’s hard to mess up. I did this by cutting off the bent ends of the wire and then using the measurement on the back of the outlet to determine how much sheathing to remove.

Use your wire strippers to remove the sheathing to the proper amount.

Then you insert it into the back of the back of the terminal underneath the contact plate and tighten down the screw until it’s secure and snug.

Step 8: Attach the Neutral Wires

We are going to do the same thing as the last step but with the neutral wires. They are the white wires.

To ensure a proper connection, the white/neutral wires will be hooked up to the silver screws.

You can choose your preferred method, either side-wiring or back-wiring for this. The image above is with side-wiring although I still do recommend back-wiring.

If you choose side-wiring make sure to go in a clockwise direction.

Step 9: Attach the Ground

The ground is the final wire to install. The ground will either be a green wire or a bare wire (like in my case). Unlike the neutral and hot wires, there will always be one ground.

This will be hooked up to the green screw. For this wire, you can only use a side-wire/J-hook/shepard’s hook because there is no contact plate for back-wiring.

Step 10: Reinstall the outlet to the wall

Now that all of the wires are properly installed, you’re done with the hard part! Let’s screw the outlet back into the wall.

When pushing the outlet back in, make sure the exposed ends of the wires are not touching each other or metal surfaces near by. This increases the chance of a short or electrical fire.

Screw outlet in until snug against the wall, but not too tight. Chances are we’ll need to adjust it.

Step 11: Attach the Cover Plate

*I’m really wishing I bought new outlet covers, this one is in rough shape. You can see the crack in the middle next to the screw.

First hold up the cover plate against the outlet without screwing it in, we want to see if the sockets are flush with the plate first. If you notice the outlet is too far recessed or sticking out past the plate, adjust the outlet screws underneath accordingly by tightening or loosening them.

Once the cover plate is aligned with the outlet sockets you can screw it in.

Step 12: Turn on the Power

Head back out to the breaker and flip the switch back on again.

Step 13: Test the Outlet Again

Use your outlet tester to see if it’s working. If both sides on the right are turned on, you did it! Otherwise, you may need to shut off the power and diagnose the problem.

The outlet tester will tell you if you put the wires in the wrong locations or not, making it a great tool to have on hand. This will be indicated by where the lights are located on the tester.

And that’s it! You’re new outlet is complete! You won’t need to worry about your plugs slipping out randomly anymore, that major headache is long gone!

After I installed my new outlets, I was surprised by how snug and secure they are. Nothing is bumping these out of place.

How Much Did I Save By Fixing The Outlets Myself?

Now for the fun bit. How much did my blood, sweat, and tears save me?

Let’s start by looking at how much the materials cost: I spent about $3.41 on each outlet and bought a total of 18 outlets, bringing my cost up to $61.38. I also bought the outlet tester for $12 and the wire strippers for $20. So if you include tools we are up to $93.38 in supplies.

Now let’s look at what a contractor would cost for this project. Based on national averages, a single outlet would cost $175 on average! That’s insane considering they cost $3.41 each.

So if we paid someone to do all 18 outlets, we’re looking at $3,150 for this project!

So basically I saved over $3000 for a weekends worth of work, which is way more than I expected.

Should You Replace your Outlets or Hire an Electrician?

Looking back on my experience, I’m glad I did it all myself. It was a big learning experience and I saved a ton of money. Now, should you do it? If you’re going to take the time to learn the proper wiring techniques and follow general safety guidelines, I highly recommend it if you have a free afternoon to take on a project like this.

If you’re crunched for time and you have some extra spending money anyways, it doesn’t hurt to hire an electrician instead of rushing through the project and doing a sloppy job yourself.

Ultimately, it’s up to you, and you’ve probably already decided if you want to do it or not. This is just my 2 cents.

How To Choose Which Outlets to Buy

I did a ton of research on what outlets to buy, so I wanted to include my biggest takeaways here. Feel free to read this, skim it, or skip it. If you want my recommendation, it’s this outlet by Leviton.

When it comes to outlets where the plug repeatedly slips out, unfortunately, you’ll need to replace the outlet itself.

The actual internals of the outlet have loosened over time through constant use. You’ll notice outlets where you tend plug in a vacuum or other high power appliances that they tend to wear down faster than the rest.

Unless you want to do some questionable stuff to the outlet itself, you’ll need to pickup a new one. Luckily, new outlets are super affordable and it’s a pretty fast project if you know what you’re doing.

Here’s a breakdown of how to choose new outlets. I also included some tips that I wish I knew beforehand that would’ve made this whole process easier.

Get the Same Amperage (Amps) as your Current Outlet

When purchasing new outlets, you want to make sure you buy outlets that are the same amperage (or amps). You do not want to replace an old 15 amp outlet with a new 20 amp outlet. Instead, replace the old 15 amp outlet with a new 15 amp outlet.

When you have a 15 amp outlet, it will be attached to a 15 amp fuse. If you surpass the 15-amp power amount, the fuse will shut off to keep everything from overheating. If you’ve ever had the power to room in your house shut off and then you had to go out to the circuit breaker and turn it back on, you will know exactly what I mean. We want to avoid that as much as possible, mainly because it’s a safety issue and a pain in the butt.

In the United States, most outlets will be 15 amps, but you can double check the back of the old outlet to see what the amperage is.

Go with Tamper-Resistant Outlets

When picking up new outlets, it’s highly recommended to purchase tamper-resistant outlets. Tamper-resistant outlets add an extra layer of safety that prevents the outlets from energizing when something is stuck into it.

Nothing can enter the outlet unless both outlet sockets are pressed at the same time. This can help prevent kids or pets (or you!) from getting electrocuted.

The tamper resistant outlets also don’t interfere with normal day-to-day usage, so it’s a nice safety bonus to have. In some states, tamper-resistant outlets are required to be up to code, so keep that in mind when purchasing new outlets.

Commercial Grade Outlets Will Last Longer

When it’s time to buy the new outlets, I highly recommend going for commercial grade outlets (also known as FED-SPEC) instead of residential, even if you are just buying them for your home (like I am).

They tend to cost around a $1 more or around 50% more, but they are definitely worth it. Especially in areas where you use the outlets a lot. Commercial grade outlets tend to weigh more and have thicker contacts and a higher clamping force. They are designed better to avoid wearing out and having plugs start to slip out of the sockets (the reason we’re replacing them in the first place).

If you want to save on money, look at placing the commercial outlets in areas near the kitchen, bathrooms, and garage. Then place the cheaper outlets in other areas of your home.

The Brand Matters

When buying new outlets the brand definitely matters. Don’t go straight for the cheapest option either, or you’ll end up replacing it in a few years anyway. If you live in a rental unit and plan on moving out soon anyways, perhaps you can go for the cheap option. But if you’re a homeowner and plan on staying at your current location for a long time, go with a solid brand and a beefy outlet.

The industry standard for outlets is Leviton (that’s what I went with). But if you can’t find them or don’t like them for whatever reason, Cooper, Eaton, Hubble, Eagle, Lutron brands are all known to work great as well.

Pickup New Outlet Covers (Optional)

If you’re taking the time to replace your outlets, I recommend replacing the outlet covers as well. I wish I did this and I might go back to Home Depot (for the fifth time). After buying the outlets and replacing them, I realized that my outlet covers were in rough shape. Many of them are chipped, covered in paint splatters, or are falling apart.

For a few bucks extra, you can give your outlet covers a nice facelift. If you’re taking them off anyways, now is the best time to replace them.

Make Sure the Outlet Covers Match

When picking up new outlets, make sure the outlet covers match. This is only really an issue if you go from an outlet with the middle section recessed to one that is completely flush. Think of the old standard looking outlets versus ones that are more sleek looking and have a completely flat face.

If you end up going with the sleeker looking outlets, make sure to pick up new outlet covers that match.

Otherwise, I’ve found the covers are pretty much universal.

Consider Outlets with Built-In USB Ports

If you use a specific outlet to charge your phone or plug in USB devices, you can pick up outlets with USB ports built-in. You can either go with USB-A or USB-C (or sometimes both). It just depends on what you’re looking for at the moment. I haven’t done too much research on these, but I wish I picked up one of these for the outlet next to my bed where I charge my phone at night and one for the kitchen island as well.

Buy in Bulk

You can save a few bucks by buying the outlets in 10 packs instead of in singles. Save money, live better, right?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top