GFCI Outlet Not Working: Here Is Why And What To Do

GFCI Outlet Not Working: Here is Why and What to Do

Ian Mutuli
Updated on

Is your GFCI outlet not working properly? We have all been there. Whether at work or home, we are all using electricity and once in a while, we will experience a glitch. For instance, a light not turning on or a laptop not charging even though it is plugged in. But, most of the time, it's a GFCI outlet that is not working.

There are several reasons why a GFCI outlet could stop working properly and why a GFCI outlet won't reset. Some causes of GFCi outlets not working you can solve on your own, but some are risky and need a service call from a professional electrician. Read on to understand what kind of electrical problem you might be having.

What is a GFCI Outlet?

A GFCI outlet, where GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter receptacle, is essential for every commercial, industrial and residential structure. It is designed to automatically move from a closed circuit to an open circuit as soon as an electrical ground fault happens.

As a result, GFI receptacles are a great solution for bathrooms, basements, kitchens, garages and any outdoor space as they reduce the risk of electrocution or shock. In addition, they are per the National Electrical Code requirements for damp locations.

According to the National electrical code, installing a GFCI or a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) outlet is required if the area where an electrical appliance is getting its power source is exposed to the risk of electric shock shorting. A good example is in the kitchens and bathrooms.

How Do GFCI Outlets Work?

As discussed above, a GFCI outlet is a type of safety device, and GFCI outlets work by monitoring the amount of current flowing through a circuit. If the current level returning to the circuit differs even slightly from the level coming in the circuit, then the GFCI outlet will trip or shut off.

The use of appliances or tools near water or moisture is a major cause of electrical shock or electrocution since water particles are good conductors of electricity. In addition, these outlets need precise wiring since a malfunctioning GFCI outlet could be a sign of a dangerous electrical issue.

GFCI outlets are built into themselves, but different types are available, including portable GFCI units or extension cords. Additionally, many circuit breakers feature built-in GFCI outlets to add a protection level against circuit overload and ground fault.

Why is my GFCI Outlet not Working?

There are several reasons why GFCI outlets could stop working, and they include:

1. Tripped Outlet

A tripped outlet is one of the reasons your GFCI outlet may not be working properly. Tripping is a built-in safety feature that protects a home's electrical system from electrocution. Each GFCI outlet has a reset and test button where if the reset button pops out, you should press the button back in. Alternatively, you can try pressing the test button first and then the reset button.

If your electrical outlet issue is a tripped outlet, then doing the above should fix the problem, and the GFCI outlet will be working properly again. However, if pressing the reset button doesn't solve your tripped GFCI issue, it might be time to consult with a licensed electrician.

In addition, you might find that your GFCI trips again after a reset, and this can become annoying where some electricians call it "nuisance tripping." GFCI outlets continue tripping when they sense a current leakage in different situations.

2. Poor Electrical Connection

This is another reason your GFCI outlet might have stopped working. Although this electrical problem is rare, cut wires can prevent a GFCI outlet from working properly. In addition, cut wires usually interfere with your electrical connection, which could lead to serious electrical hazards such as fires or electrocution.

It is not advisable to replace a GFCI outlet on your own because there are safety risks that come with any DIY job related to electrical outlets. In addition, GFCI outlets cannot be wired incorrectly as they will not work, and even the handy homeowners can get frustrated when working on such a project.

It is advisable to consult with a licensed electrician to take care of all issues that have to do with GFCI outlets, and this prevents you from risking your safety and those around you.

What are the Reasons my GFCI Outlet won’t Reset?

A GFCi outlet features an internal breaker that trips and stops the power supply to electrical outlets if the circuit is overloaded or shorted, and this protects your house from electrical hazards. Once your outlet circuit breaker trips, it should be reset to restore the power supply.

If a GFCI outlet won't reset, it is a sign of a ground fault occurring somewhere. There are some reasons why your GFCI outlet won't reset, and they include:

1. If GFCI Outlets are Dead

We don't know how essential electrical outlets are until the power in our home goes off, and when one outlet is not working and other outlets don't have an issue, you may have a dead outlet. A dead outlet is not only annoying but is also a fire risk, and that's why it's advisable to seek a professional electrician to fix your dead outlet problem, especially if your home's electrical system has not been rewired in years.

Before you decide to check the circuit breakers, you should confirm if other outlets in your home are working properly. For example, switch your lights on and off and use a voltage tester to test if your power is flowing through any other nearby outlets.

Unplug devices or appliances from dead outlets to eliminate any possibility of a short or an overload from one of the outlets. Mark the dead outlets to locate them once you turn the power off.

2. If there are Bad or Loose Connections

Bad wiring is another reason why a GFCI outlet won't reset. Faulty electrical wiring can be a result of moisture present. To try and solve this, take a wire connector and tug each wire, looking for loose connections where if you find a loose wire, take off the wire connector. Next, cut all the wires in the wire connector and strip them to expose the 1/2 inch to 3/4 of the new copper wire.

Ensure you read the instructions in the wire connector container to know the exact stripping length you need. If you don't see any loose connections in the connector box, search for other outlets in the area and start with the ones you earlier marked as dead outlets. Remember to turn off the main circuit breaker when checking for loose connections.

3. If there is a Blown Fuse or a Tripped Circuit

Once you have confirmed you don't have dead outlets, check the circuit breakers in the main electrical panel. The panel is usually found near where electrical wires enter your home. Some common locations of electrical panels are basements, laundry rooms and garages.

When you open the main electrical panel, you will see the circuit breakers or fuses, and if any of them are not in order, it means that you have a tripped breaker. Reset the tripped breaker and check if this solves your issue or replace the fuse. However, if it happens repeatedly, it might mean that you have an overload issue from the number of appliances plugged in. This means the circuit is not powerful enough to handle all the plugged-in electrical devices.

4. If there is a Leak in the Electric Current

GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlets are a must, especially in areas with a high risk of electrical shock. If GFCI outlets sense a leak in the electric current, the GFCI trips and shut off the power source.

Find all your GFCI outlets in your home, test using a voltage tester and reset them. If your GFCI outlet won't reset, there is no power supply to the GFCI, or your GFCI outlet may be bad. In addition, if your GFCI trips with every reset, then you might be dealing with a dangerous current leak somewhere in your circuit. Consult with a licensed electrician for the electrical job in such a case.

You can access the electrical problem through some of these symptoms:

  • If your reset button does not pop out when you press the reset button, it could be that the button was not pushed in enough to allow current to reach the unit, or your GFCi outlet is defective.

  • If your reset button pops out when you turn something on, then the downstream ground fault could be the reason, or your GFCI outlet could be wired incorrectly.

  • If the reset button is out, but your plugged-in devices work, this means that there could be a reversed line and a load. In rare cases, you will find that the circuit interrupter is defective.

  • If your reset button is in, but your plugged-in devices don't work, then the GFCI outlet could be defective, miswired or currently not receiving the current.

  • If your reset button doesn't stay in, then there could be a ground fault downstream of the GFCI outlet, or it might have been miswired.

5. If the Connector Box Has not been Installed Properly

Gather your wires, ensure their ends line up, and twist them clockwise into the new wire connector. Check the wire connector container label to match the connector box to the number of wires. Next, switch the main circuit breaker and test whether your problem is solved. If you still have not reset your GFCI outlet, you should immediately call a licensed electrician.

Do GFCI Outlets Go Bad?

Yes, GFCI outlets go bad because, like any electrical equipment, a GFCI outlet has an expected lifespan, after which there is a chance of failure. Generally, they last between five and ten years, and they can stop working properly earlier if they are not protected and maintained properly.

To take care of your GFCI outlets, cover any electrical outlets exposed to moisture when you are not using them. Also, an easy electrical safety tip is to test your GFCIs once a month or after events that might have damaged electrical outlets, such as blackouts or power disruptions.

Image Credit: thespruce.com

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.