5 Steps To Take When Your GFCI Outlet Won’t Reset

gfci outlet won’t reset

Whether at home or at work, we’re all using electricity without even thinking about it, which is what it should be. However, every once in a while, we experience a glitch, such as a light not turning on or a laptop not charging even though it’s plugged in. In many cases, it’s a GFCI outlet that’s not working, and most often than not the recommendation is to just reset it. But what do you do when the GFCI outlet won’t reset?

GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter, and there are electrical outlets that have this built-in breaker, which trips when detecting a short or a ground fault. The National Electrical Code requires ground fault interrupters in certain areas of the kitchen and bathroom, or some specific locations that are more prone to shorting. Usually, they are pretty reliable, but they can also fail. Every such outlet has a “test” and a “reset” button, but sometimes a GFCI outlet won’t reset, and if that’s the case, here are a few steps to take. 

1. Try To Figure Out Why

The most difficult thing to determine when a GFCI outlet won’t reset is whether it’s the outlet’s fault or the circuit’s. Trying to figure out why the outlet isn’t working can be quite tricky, which is why it’s always recommended to call a licensed electrician. It can be that it’s only that particular outlet that’s not working, or the problem can be more extensive than that.

You can do a quick check of the room to see if there’s anything else that’s tripped or not working. Check the lights for instance, or other outlets in the same room or area. You could also unplug devices from each GFCI outlet and see if the reset button pops out.

A good rule of thumb is to also check the other rooms in the house, see if the other outlets are working. If you have a voltage tester, you can test to see if power is flowing through any outlets. If everything else is working, then the issue lies with that particular outlet, however if other outlets or lights don’t work either, then the issue may be the entire circuit.

2. Check For Tripped Circuits

So, if there are other outlets that don’t work or lights that won’t turn on, it’s time to head for the circuit breakers. These live in your main electrical panel, as well as the subpanel if you have one. Generally, you’ll find the electrical panel near the area where electricity enters the home. Very often these are in garages, basements or laundry rooms.

Once you open the panel, you’ll be able to see the circuit breakers. If any of them are out of order, then that means they’re tripped. Reset the tripped breaker and check if that solved the issue. If so, but this happens again and again, you might have an overloading problem, which means the circuit is not powerful enough for everything that’s plugged into it.

3. Assess The Extent of the Problem

Another thing to consider is that if the GFCI trips often after resetting a breaker, then that can be a sign of a current leak. This can be quite dangerous, so you definitely want to call an electrician. You can assess the extent of the problem though by checking the following:

  • If the “reset” button doesn’t pop out, it may be that you didn’t push hard enough. Try again harder and if it still doesn’t work, then the GFCI may be defective. 
  • If the “reset” button pops out when you plug something in and turn it on, that could mean that the GFCI was wired incorrectly. 
  • If the “reset” button doesn’t stay in, then that’s a sign of a ground fault downstream of the GFCI. 
  • If the “reset” button is popped out but the devices or appliances still work, then most likely you’re dealing with a reversed line and load. Very rarely, the circuit interrupter could be defective.

4. Look For Bad Connections

Bad wiring or connections can also be the reason why a GFCI outlet won’t reset. You can look for a loose connection by getting a wire connector and tugging each wire. If you do find one, it’s best not to deal with it yourself, but rather call an electrician. It’s hard to say at this point how extensive the issue is. 

If you can’t find any loose connection in the connector box, you can search the outlets nearby. You can start with the ones you found not working during Step 1. Make sure to turn off the main circuit breaker when you’re looking for loose connections. There are usually 3 common types of bad connections: loose terminal screws, loose stab-in connections and loose wires at wire connectors. 

5. Call an Electrician

As mentioned above, if the issue is not as simple as one faulty GFCI outlet or a tripped circuit, then it’s time to call for help. The extent of the problem may be bigger than even the capabilities of experienced DIY-ers. Moreover, electrical work is not really a project for DIY, as there is great danger and risk involved. Property damage and personal injury can occur, so make sure to call a licensed, experienced electrician.

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