Testing a GFCI Outlet by Hand
Find and Press the Reset Button
Look at the face of a quality GFCI outlet: Between the two sets of slots where you plug in cords, there are two rectangular buttons, labeled “TEST” and “RESET.” To test your GFCI, simply press the test button with your finger. You will hear a snap sound that trips the outlet and cuts off the power to the two plug connections.
Confirm That the Power Is Cut
To confirm that the outlets power is off, plug a lamp or radio into each half of the outlet; the lamp or radio should not turn on. Alternatively, you can check for the presence of voltage with a voltage tester or a multimeter. This test also should indicate no power.
Reset the Outlet
Once youve confirmed that the safety function is working properly, press the reset button to restore power to the outlet.
Eric Jonas has been writing in small-business advertising and local community newsletters since 1998. Prior to his writing career, he became a licensed level II gas technician and continues to work in the field, also authoring educational newsletters for others in the business. Jonas is currently a graduate student with a Bachelor of Arts in English and rhetoric from McMaster University.
Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) can cut power in as little as 1/40 of a second, preventing a multitude of potential electrical dangers. Starting in mid-2006, regulations have required GFCIs to include safety features, such as “end of life” signals that indicate the GFCI no longer works properly, and manufacturing requirements that prevent GFCIs from functioning if incorrectly wired. The integrated test buttons on a newer GFCI outlet reliably test the outlets safety feature. However, there are some older-style GFCIs out there that give no indication that the internal safety circuitry has failed; the receptacle may continue to deliver power but not provide GFCI protection. These receptacles must be tested with a special GFCI testing tool, available at home centers and hardware stores.
Your new GFCI will never require a circuit tester. All GFCIs manufactured after mid-2006 are designed to tell you when they fail. The vast majority indicate failure by shutting off power permanently. So someday your GFCI (and any other outlets connected to it) will simply stop delivering power and you’ll have to replace it.
By detecting dangerous current flow and instantly shutting off power, ground fault circuit interrupters save hundreds of lives each year. But after 10 years or so, the sensitive circuitry inside a GFCI wears out. And usually the test button on the GFCI doesn’t tell you there’s anything wrong: When you press the button, it shuts off the power as always. So the only reliable way to check an older GFCI is to use a circuit tester that has its own GFCI test button (sold at home centers and hardware stores).
What happens when you use a GFCI tester on a regular outlet?
The tester can tell you whether the outlet is wired correctly and can also identify several wiring problems, including open ground, reversed polarity, an open hot or neutral, and a reversed hot and ground. The tester also has a test button that trips the GFCI to check the safety function.
Will a GFCI tester work if there is no ground?
What is a GFCI tester used for?