How to Clean Your Electrical Outlets Without Killing Yourself


You can freshen up your electrical outlets without risking electrocution.

Most people don’t necessarily think about cleaning electrical outlets because of the risk of electrocution, but they can get dusty, just like any other room in the house. The dust can settle on the surfaces and prevent the wires from making contact, or in extreme cases, cause a fire. To keep electrical outlets looking and working well, they need to be cleaned from time to time. Here’s how to do that without risking electrocution.

How to clean an electrical outlet
It goes without saying that before cleaning the outlet, you should turn off the circuit breaker and make sure the power is off. If you don’t know which circuit breaker to turn on, you can use a lamp plugged into the outlet and turned on to indicate that the power is off. At this point, I like to announce several times around the house that I am working on an outlet and that the breaker should not be touched without my permission. Sometimes I also put a note on the box that says, “STOP, do not touch a breaker” with the date. Because if a helpful person notices that a breaker has been opened and decides to turn it back on while you’re working, the result can be…. shocking.

Once the power is disconnected, remove the socket cover: a flat-blade screwdriver is usually sufficient. You can use a magnet or a piece of tape to hold the small screws in place. Sometimes I tape the screws to a work surface or large cardboard to hold them in place.

You can leave the socket cover soaking in hot soapy water while you perform the following steps and come back for it later. Once the cover is removed, vacuum up the exposed dust. Sometimes when you remove the plug cover, dust will come out of the area where the plug goes through the wall; a vacuum cleaner is also useful for this. Then use compressed air or a low-pressure compressor with a blower to blow the dust out of the crevices. Never insert an instrument into the socket, but you can use a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol to remove the most encrusted dirt. If you must use isopropyl alcohol, apply it to the cotton swab and not directly to the socket to avoid getting it wet.

Dry everything and reassemble
Once everything is clean, remove the socket cover from the soapy water and scrub it well, then rinse it with clean water. Check that the plug itself is dry and dry the plug cover completely; pick up the screws and put it back in place. Once everything is back in place and completely dry, you can turn the switch back on. Finally, I announce that I have finished working on the plug and remove my sticky note from the circuit breaker box.