How to reset a GFCI outlet



A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) plays an important role in ensuring electrical safety in homes. It helps prevent electrical hazards by monitoring the flow of power and cutting off supply to the receptacle in the event of a fault. You can count on the unit to mitigate the risk of electrical shocks due to power surges, water exposure or faulty equipment.

The GFCI also makes it easier to comply with the National Electrical Code (NEC). In addition, it helps prevent fires triggered by electrical faults, protecting your home’s occupants. These electrical devices come with a built-in trip feature that cuts off power, allowing you or an electrician to resolve the source of the fault before resetting it.

For this reason, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the steps required to reset the GFCI outlet.


What is a GFCI outlet?

A GFCI is an electrical outlet that monitors and detects faults. It interrupts supply whenever it detects irregular current flow to a circuit. This type of device is useful in areas with water, such as the kitchen and bathroom. GFCI installation is mandatory in all new homes.

This type of electrical installation interrupts the electrical flow in less than one-tenth of a second to ensure safety. You can find various types of ground fault circuit interrupters. These include:

  • Receptacle-type GFCIs
  • Circuit breaker GFCIs
  • Temporary or portable GFCIs

The receptacle-type GFCI is the most popular version and shares similarities with a standard wall outlet. On the other hand, the circuit breaker GFCI protects receptacles connected to a particular circuit. Temporary or portable GFCIs are ideal for use in outdoor settings as a temporary protection measure for electrical tools and other devices. However, these GFCIs require testing before use and aren’t suitable for permanent household use.

GFCIs and regular outlets have several differences in appearance and other features. For one, standard outlets don’t have a test button and typically come in a smaller size than GFCI units. Conversely, ground fault circuit interrupters have a test button that allows you to check whether the device is working properly.

Another key difference between standard and GFCI outlets is location. Regular units operate from areas without moisture or water, while GFCIs are mandatory in kitchens and other rooms with water or moisture.

The benefits of GFCI outlets

GFCI outlets have safety features that enable overheating detection and prevention. In addition, these outlets provide a practical way to prevent electrocution and fire hazards. By installing a ground fault circuit interrupter in your home, you can leverage these and other benefits.

The outlets also make it easier to comply with safety requirements associated with the NEC. It’s vital to install GFCI outlets when renovating an old home to maximize safety for all occupants.

You can prevent damage to your electrical appliances by installing a GFCI. The outlet can detect a spike in electrical flow that could damage or shorten the life span of your appliances. It will trip in the event of a power surge, preventing damage to electrical devices.

Built-in sensors enable GFCI outlets to monitor and detect irregular power flow throughout the circuit. The sensors can detect when current flows in the wrong path and redirect the current into the ground. Likewise, the outlet will trip if it detects a variation in electrical flow due to human contact, preventing severe injury.

Electrical leaks are a major source of fires in residential and commercial properties. Thankfully, a GFCI can help prevent fires caused due to loose connections, damaged insulation and other outlet problems.


What might cause a GFCI outlet to trip?

The GFCI interrupts the power supply if it detects a short circuit or a 4 to 5 milliamp loss in current. Faulty appliances connected via an outlet usually trigger a GFCI to trip. In such cases, you can determine if the trip is due to an appliance by unplugging all electrical devices connected to the circuit or outlet and pressing the reset button. You can then reconnect the appliances to the outlet to check whether the GFCI trips again. Check the appliances one at a time.

Additional reasons that may cause the GFCI to trip include:

  • Ground fault
  • Circuit overload
  • Worn-out insulation
  • Wet receptacles
  • Electrical fault
  • Faulty GFCI outlet
  • Faulty wiring

The GFCI trips if the electrical current diverts to a wrong path or a live wire touches the ground, resulting in a current leak to an adjacent conductor or the ground. A sensor built into the GFCI can detect any diversions in the current flow. Irregular current flow might be due to contact with water, a conductor or humans.

Circuit overload is another potential reason for a tripped breaker. For instance, if your circuit can handle a maximum of 20 amps and you connect appliances that draw 25 or more amps, the outlet will trip. This response helps prevent overheating, which can result in a fire. Rusty wires, faulty appliances and other electrical issues can trigger circuit overload.


How to reset a GFCI outlet

Here are the basic steps involved when resetting a tripped GFCI outlet.

Unplug everything from the outlet

When a GFCI trips, the reset button pops out, making it easier to identify the outlet you need to reset. Before resetting the ground fault circuit interrupter, it’s vital to unplug all appliances connected to the outlet. Typically, the affected appliances will have stopped working. Once you identify the tripped circuit and unplug everything, it’s time to reset the outlet and plug in appliances one at a time.

Press the reset button

When you’re ready to press the reset button, look for a red button on your outlet. It differs from the test button, which is typically black. If the lettering and color on the two buttons have faded, it’s time to replace the ground fault circuit interrupter.

Once you press the reset button correctly, it clicks into position and locks. This action allows appliances connected to the circuit to work again unless there is an electrical problem, such as a circuit overload. Try reducing the number of appliances connected to the circuit.


What to do if your GFCI outlet won’t reset

If nothing happens after pressing the reset button, you may need to call a licensed electrician to troubleshoot the issue. The first place to check, though, is other outlets and appliances. You can typically identify the affected outlets by switching lights on and off in various areas of the home, including the laundry room. Next, unplug electrical devices connected to the dead outlets before turning off the power.

Also, check the circuit breakers and ascertain the status of fuses. If you find breakers that aren’t lining up in the “on” position, try returning them to the original position. If the tripped breaker caused the fault, pushing the handle should resolve the electrical problem.

If you need to reset the breaker, don’t forget to switch it off first. The process involves pressing the handle firmly until you hear a click to ensure it’s in the “off” position. As you push the handle back to the “on” position, the handle should move softly without any resistance. If you detect any resistance, there is an electrical wiring problem. A stiff handle typically results in it popping back to the tripped position. If you find a blown fuse in the panel, you or an electrician will need to replace it and verify whether the GFCI reset button works. 

Signs that your GFCI outlet might be bad

A GFCI receptacle that won’t trip when you press the test button is one of the most common signs that the outlet has stopped working. Another issue that shows your electrical outlet is no longer in good working order is a  stuck reset button that won’t reset. It’s also possible for the unit to trip without interrupting the power supply, creating a risky situation that requires a licensed electrician to troubleshoot using a tester.

You may also notice that your GFCI frequently trips. This development might be another sign that the unit is due for replacement. Overheating and excessive exposure to moisture can damage your GFCI’s current transformer. The outlet’s internal components can become rusty when exposed to moisture, resulting in a malfunction. A weatherproof cover can help protect the device from moisture infiltration and other elements.


Electrical system repairs are covered by Cinch

As a homeowner, it’s good to prepare for unexpected electrical faults involving GFCIs or other outlets. A home warranty can help make it easier to handle expensive electrical home repairs or replacements.

A Built-in Systems plan offered by Cinch Home Services covers various aspects of your electrical system, including lighting fixtures, electrical panels, circuit breakers and much more. All of our plans also come with additional benefits, like protection for unknown pre-existing conditions and a 180-day workmanship guarantee.

Keeping your electrical system in good working order just got easier thanks to Cinch. All you need to do is request a free quote today to get started.


Discover the role of GFCI outlets and the importance of the Cinch Built-in Systems plan and electrical system coverage.