Most people wouldn’t necessarily think of cleaning an electrical outlet, what with the risk of shock and all—but they can get dusty just like anything else in your home. Dust can build up on the surfaces and prevent cords from making contact, and can even cause fire in extreme cases. To keep your outlets looking and performing well, they should be cleaned every once in a while. Here’s how to do it without the risk of electric shock.
How to clean an outlet
It should go without saying that before you clean your outlet, you should switch off the circuit breaker and make sure the power is off. If you’re not sure which breaker to flip, you can use a lamp plugged into the outlet and turned on to indicate when the power is off. At this point, I like to make repeated announcements to the whole house that I’m working on an outlet and not to touch the breaker box unless I say it’s OK. Sometimes, I tape a note to the box that says “STOP, don’t flip any breakers” with the date. That’s because if some helpful person notices a flipped breaker and decides to turn it back on while you’re working, the results could be…well, shocking.
Once the power is safely off, remove the outlet cover—this usually just requires a flathead screwdriver. You can use a magnet or a piece of tape to keep from losing the tiny screws. Sometimes, I tape the screws to a countertop or a large piece of cardboard to keep them secure.
You can soak the outlet cover in some warm, soapy water while you move on to the next steps and come back for it later. Once the cover is removed, you should vacuum any exposed dust. Sometimes, removing the outlet cover will cause some dust to come out from where the outlet pokes through the wall; the vacuum is helpful for that, too. Then, use canned air or a compressor on a lower-pressure setting with a blower attachment to blow dust out of crevices. Never put any implement into the outlet, but you can use a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol to rub away any stubborn dirt. If you need to use rubbing alcohol, apply it to the swab, not to the outlet directly so that you don’t get the outlet itself wet.
Dry everything off and put it back together
Once everything is clean, remove the outlet cover from the soapy water and give it a good scrub and then a rinse with clean water. Check on the outlet itself to make sure that it’s dry, and then dry off your outlet cover thoroughly; retrieve your screws, and replace it. Once everything is back together and completely dry, you can turn your breaker back on. Finally, I announce that I’m done working on the outlet, and remove my sticky note from the breaker box.
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