How to Test an Electrical Outlet with a Multimeter

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Have you recently moved from your home either because of work or some other reason? If so, you then have realized the need to set up your electrical devices, be it your home entertainment system or computer. 

However, when doing this, you need to examine and make sure the electrical outlet has not been poorly connected, as this can easily cause damage to your electronics, especially to the sensitive ones. Furthermore, it can also cause these electronics to stop functioning as expected, and to because of this, you need to make use of a multimeter to examine the circuit’s voltage. 

Using the right tool…

The multimeter is usually favored due to its availability as well as affordability, thereby making it budget-friendly for anyone to buy. Moreover, a multimeter is an essential gadget that you need to own as it reduces your overreliance on the technicians who typically charge you a fee for their services. 

However, because using a multimeter to test an electrical outlet is not that very complicated, in this article, you will be taken through the steps you need to follow during this process. Consequently, you will be able to tell whether or not the electrical outlet is destroyed and needs replacement or minor repair will be enough.

Nevertheless, to run this test, you need some necessary skills as well as knowledge of electrical components and the multimeter. Thanks to this knowledge, you will be able to know how to properly make use of the multimeter as well as the safety measures that you need to consider during this entire process. 

With this in mind, not only will you be able to know the underlying issue after testing your electrical component with the multimeter, but you will also be able to guarantee your safety throughout this entire process. Therefore, let us dive straight in to see the steps you need to follow when testing an electrical component using your multimeter.

Steps 1 – Read the instructions on your multimeter before using it

Whereas you might already have good knowledge about how to use a multimeter, it is vital that you still read instructions over and over again. The reason to do this is that multimeters are manufactured in different models; hence the guidelines vary from one model to another. 

Thus, to be on the safe side, you should always make a point of going through the instructions as you look over the specific details on how to safely run the test on the electrical outlet using your multimeter. By doing this, you will at least have an assurance that your multimeter has the potential of testing the voltage of your outlet.

Step 2 – Connect the leads

Typically, your multimeter comes with two test leads that are black and red, with one having a pointed, thin metal probe that has a rigid plastic handle while on the other end has a thick connector known as a banana plug, which is short in size. 

Thus, you need to insert the black lead banana plug on the connector with a ‘COM’ labeling, with this usually not in the middle, and it has a minus symbol beside it. The remaining connectors should have a ‘V’ sign for voltage and omega, which is a Greek letter that resembles a horseshoe for resistance symbolization, and it has a plus sign. You need to plug your red lead into that particular connector.

Step 3 – Choose a function

Make sure you find the setting for the AC voltage by looking at the dial on your multimeter. However, some multimeter models usually separate places for DC and AC voltages while others have a voltage setting as well as a button that guides you on the DC and AC settings. 

In case you are not sure enough, always make sure you make consultations from the manufacturer manual script. On the other hand, some models of a multimeter have settings for diverse levels of voltages. It is recommended that you choose a setting with the 100 volts as the minimum, with modern multimeter working well at this voltage without showing a sign of any problem.

Step 4 – Implement the safety measures first

Examining an electrical outlet is very risky, and this is because the power needs to be on while you are running the test. Before you move on, ensure that you check the leads, as well as confirming the wires are in the right alignment, and the probe ends are not loose because its insulation is essential. 

Moreover, make sure that the probe’s insulated circuit is working as it needs to. As you take your measurements, you need to avoid coming into contact with the metal portion, as this would possibly result in you getting electrocuted. You should also not allow the brush against each other as this too, would compromise your safety.

Step 5 – Testing the electrical outlet

In most cases, outlets are usually polarised, with one slot is wider compared to the other one. The ground slot is often wider while the slot that carries the voltage is narrower, and you thus need to put the lead into the narrower slot and the black lead in the wider slot. 

The reading value displayed on your multimeter should be between 109 to 121 volts, with this the standard range required in the United States. In case the display shows a minus sign in front of the displayed figure, it means that the polarity in your entire outlet is reversed. However, this is usually not an issue with other electrical tools, but it can bring challenges to sophisticated electronic devices.

Consequently, take off the black probe from the wide slot to the round ground connection at the end of the outlet, carefully observing if the voltage reading is equal to the one previously found. After that, insert one of the probes into a wider neutral slot while the other one you put into the round ground connection as well. 

The reading value displayed on the multimeter should be zero, and this means that the voltage is zero. This is an indication that there is absolutely no electricity reaching beyond the electrical outlet, and everything is well-grounded.

Nevertheless, if the higher than this, there is a potential possibility of electrocution hazard, and you can fix the problem or opt to call an electrician if you are not very confident. Once you are done, switch off your multimeter for use in the future. 


Based on the above information, you now have a clear understanding of how to use your multimeter. Thus, you now know that running this test on an electrical outlet is very simple, and you only have to acquire the required basic skills necessary to guide you through that. Subsequently, you will be in a position to do the necessary tests using an electrical outlet using a multimeter to tell whether you need to replace it or not.

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