When you plug something into an outlet, you expect that electrical appliance to work. But what happens when it doesn't? If you plug something into an outlet and it doesn't work, there are several things it can be. One of them is a bad outlet. How can you troubleshoot an outlet to find out if it is a bad outlet or if it is something else?
Check The GFCI
A lot of outlets are ground fault circuit interrupter outlets. What that means is that if the outlet senses something that could cause problems with the circuit, it trips a mini-breaker and will shut down the circuit. These are generally found in bathrooms and kitchens, or any other place where the outlet might come into contact with water. These outlets have two little buttons on them. If the red button is up, that means that the circuit has been broken. If you push the other button, that should re-enable the circuit. You may want to check all the outlets around that particular outlet as well, to see if they have been tripped. If they interrupt the circuit, that can affect the outlet you want.
Check Out Other Outlets
If you aren't working with a GFCI outlet, you can't easily see if you are dealing with an interrupted circuit. One way to tell if it is just that specific outlet or a larger problem with your electrical system is to plug an electrical item into different outlets. If it works in other outlets but not the one you're concerned about, it's a pretty good sign that the particular outlet is bad.
Check Your Circuit Breaker
If the item you are trying to use doesn't work in any outlet, it's time to check your main circuit breaker. That particular circuit may have overloaded and the breaker tripped in order to shut it down. You'll be able to tell that the circuit has been broken because the switch for it will be in the off position. It's generally very easy to tell because that switch will be placed differently from the rest of the switches. If you flip it, then the circuit is live again, and you can try the outlet then.
There are a few times when you shouldn't mess with trying to troubleshoot the problem and you should just call an electrician immediately. Those include if your outlet is blackened or charred looking, if it is buzzing, or if it smells like ozone. Those can indicate serious problems in your wiring. In those cases, you should go turn off the circuit for that outlet and call a 24-hour electrician as soon as possible. If you need more information about an electrical problem, consider contacting a professional like those at Direct Current.