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Tighten a Loose Outlet

Quick fix for a squishy outlet

FH03DJA_TIGOUT_01-2Family Handyman
Do you have outlets with cracked cover plates? The outlet box was probably set too deep, leaving the outlet unsupported. Here's a quick fix that doesn't require a trip to the hardware store.

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Make a custom-depth spacer

Photo 1: Turn off breaker

Turn off the power at the main panel and remove the broken cover plate. The drywall is often broken behind the outlet ears, leaving them unsupported.

Photo 2: Make a coil

Strip the exterior sheathing off a 12-in. scrap of 12- or 14-gauge electrical cable and remove one of the individual wires. Twist the wire into a tight coil with a needle-nose pliers.

Photo 3: Snip to size

Press the coiled end tight to the outlet-mounting screw hole. Snip the coil so it extends just past the wall; the insulation will compress slightly when tightened.

Photo 4: Tighten down

Slide the coil spacer over the outlet-mounting screw. Screw the outlet down until the outlet ears are flush to the wall.

A loose outlet pushes in every time you insert a plug. Often it happens because the cutout around the outlet box is too big. When the drywall is taped, gaps around the electrical boxes are filled with mud, which supports the outlet ears. In a heavily used outlet, this mud breaks loose, leaving the outlet ears unsupported. Eventually the cover plate cracks. A scrap of 12- or 14-gauge electrical wire and a few common tools are all you’ll need to lock that outlet down tight.

Start by shutting off the power to the outlet (Photo 1). Photos 2 and 3 show how to convert scrap electrical wire into a coiled spacer, which will bridge the gap between the outlet and the electrical box. Once the spacer is completed, install it between the outlet and electrical box as shown in Photo 4. Note: If the face of the box isn’t flush with a wood or combustible-material wall, or the box is more than 1/4 in. behind a drywall wall, you must add a box extender.

CAUTION!

Shut off power to the outlet at the main panel, then check the wires with a voltage tester to make sure.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Non-contact voltage tester
  • Utility knife
  • Wire stripper/cutter

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Several inches of 12- or 14-gauge electrical wire