How to Fix Loose Outlets

Updated: Apr. 05, 2024

Tighten or shim electrical outlets to repair this annoying—and dangerous—problem in seconds.

Next Project

1 hour or less not counting dry time for lacquer




Less than $10


A loose electrical outlet can pose a safety hazard. Here are a few tips on how to fix loose outlets in your home.

Tools Required

  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Non-contact voltage tester
  • Outlet tester (optional)
  • Phillips screwdriver

Materials Required

  • Electrical box extenders
  • Electrical outlet spacers

Project step-by-step (8)

Step 1

I lived in an older home a few years ago, and one of the scariest things to happen was when an electrical outlet sparked overnight. Luckily it didn’t catch fire— but it did leave a black streak. This outlet had been loose and sunk into the wall plate whenever we tried to plug something in. A wiggly outlet can be extremely dangerous. Whether it is loose or pushes-in when trying to be used, these are red flags that something is up and needs to get fixed. Don’t wait: a spark can quickly turn into a fire.

Here are four quick and cheap fixes to get you started.

Step 2

Turn off power

Before getting started, turn off the power to the outlet at the electrical panel. Then, check that the outlet is dead using a non-contact voltage tester or an outlet tester.

How To Fix Loose Outlets Fhmvs24 Mf 01 26 Looseoutlets 1TMB STUDIO

Step 3

Tighten the outlet cover plate

Use a screwdriver to tighten the screws on the outlet cover plate. This pulls the outlet receptacle to the outlet cover plate and holds it together.

How To Fix Loose Outlets Fhmvs24 Mf 01 26 Looseoutlets 3TMB STUDIO

Step 4

Tighten the outlet screws

If tightening the outlet cover plate doesn’t work, remove the wall plate to check out the outlet receptacle.

  • Tighten the top and bottom screws on the yoke of the outlet receptacle.
  • Reattach the wall plate to see if that fixed it

How To Fix Loose Outlets Fhmvs24 Mf 01 26 Looseoutlets 6TMB STUDIO

Step 5

Shim electrical outlet

Sometimes, an outlet can be loose because the electrical box is recessed too deeply into the wall or wasn’t installed level. If it’s less than 1/4-inch recessed and in non-combustable materials, use spacers to level the outlet to the wall.

  • Spacers come in sheets that have to be pulled apart or snipped with scissors. Fold the spacer and slide it onto the outlet receptacle behind the yoke. You might need more than one, or you might only need just one. Add spacers until the outlet is level and flush to the wall.
  • Screw the receptacle in place and check that it is level.
  • Reattach the outlet cover plate, turn on the power, and check that the outlet is now live with an outlet or non-contact voltage electrical tester.

How To Fix Loose Outlets Fhmvs24 Mf 01 26 Looseoutlets 9TMB STUDIO

Step 6

Install electrical box extender

If your outlet is loose and the electrical box is recessed more than ¼ inch, install an electrical box extender.

  • After removing the screws to the outlet receptacle and testing all wires with the non-contact voltage tester, add the box extender by sliding the receptacle through it and placing it into the electrical box.
  • Secure with screws provided through the outlet receptacle and box extender. The box extender should bring the receptacle flush with the wall.
  • Put on the outlet cover plate, turn the power on, and check that the outlet is live with a non-contact voltage tester or outlet tester.

These are the cheapest and fastest fixes to a loose outlet, but if the outlet is still loose after trying all four, you might have to dig a bit deeper and try some harder fixes like adding a metal wall plate spacer or replacing the outlet itself.

How To Fix Loose Outlets Fhmvs24 Mf 01 26 Looseoutlets 11TMB STUDIO

Step 7

When to call a pro

If you do not feel comfortable or capable of performing electrical work, call a professional for advice or assistance. Also, stop what you are doing whenever the non-contact voltage tester alerts you to power when there shouldn’t be. This likely means something is up with your wiring and should be checked by a professional.

Step 8


What is an electrical yoke?

The “yoke” is the structural, metal frame that surrounds the outlet. It usually has two mounting holes for screws that are used to attach the outlet receptacle to the electrical box.

Is it safe to use a loose outlet?

No. Electricity can arch when an outlet isn’t properly secured. This can potentially be a shock hazard, cause sparks or even an electrical fire, and needs to be fixed right away.

Why do outlets become loose?

Outlets can become loose for many reasons; heavily used, older homes that have settled over time, or environmental factors like humidity can cause screws to loosen and things to shift. Just remember to be gentle to your outlets, and they will last.

What are the ears for on an electrical outlet?

These ears were commonly referred to as “plaster ears” back when most walls were made from plaster. The ears keep the outlet flush to the surface of the wall and keep the outlet tight to the faceplate surface.

Can you break the ears off on an electrical outlet?

Yes, the ears are made to be broken off if need be. Some even have cut lines already placed. Ears are usually broken off if an old workbox is installed after the drywall is already in place. The workbox has a place for the outlet to sit so it stays flush to the drywall and keeps the wall plate from having a gap. The ears can also be removed and stacked together behind the outlet screw to be used as spacers so the outlet is flush to the wall.