Why Your Electrical Outlets Are Loose, and How to Fix Them

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Have you ever plugged a lamp, laptop, or phone charger into a wall outlet, only to have it immediately fall out? Whether this has happened to you at home, or while trying to recharge a device at the airport, being unable to access the outlet you need is inconvenient and frustrating.

There are a few common “hacks” for getting the plug to stay in—like bending the prongs—which clearly aren’t long-term solutions to the problem. And are they even safe? And why does this happen in the first place? I asked George Tucker, a live events and home automation specialist with 30+ years in the AV industry and a former founding member of podcast network AVNation, about this, and the right way to fix a loose electrical outlet.

What causes an electrical outlet to become loose?

Beyond the plastic face of a standard electrical outlet are u-shaped contacts (sockets) into which the blades of a plug slide, making an electrical connection, Tucker explains. Or, at least, that’s how things are supposed to work.

Outlets become loose over time for a variety of reasons, Tucker says, but most commonly, it’s from misuse and rough handling. “Whenever someone pushes a plug in at an angle, or yanks one out from the cord—rather than gripping the molded cover—the metal sockets are bent or spread.”

Another reason this happens, Tucker explains, is because IoT (Internet of Things) devices often incorporate heavy base stations that insert directly into the sockets. “The weight of these devices, if not properly supported, results in the same issues.”

Plus, he points out that not all plugs are made the same. While there are standards set for dimensions—like a plug’s length—manufacturers don’t always stick to them. “Some are just a smidge wider or longer—again, deforming the socket, and making it loose for other plugs.”

Do common quick fixes for loose outlets actually work?

If you’ve ever searched for ways to get a plug to stay inside a loose outlet, you’ve probably come across the following three suggestions. Here’s Tucker’s take on each of the three methods:

Bending the prongs on a plug

Some people suggest bending the prongs on a plug—specifically, widening the ends—to get it to stay inside the outlet. While this can temporarily improve the fit of a plug into a socket, Tucker says it’s not recommended, “in particular, because repeated bending stresses the metal, making it more likely to break off.” Ultimately, the risk of damage isn’t worth it—especially in the long run.

Putting tape on the prongs of the plug

Another common suggestion is to put a piece of tape on the prongs on a plug before inserting it into a loose out, in an attempt to get it to stay inside. According to Tucker, this “should never be done—period.”

Using a Snug Plug

Finally, there’s a small piece of plastic called a Snug Plug that can be inserted into a loose outlet to prevent plugs from falling out. Tucker says that technically, they do work, but they’re not a long-term solution to the problem.

“This is especially true if the outlet in question is used to operate an itinerant device, like a vacuum cleaner,” he explains. “These spacers tend to pull out with the plug, and could potentially cause a short—throwing a breaker, or worse, causing potential fire-starting sparks.”

How to fix a loose electrical outlet

In order to permanently fix a loose outlet, you have to replace it with a new one, Tucker says. “Installing a new unit is the only way to ensure you have a properly connected outlet that is reliable and meets all safety codes,” he explains. Fortunately, this is something most homeowners can do this themselves if their home or apartment was built or electrically renovated in the last 25 to 30 years, Tucker notes. “Just remember to turn off the power to that area from the breaker box before doing any work. Getting shocked sucks!”

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