OR: is the rating for the entire receptacle or each outlet individually?

A common 15A receptacle has two outlets. If such a receptacle is attached to a 20A circuit, an 8A draw from each outlet will not trip the breaker.

Should such a draw cause the receptacle to fail? Or is the rating for each outlet contained in the receptacle?



For a receptacle to be rated for 15A, it must be able to handle 15A at either outlet. For example. If you plug one item that draws 15A into a receptacle, the receptacle must be able to handle that current.

Receptacles are actually designed to handle 150% over their rated current (or something like that, I'd have to find the specification to be sure). A 15A receptacle should be able to handle 22.5A, so your breaker should trip before the receptacle fails.

Consider this image...

enter image description here

Assuming the tab between the hot terminals is removed, and the red and black wires are each connected to separate 15A breakers. This is a valid configuration, and would allow 15A to be drawn at each outlet.

However, It's usually not a good idea to tempt fate, or stress test electrical components. So in theory, it will not fail. In practice, it should not fail.

  • Right, I see. In my case it is connected to a 20A circuit via 12AWG copper. So I am perfectly fine to draw up to that load... say 15A through one plug and 4A through the other. – Matthew Oct 1 '12 at 20:25
  • Actually I have taken apart used outlets. Usually the insides of both 15 and 20 amp outlets are the same; the only difference being the front part. – Brad Gilbert Oct 1 '12 at 23:40
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    @BradGilbert: Even if some brands happen to share parts between different outlets doesn't mean it's safe to assume that they're always the same. Plus, there could be differences you can't see (same shape but different materials, different quality control criteria, etc.). – Hank Oct 2 '12 at 4:27

It is very common to use a 15A outlet on a 12g 20A circuit. You can go down in rating but you cannot go up. A 15A outlet on a 12g 20A circuit is ok, but a 20A outlet on a 14g 15A circuit is bad. This is to protect the wires in the wall, you want the outlet or breaker to fail before the wire does.

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    Actually, a simplex 15A receptacle (one yoke with a single plug-in point) that's the only thing on a 20A circuit is not up to Code. It would have to be a 20A receptacle. See 210.21(B)(1). – Jeremy W. Sherman Oct 2 '12 at 18:43
  • And you can install a 20A single receptacle on a 15A individual branch circuit. Combine 210.21(B)(1) with (B)(3), which only restricts ratings when you start having >1 recep/outlet on the circuit. – Jeremy W. Sherman Oct 2 '12 at 18:53

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