photo of burnt house mains outlet socket

Wall outlet in house are burnt in wall. How do I fix it?

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    You can tell by the CCW wrap to screw that it was done by an amateur. If you can find the root cause of the smoke, the fix is easy, if not you better hire a professional. – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 Mar 1 at 0:44
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    If you have to ask, hire an electrician. While he’s there, ask how to identify hot, neutral, and ground. And watch over his shoulder. Or just buy a new outlet, read the instructions, and google the wire identifications - but know that if you end up starting a fire, your insurance will verify that the outlet was installed to code, before paying out. – Blair Fonville Mar 1 at 0:44
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    Can you post a photo looking into the back of the box please? Also, what make and model is your breaker panel, and what was plugged into this outlet before it let the magic smoke out? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 1 at 1:09
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    WOW. Something heavy duty wrong is going on here! What is the wire size (gauge) and what is the overcurrent protection? Fuses? Circuit breakers? what brand panel? Some are notorious for not tripping, esp. Zinsco. Zinsco breakers are colored differently depending upon amperage and have a "long throw". This is a major hazard. Like Mr. ThreePhaseEel asked, "what was plugged into this outlet?" There is more than one issue here: You have a burned up outlet...that never should have happened without other causes. Please try and address them all. – George Anderson Mar 1 at 1:25
  • there is some corrosion on the wires ... the corrosion may have caused a bad connection which overheated and slowly cooked the outlet – jsotola Mar 1 at 1:32

You'll have to move through each item and inspect it very carefully.

Inspect and correct

Start with the junction box buried in the wall. If that box is made out of any kind of plastic, or aluminum (not magnetic), or Magic Self-Burning Metal (magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, uranium, etc.), then the box needs to be replaced. If it's made out of good old iron/steel, inspect it for serious arcing damage - if arcing has burned a hole in the box, it's done for. Otherwise just scrub out the soot and call it good.

Now the wires need to be viewed very critically. Manhandle the insulation. If it is anything but resilient and strong, then the damaged insulation must go. Now, look at what insulation remains. Wires must extend 6" beyond the cable clamp, and, 3" beyond the surface of the wall, with only a modest amount (3/4") of insulation removed. You can try loosening the cable clamp and see if you can pull more wire in. If you still have the length, in good, undamaged insulation, and the metal wire is not discolored or polishes up easily... then you dodged a bullet and can continue the wire in service. Otherwise the cable must be replaced. Yeah, in the wall. Ouch.

As for the recep, carefully visually inspect it, follow with a borescope and X-ray -- I'm kidding, that recep costs 50 cents. Just buy another one, except get the $3 kind that is better built.

And use a torque screwdriver to set the correct torque on the screws.

If any of the wires are aluminum, then use a recep rated CO-ALR. Also, place an AFCI circuit breaker on this circuit. If the circuit is not grounded (it might be via armored cable), then fit a combo GFCI/AFCI breaker, so you also have GFCI protection. At your leisure, review all other outlets and ascertain if aluminum wire is present; if so, again use CO-ALR rated receps or switches, or Alumiconns, and torque correctly.

Any outlets protected by GFCI may be installed as 3-prong. Label them "GFCI Protected". If they are not grounded, label them "No Equipment Ground".

Now, move through the circuit and the house and inspect each other recep - particularly ones that lost power, or that do lose power when this breaker is off. Give them the same treatment as above, but see our Q&A on what to watch out for when replacing receps.

Next look at the service panel. Make sure all the breakers are the correct size for the wires they are feeding; 15A is pretty safe, no receptacle circuit should be over 20A. Also look at what kind it is, and google whether this is a dangerous panel. (Hint: Pushmatic isn't dangerous, but it is obsolete). If unsure, feel free to post a picture here. (door open, no need to unscrew the cover; also get a shot of any labeling).

What went wrong

Most likely a screw was torqued incorrectly, which is why they require torque screwdrivers now.

Copper terminations have a serious defect in that they will not correctly clamp aluminum wire. Many people used copper-only-rated receptacles with aluminum wire, and many more used devices rated CU-AL, a standard developed hastily and incorrectly by UL, and which proved to have severe problems and had to be revoked.

It's also possible the circuit was wildly overloaded, but the breaker should have intervened to protect. If it was a Zinsco or FPE firestarter panel, or a Pushmatic with Connecticut Electric breakers, that would explain why it did not. It might also have been mis-sized; sometime when confronted with frequent breaker trips, idiots don't want to stop overloading the circuit, and instead put a larger breaker or fuse and let the wires smoke. This is a mistake.

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  • Superlative answer. – bishop Mar 2 at 0:37

As mentioned by others, loads, breakers and wire gauges have to be checked for safety reason.

Carbon residuals as to be seen on the white outlet plastic can have a high conductivity. So everything inside the housing has to be replaced if possible, the rest has to be cleaned (cables).

Shrinking tubes should be applied to each cable (after removing corrosion, cleaning and drying for some hours or a day) in order to avoid any surface currents and to improve the insulation which might be weakened by the heat.

Everything should be replaced if possible - including the housing inside the wall.

Of course, before this work the power must be switched off, must be secured against accidentally re-powering (e.g. by other persons), and it must be measured if there is really no more power in the outlet box (wrong labeling or paralleling of breakers, changes without notification etc.)

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Personally it sounds like if you are asking this question you are not qualified to do the repair!

That said besides a competent Electrician you need the wall boxes changed, they can be replaced with ones called "Oldwork boxes" Homedepot and others have these. You may also need new wiring because it looks as though you have had a lightning strike. Without a doubt you need new wall sockets. This is not a DIY project and certainly not one as a starter project.

Please for your and your families life's sake get a competent professional to do this job.

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  • "Hire a pro" could be an answer to any question on this site, which kind of defeats the point of this site, no? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 1 at 15:38
  • The downvote is astounding. The lack of perception by commenter also. This is a situation where something lethally dangerous has been done and a person with no experience or competence (neither of which is liable to be their 'fault') is asking for advice on how to DIY something crucial on which the life and death of themselves and others depends. – Russell McMahon Mar 1 at 21:26

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