I just installed a receptacle in my basement and I realized I need to reinstall it someplace else. The leads are inserted into the holes behind the receptacle and I can't get them out!

The instructions "push to release" are printed on the back of the receptacle with arrows pointing towards slots next to the holes were the leads go in. I'm not sure what or how to push here. I tried inserting the end of a paper clip, which worked once, but almost accidentally. I can't find anything in that slot that disengages the wire. Clearly it's something easy that I'm overlooking, but what?

EDIT: Thanks for all the answers. It took me several days before I got back to this project, but the eyeglass screwdriver was what I had on hand and it worked pretty well. The key for me was to push in the part of the slot closer to the edge (rather than the interior) of the receptacle.

  • 6
    This is why I always use the screws on the side - bend your wire in a loop, put it around the screw, and tighten down. I always have problems with those holes in the back... Oct 11, 2010 at 19:40
  • @Jared: makes sense, especially if the wire gauge is too big to fit in the hole. But then the screws are "hot", right? Oct 25, 2010 at 12:03
  • 2
    they are, but that shouldn't really be a problem, unless you're grabbing the outlet without shutting off the breaker first (I would hope not!) Oct 25, 2010 at 18:09
  • Note a lot of electricians don't trust and won't use that little push hole for the #14 wire. They use the screws.
    – Bryce
    May 22, 2012 at 7:14
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    The screws will be "hot" whether you stick the wire in the little mounting hole or not. Oct 17, 2012 at 18:15

9 Answers 9


To get the lock mechanism to release you will need to use a small tool (such as a small screw driver as in @Niall C's answer or even a utility knife or eyeglass screw driver as in @mohlsen's answer or my preference is a small diameter wood awl).

The first tricky part is finding that tool that will fit in the hole and then be long enough and have enough strength to press the lock release. You will find some tools get too wide before reaching far enough down (such as the eye glass screw driver).

Then if you look into the slot you will see a lever that you need to press (and you should be able to tell which way to press based on the angle of the lever but usually it is to the center of receptacle). Use your tool to press that release lever.

The second tricky part is to make sure you are not pulling on the wire while trying to press the locking release mechanism. Otherwise you will be fighting with yourself and the lock will not disengage (since it will catch the wire and not let it go). One thing to try is to push the wire into the receptacle and then press the lock release and then gently pull the wire out.

The complete instructions:

  1. With one hand hold the receptacle with the back facing you (difficult to do if you do not have a lot of wire coming from the box).
  2. With your other hand, gently push the wire back into the receptacle to relieve pressure on the release latch.
  3. With your third hand take the small screwdriver and press the release latch to disengage the lock. The wire will gently come out.
  • Thank you so much. This explained what was keeping the wire from coming out. A fork did not work for me but an eyeglass screwdriver did. I have never done anything like this but just decided to change my outlets out b/c they did not match.
    – user8801
    Oct 17, 2012 at 18:10
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    Whoever invented this terrible mechanism should be beaten severely for inflicting this upon unsuspecting homeowners! :-) Jan 5, 2013 at 17:22

A small flat-head electrician's screwdriver should do the trick. The release mechanism is spring-loaded, so with the wire in place, pushes it to one side. Angle the screwdriver slightly and you should be able to disengage it.


If you have a key to an inside door knob - it can unlock a door that has no regular keyhole just a small hole.

enter image description here

Many times this key is found on top of the door frame. I just finished using it to replace a wall outlet.

  • Welcome to the site. I added a photo (I could only find the 5-pack, sorry) and link to what I think you're talking about; if it's not right, please feel free to edit them back out.
    – Niall C.
    Feb 26, 2014 at 22:43

I usually use the blade from a utility knife. Is is small and thin, but firm enough to not bend. A slotted screwdriver will work like Niall mentioned, but they are usually too thick to fit in the slot. Perhaps a precision slotted screwdriver from a eyeglasses kit would work too.


I usually use my "tweaker" screwdriver (I think it's like a 1/8th inch wide flat blade, used for screwing down control wires on small screw terminals - sold at Sears under the Craftsman Pro label - they have a red 'spinner' top) to push those tabs in. They're definitely a PITA to work with and I try to eliminate those things when I get an opportunity. They seem to have a tendency to not grip wires as tightly as I like. I actually had one of those release a neutral for no apparent reason (I think it worked loose over time) which killed my old dishwasher electronics.

I like the receptacles from Cooper which have holes for the wires on the sides of the receptacle in back but you tighten down a screw to get the proper "bite" into the wire.

Additionally if you don't strip the wire length JUST RIGHT on those crappy push-in types you either have nice exposed wiring right at the back of your outlet or the push connection pops out when you're making the box up. That was what I realized after fixing that magically released neutral in my kitchen.


I've had this same problem. I have a bunch of tools that will fit in the release, but a crappy all metal fork is what I used. It fits right in, and I wasn't worried about breaking it unlike my nice tools. Just pick one up at a dollar store.


I came up with another solution today. Use a wood screw or a sheet metal screw, and screw it into the release hole. The screw provides the pressure, so you don't have to push and pull at the same time. I used an electric screw driver, and it was so easy to do this way.


Receptacles cost less than a dollar each. If you can't get the wire out, tear the receptacle apart until you can. Once you break the plastic housing, you shouldn't have any trouble, they usually just disintegrate at that point.

Remember the rule: if you spend more than nine minutes to save a dollar, you're working for less than minimum wage.

  • 4
    Not a bad rule, but remember that most people don't actually pay themselves, nor are the always equipped to use their spare time to earn money. If I have a spare hour at home, I certainly can't get my working rate for it, or even minimum wage.
    – Edwin Buck
    Oct 18, 2012 at 14:57

I recently came across a receptacle that had "single use" printed on the back near the wire holes, and there was no release mechanism. I had to cut the wires and use the screws on the side to reattach them.

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