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I have one of those pocket checkers. It indicates a "Hot Ground/Reverse" on one outlet and a "Hot Neutral/Reverse" on another outlet.

Should I be worried? Should I avoid those outlets? In a perfect world I would plug my fridge and air fryer into these outlets. But I won't. Am I being too fussy?

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You have to understand a bit about how these testers work. They put a light across each pair of wires. Depending on the results, the message is one possible explanation, but further research is needed when you find a problem.

There is no standard, so using the linked Ideal tester:

  • Left = Neutral/Ground - This should not be on.
  • Middle = Hot/Neutral - This should be on.
  • Right = Hot/Ground - This should be on.

So what does "Hot/Ground Reverse" mean? It means there is a circuit (voltage, so current flows) between neutral and ground (bad), between hot and ground (good) but not between hot and neutral (bad).

The simple explanation for this is that literally the hot and ground wires are swapped. Because then left = Neutral/Hot on, middle = Ground/Neutral off, right = Ground/Hot on.

However, wires don't just jump around within a receptacle. Either the wires have been wrong since the last time work was done on this receptacle (or possibly another junction in the circuit) or something else has gone wrong.

The solution is to:

  • Turn off the breaker controlling this receptacle. All the lights in the tester should go off.
  • Open the receptacle and see how the wires are connected. Note that you may have one cable/set of wires or two (or sometimes more). You may find obvious problems, with obvious fixes, or you may find nothing wrong at all (the problem is earlier in the circuit) or evidence of serious problems (e.g., arc damage).

Similar for Hot/Neutral Reverse.

The consequences can be quite serious. An actual Hot/Neutral reverse, with nothing else wrong, is not in and of itself a big deal (usually), though it should definitely be fixed. On the other hand, a Hot/Ground reverse is a major problem as it means your ground wires are carrying current, which is not a good thing.

Knowing there is a problem, I would not use the receptacle at all until the problem is resolved.

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  • They probably don't work, so I would not use them because they don't work
    – Traveler
    Oct 26, 2022 at 3:24
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I have one of those pocket checkers. It indicates a "Hot Ground/Reverse" on one outlet and a "Hot Neutral/Reverse" on another outlet.

Should I be worried?

Not at all. Those indications are bald-faced lies. The sockets DO NOT have th problem that the tester claims.

They probably don't work, so I would not use them because they don't work. But they have a simple wire failure (open connection), which happens to older wiring and is no big deal.

Why do those testers lie? Well, the lights don't lie - the legend lies. The words on that sticker are optimized for wiring errors in new construction, not wiring failures in old work which is wired correctly. In a brand new house when the drywall isn't even up yet, testing the work of the apprentice, those testers are great. For old work, peel that label off and throw it in the trash - or replace it with a more accurate one.

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As for fixing the faulty receptacles, this is a simple bad connection, either at the bad outlet, or the last good outlet in the chain. It's within the abilities of any competent handyman, since it's the same work as replacing an outlet - pull all the wires off the outlet, visibly inspect them for damage, and put them on the side screws (or screw-and-clamp back-wire) and torque to spec.

The usual culprit in these deals is the "backstab" connection, but kitchen circuits are supposed to be 20A, and backstabs only work with 15A wire. Not torquing the screws to spec is the #2 cause.

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  • The simple explanation for this is that literally the hot and ground wires are swapped.
    – Traveler
    Oct 26, 2022 at 3:25
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It's likely that you have a broken Neutral wire either at or upstream of the "Hot Ground Reverse" outlet and you also have something plugged in to the same circuit somewhere downstream (where "upstream" is closer to the main panel and "downstream" is further away).

As [manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact] explained, in the tester there's a little light bulb connected between each pair of wires.
The light connected between hot and ground is lighting up because that's normal.
The light between neutral and ground is lighting up because the downstream device plugged in to the circuit is allowing current to flow through itself from hot to neutral, but because the neutral is broken at or upstream of this outlet, this makes the neutral "look like hot" to the light in the tester.
So now you have 2 of the tester's lights lighting up in the pattern which would indicate a hot ground reverse if all the wires in the circuit were properly connected back to the panel.

Check this outlet as well as all other outlets between this one and the panel for loose wires - and pay special attention to the white neutral wires.

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