I have a GFCI outlet that has not worked for a while. The downstream outlet (there is only one from what I can tell) connected to it worked for a while, but no longer does.
I decided to find out more about it, and get a GFCI tester. Plugging in the GFCI tester indicate an open neutral, however the unit trips (and is able to reset).
I took the GFCI outlet out and noticed a loose white wire to the load. I reconnected it. However, it still shows open neutral. The downstream outlet also shows open neutral. Both outlets do not provide power.
So, my question is: should I replace the GFCI outlet, or is there some other thing like checking the wires into the downstream outlet that I should be checking first?

  • If one problem was fixed(loose neutral), but still no power and still loose neutral showing, then there is another problem area before this. Might be at the the panel or between the panel and GFCI.
    – crip659
    Feb 19, 2023 at 20:51
  • thanks @crip659, but not in the downstream, correct? I have read that downstream outlets can also cause open neutral, but in my case, there is no power flowing through either. Would changing the GFCI outlet help, or is that likely working? Feb 19, 2023 at 21:10
  • 2
    Finding one loose connection, means the other connections are suspect. Usually have power till you get to a bad connection. Devices further from the panel than the first non working device should not matter at first. It is possible that the GFCI is bad and replacing it is all that is needed. They are almost like smoke detectors, and need replacing so often.
    – crip659
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:22
  • What country, what kind of power? For US-style dual phase 120V, if you don't have neutral you don't have a usable outlet. A GFCI can be used to make an outlet safe without ground, but ground and neutral are different things.
    – keshlam
    Feb 19, 2023 at 21:29
  • Thanks, @crip659, i will try and first replace the GFCI then. I have a second GFCI related question, but will ask that separately. Feb 19, 2023 at 21:44

2 Answers 2


As Harper described it, the lights are nearly meaningless. But a little explanation might help:

Each light is a connection between two wires. The nominal (i.e., most common/simplest explanation) for each combination of lights is given a name.

The three lights (sequence varies by brand/model of tester) are for:

  • Hot to Neutral - This is normally on
  • Hot to Ground - This is normally on
  • Neutral to Ground - This is normally off

Open Neutral is defined as "Hot to Ground" (good) but no "Hot to Neutral" and no "Neutral to Ground". The simplest explanation for that is "Neutral disconnected", but there can be other possibilities. But troubleshoot it starting as a "Neutral disconnected" either in the last device (breaker panel, switch, receptacle) or in the first device that doesn't work.

As far as why the GFCI still tests/resets properly, that is because the usual way to test a GFCI is by sending a controlled amount of current from Hot to Ground. Which doesn't involve Neutral at all, so that still works even though nothing you plug in to the device works properly.

  • 1
    And the reason why testing a GFCI sends hot to ground is because that's literally the ONLY THING it protects. You do something stupid and give yourself a live-neutral shock, you die, GFCI or not (GFCI does nothing in a live-neutral shock).
    – Nelson
    Feb 20, 2023 at 5:57

We have 3 data points and a "minority report".

The 2 data points concur that the circuit is broken. a) stuff doesn't work, and b) tester indicates "open neutral" which does corrrellate to "stuff doesn't work".

So I would proceed on the assumption that the circuit is borked, and troubleshoot a non-working circuit and/or lost neutral.

Assuming it is a lost neutral, plugging a load into one of the outlets and turning it on should cause the neutral to energize at line voltage, and then you can detect that with a non-contact tester or voltmeter. It will also probably change the tester indication to something insane and wrong, like HOT-GROUND REVERSE.

Most of those label indications are flat wrong, and those testers are actually improved by tearing the label off and throwing it in the trash. They're wrong because they are written expecting wiring MISTAKES in brand-new construction, not wiring FAILURES in correct and previously working wiring.

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