enter image description hereenter image description hereI want to change that old switch for a new one. I add both pictures. I am surprised the neutral is connected to the switch and not to the neutral bundle. In the new one, I dont see space for those three wires plus ground. Any advice? Help? Thanks!

  • 1
    It would help if the left picture was from the other side of the switch, showing where things are connected and clearly showing where each wire goes inside the box.
    – jay613
    Commented Apr 28 at 17:50
  • Neutral must be white. The same does not go for white. Any white on a switch usually means it is not neutral, but hot or a traveller wire(on a three way). If two whites on a simple switch, someone really messed up and switched neutral(very bad). The white on the switch should be marked with another colour.
    – crip659
    Commented Apr 28 at 17:56
  • the old one is a 3 way switch, thee new one is a standard 2 way switch. The white wire should have a black tape marker indicating it is hot
    – Traveler
    Commented Apr 28 at 18:35
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    White is not neutral always. Neutral is always supposed to be white or gray. With cables, white can sometimes be hot. Beware of wiring without a bit more self-education.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 28 at 19:21
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    I see what looks like a 3-way switch, but the cable serving it is /2 cable. I suspect this is a jackass 3-way circuit, where they're misusing ground as neutral. Cut the breaker than carefully separate all the grounds in this box. Turn the breaker back on and see if the light still works. I bet it doesn't! Now that can be fixed, by using certain smart switches, so rewiring won't be needed. Commented Apr 30 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


A simple mechanical switch, which I believe is what you have pictured, does not use neutral at all.

Many, but not all, of the following switches use neutral:

  • Timers
  • Motion Sensors
  • Humidity Sensors
  • Dimmers
  • Smart Switches

All switches (excluding 3-way and 4-way switches - those are different) have:

  • Hot/Line/Incoming power
  • Switched Hot/Load/Outgoing power
  • Ground

On a simple switch, there is no difference between Hot and Switched Hot - i.e., you can swap those two wires and the switch will function exactly as it did before you swapped the wires.

With a metal box, you don't even need the ground wire. Metal boxes are always grounded. Switches (unlike receptacles) are always allowed to be grounded via the metal yoke to a metal box, in which case you don't actually need a ground wire to the switch. That does not apply here as you have a plastic box.

It looks like, but not 100% clear, the old switch had neutral and ground connected to the ground screw of the switch. That indicates either a very poor understanding of how neutral and ground are used or a very serious deliberate violation of the rules.

Due to neutral and ground being connected in the main panel, one possibility is that the neutral connection coming into this box is not working and someone used this connection of ground to neutral to bypass the problem. That is a very dangerous thing to do for a bunch of reasons.

On second thought...

Looking at the pictures some more, it appears you don't have hot/switched hot/neutral-as-ground on the old switch but it may actually be a 3-way switch. That is an entirely different setup. As with other mechanical switches, an ordinary 3-way switch does NOT use neutral. But it often uses white. Neutral is always white, white is not always neutral.

If this is actually a 3-way switch then there is another switch somewhere that can be used in conjunction with this switch to turn on/off light. If you don't know of any such switch then take a look carefully at the front of the existing switch: if it has little embossed/molded "ON" and "OFF" markings where only one is visible when the switch is in each position then it is a single (ordinary) switch. If it does not have "ON"/"OFF" then it is likely (but not guaranteed) a 3-way switch.

3-way switches usually have a 3-wire (not counting ground) cable between them - typically black/red/white. I don't see any red in the box, so things are starting to get a bit confusing and we need more details to figure this out.

IF THIS IS DEFINITELY A REGULAR SWITCH AND NOT A 3-WAY SWITCH: I recommend connecting only the ground wire to the new switch. Connect the neutral wire to the neutral wire bundle. Then carefully turn on the breaker and see if the switched device works correctly. If it does then you're all set. If it does not then more diagnostics will be needed to determine the root problem.

  • Wow, thanks for the clear and concise explanation. This helps me a lot. I will do what you suggest. Thanks again bud
    – John
    Commented Apr 28 at 18:09
  • You're welcome. But before trying what I said, read my update and try to determine if this is actually a 3-way switch, because if it is a 3-way switch then you must get a 3-way switch as the replacement. Commented Apr 28 at 18:13
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    I'd suggest you reorder the second thought first, but I'm not going to make that edit, just suggest it.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 28 at 20:35

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