How Do You Fix a GFCI Outlet That Keeps Tripping
Tips & Tricks

How Do You Fix a GFCI Outlet That Keeps Tripping?

Electricity can be dangerous. It can cause fires and electrocute any living thing that gets in its path. Engineers constantly come up with ways to reduce these risks, with one of the most impressive solutions being the Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)

A GFCI is an automatic safety switch that automatically turns off (trips) when it detects a ground fault. GFCIs are designed to disconnect a circuit if some portion of the current in the circuit flows through an unintended ground path.

The unintended path to ground, in this case, could be a human or animal about to be electrocuted or a shortcircuit through your bathwater.

GFCI circuit will trip at a very low amperage of about six mA to guarantee considerable safety. This means even the tiniest grounding problems will trip your GFCI.

With the most common cause of electrocution being water, GFCI protection circuits are common in damp places like:

  • The kitchen
  • Your Bathroom
  • Pool houses or a sauna
  • Other outdoor areas

Why Did My GFCI Trip?

If your GFCI is working correctly, it will trip if it detects a ground leakage. While this could be annoying, especially if you don’t see a problem, it saves someone from electrocution or prevents an electric fire.

The most common reasons why the ground-fault circuit interrupter kicks in are:

  • A ground fault in the circuit
  • A faulty or old outlet that’s not up to code anymore
  • Wire insulation deterioration
  • Conductive dust or debris in the outlet
  • Moisture or water in the power outlet
  • Plugging in a faulty appliance that shorts to ground

If the GFCI trips when someone uses a nearby sink and accidentally splashes some water onto the receptacle, it is doing its job just fine. 

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Wipe the power outlet dry and give it some time to drain all the moisture before resetting it. You could also use a hair blower to accelerate the process slightly. Reset the circuit and keep using it, but avoid splashing water onto it.

Warning: Troubleshooting tripping GFCIs can be dangerous. Please leave it to a professional electrician or someone who understands and respects electricity. The fact that it tripped means it’s protecting you from a heightened risk of electrocution.

Why Does My GFCI Keep on Tripping With Nothing Plugged In?

You should be worried if your GFCI keeps tripping even with nothing plugged in. This means an inherent problem somewhere in the system that is causing a constant ground fault and triggers the GFCI.

Some of the most common problems that could cause such a problem include:

Dampness or Water Behind the Outlet

This is the most common problem, especially in outdoor receptacles or those adjacent to a bathroom. 

Any moisture trapped in the power receptacle box will trigger a ground fault by giving some of the current in the circuit a different path to the ground.

Such moisture can be enough for a slight tingling sensation every time you interact with the power outlet. If the dampness and moisture keeps accumulating, it could be sufficient to electrocute someone.

In such cases, the GFCI is working just fine. You will have to dry the receptacle and prevent further contamination.

  • If it is an outdoor outlet, ensure that it is properly waterproofed and protected from direct water splashes
  • If it is an indoor outlet, find out where the moisture is coming from and deal with it. After all, the dampness will also ruin your house and cause mold infestations.

Conductive Dust and Debris in the Outlet

Over time, dust and debris will accumulate in your power outlets. Some fine bits of metal or other conductive shavings in the dust bunnies could trigger a slight short circuit that trips the GFCI.

This is a common cause for a garage GFCI that keeps tripping. Turn off the outlet circuit at the distribution panel and open the GFCI so that you can clean it and get rid of all that lint and debris.

This should fix the problem of making your circuits safer to use.

Damaged Insulation Somewhere in the Wiring

Damaged insulation in the wiring connected to the GFCI circuit can also trigger constant tripping with nothing plugged in. 

If the short circuit caused by the uninsulated wires is tiny enough to allow a slight leak but not enough to trigger a traditional circuit breaker, the GFCI will trip. 

You will need an electrician to inspect your wiring, find out the short circuit’s root cause, and fix it to keep your GFCIs working.

An Electrical Fault in Connected Circuits

Sometimes, GFCIs can protect more outlets than themselves. If they are wired to, they will trip even if the ground fault is detected in another daisy-chained power outlet somewhere else in the house.

This scenario could also lead to multiple GFCI outlets tripping across the house. Any of the above problems that cause an individual GFCI to trip can be the cause here.

ProTip: If you recently had water damage or are recovering from flood damage, chances are there is some lingering dampness in the walls and other power receptacles. This could be enough to keep triggering your ground fault circuit interrupter.

Why Does My GFCI Keep Tripping When I Plug Something In?

If the GFCI only trips when you plug something into it, chances are it’s working just fine, and the appliances you plug in are the problem.

Confirm that You are Not Overloading the Breaker

Most GFCIs are a combined ground fault interrupter and a traditional circuit breaker. They will trip if you overload them.

Confirm how much current the circuit interrupter can push and ensure that the devices you plug into it don’t draw more than that.

Ensure that Your Appliances Have No Ground Fault

Another thing that could make your GFCI trip immediately after plugging in an appliance is a ground fault in the appliance you are using.

If the circuit trips when using a specific appliance and not others, consider replacing that appliance. 

Chances are it isn’t double insulated, or it leaks some current to the casing that in turn leaks through you or other surfaces to the ground causing the fault.

Alternatively, there could be frays or damages in the cable supplying power to the appliance. This is dangerous and could lead to electrocution. Luckily, the GFCI detects it and cuts power long before it becomes a hazard.

Are You Using the Appliance Under Very Wet Conditions?

Even though GFCI circuits make your kitchen, bathroom, and outdoor power outlets safer, it doesn’t mean you should be reckless and use them wet.

The traditional electricity safety precautions must still apply. 

  • Don’t splash water directly into the outlets
  • Don’t use wet appliances
  • Dry your hands before using appliances
  • Stand on dry ground as much as possible when operating electrical appliances.

GFCI outlets in damp and wet-prone places like the bathroom are not a pass to turn off safety precautions. Sensibility coupled with caution that makes them a last line of defense will keep you safer.

How Do I Stop My GFCI From Tripping?

The best way to stop your GFCI from tripping is to fix the problem that caused it to trip in the first place. 

If you are not comfortable troubleshooting the GFCI outlet for basic problems, call an electrician to look into it.

Also, get an electrician for anything that goes beyond cleaning or replacing the GFCI. Advanced troubleshooting or repairs might be complex and dangerous, and financially harmful should any problem arise down the road.

For instance, cobbling up a none-code repair or fix could make insurers refuse to settle claims should an incident related to your electrical systems happen in the future.

How Do You Know if a GFCI Outlet is Bad?

GFCIs have an inbuilt tester to tell you if it is working right or has a problem. A self-testing unit periodically runs tests and posts results using an LED light. The light will glow GREEN if everything is fine and turn RED if there is a problem with the outlet and it needs replacement.

With the RED light on, chances are you won’t get enough GFCI protection from the outlet. Replace it as soon as possible.

If your GFCI outlet has no built-in testing circuitry, you can get an all-in-one ground fault tester that plugs into an outlet and reports ground status. This is easier, faster, and safer than using a multimeter to do multiple investigative tests on your outlet.

How Do You Fix a GFCI Outlet that Won’t Reset?

All GFCI outlets have a reset switch to restore power after it trips. The switch won’t work, and the unit will not reset if there is no power.

If it is not resetting, chances are a fuse, or circuit breaker popped at the distribution panel. Additionally, there could be a fault in the wiring, and power isn’t getting to the GFCI outlet.

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