Modern tamper resistant outlets are a good safety feature, but they also present a challenge. They can be much harder to plug into. Here’s how to open tamper resistant outlets if you can’t plug into an outlet.
First, inspect the outlet
If you can’t plug into an outlet, first, make sure there isn’t something stuck in one of the openings. If a prong broke off in an outlet, that stops you from being able to use it. Fortunately, that’s possible to fix.
How to open tamper resistant outlets
Tamper resistant outlets’ design prevents kids from inserting screwdrivers, butter knives, or other objects into an outlet. The outlet doesn’t open for anything but a two-bladed electrical plug. At least that’s the idea. Cheaper tamper resistant outlets can be rather stiff. And as a result, these outlets designed to protect children from injury can be difficult for elderly adults to use.
If your tamper resistant outlet won’t open, there’s some consolation. These outlets loosen up with use. After installation, the best solution is simply to use the outlet a lot. Plug something in and unplug it about 100 times to loosen the outlet up. If you find it difficult, you may need to call in a favor from someone with stronger hands.
If you’re a member of a church or another religious organization, ask there if someone might be able to help you. Chances are a member of the youth group will be willing to come over and break in some outlets for you.
Unfortunately, once the outlet has been installed, that’s the only safe solution. Other possible solutions require removal and reinstallation or replacement.
Loosening outlets with a screwdriver
It’s possible to pry the doors open on a tamper resistant outlet with a small flat bladed screwdriver. That’s exactly what the outlets are designed to prevent, so it takes some finesse. And of course, only do this on a loose outlet. Don’t do it to an outlet already in the wall. Pry the doors open a few times until they loosen up, and periodically try plugging a regular plug into it. Once the doors wear in, like an engine, they work much more easily.
Can’t plug into outlet? Buy higher quality outlets
The other solution is to replace the outlets with higher quality outlets. I put tamper resistant outlets in my home any time I replace an outlet. My kids are old enough to know not to stick a fork in an outlet, but self-closing outlets save energy. I generally don’t buy the model that costs $1.18.
The big-box stores sometimes only sell one cheap tamper resistant outlet. Yes, I remember the days when there were better stores, like Central Hardware or Coast to Coast, but I’m sounding like a grumpy old man. Check first, since the store near you may have a better selection. Not every location carries all the same items.
An Ace or True Value is more likely to carry more than one grade of outlet. The higher grade is less likely to fight you.
If you don’t have an Ace or a True Value near you, you can at least try the outlet out in the store before buying. Usually the outlets are sold loose. Replacement plugs are also sold loose, and in the same aisle. Find a replacement plug, then find the tamper resistant outlets, and use the replacement plug to try out outlets before you choose any. If the outlet is stiff, don’t buy it. Quality control on $1.18 outlets isn’t great, so some of them will be looser than others.
Don’t worry about someone asking what you’re doing. They probably won’t. If they do, simply say you’re trying outlets out before you buy them to make sure they work for you. You probably won’t be the first one who’s done that. They might even help. The big-box stores can seem impersonal, but they’d rather you try it out than have you come back tomorrow and return a bunch of stuff.
Can’t plug into outlet? Reverting the outlet as a solution
In some municipalities, local code requires tamper resistant outlets. The current National Electric Code does, but not all municipalities have adopted the current version yet. But the only time they check that is during an inspection. If you’re not selling the property or having electrical work done, you’re not getting inspected. I’m not advising you to change the outlet back, but no one’s going to arrest you if you do.
A licensed electrician may or may not be willing or able to pull a switcheroo for you. But any handyman or handywoman can. There’s also a good chance someone you know already knows how. Changing an outlet is a skill, but it’s a skill a lot of people have.
Just keep in mind if you change the outlets, you’ll have to reinstall the tamper resistant outlets when you go to sell the property, or have someone reinstall them for you. And be sure to use appropriate outlets. Use GFCI outlets in the kitchen, bathroom, or anywhere there’s a concrete floor like a basement or garage. You won’t get caught if you use non-GFCIs either, but GFCIs protect you from accidental electrocution. Your life is worth much more than the cost of those GFCIs.