GFCIs have gained popularity because of their feature of tripping off and preventing appliance damage and electrocution. GFCI outlets have two buttons that allow you to test and reset the outlet during a problem. But what if the TEST button doesn’t push in or pop out?
When the GFCI buttons don’t push in or pop out, it’s because of a defective GFCI, loose or wrong wire connections, corrosion, power problems, and damaged or old outlet. To fix it, correct the connections, push the button harder, and examine the power. Outlet replacement should be the last resort.
Have you encountered such a problem or want to know what you should do in such a situation? Stick to this article till the end to learn all the reasons behind the test button not pushing in or popping out and how you can fix it.
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Understanding GFCI outlets
The term GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.
GFCIs have gained popularity for a long time.
After its implementation in 1971, there has been a significant drop in the number of electrocution, electrical accidents, and property damage.
Initially, the GFCIs were needed for all outdoor receptacles in 1971 by the National Electric Code, or NEC.
Later in 1975, adding them to the bathrooms became mandatory.
After GFCIs, the electrocution percentage has dropped by 83%, and consumer products have reduced 95% of electrocutions.
GFCIs are true to their names as they interrupt the circuit during a ground fault to prevent accidents.
GFCIs have an in-built sensor that senses the ground fault or short circuit and trips immediately.
The outlet cuts power to the circuit and trips off automatically to prevent the ground fault.
It further stops the electrical current from electrocuting you or damaging the appliance.
When the outlet senses the excess energy or the abnormal current flow, it cuts the power in less than 1/30 of a second.
You can still get a slight shock, but the outlet will stop severe injuries and damage.
The GFCI receptacles are like the standard outlets with two extra buttons.
It can be wired in a single location to protect only one outlet or in multiple-location to protect other outlets in the same circuit.
You can also have a GFCI breaker to protect the entire circuit.
I have recently installed a GFCI breaker for my detached garage, where I have multiple outlets.
My kitchen and bathroom had a few outlets installed long ago.
Since GFCIs are getting costlier nowadays, I suggest using a breaker.
Besides bathrooms, you can even add them in moisture-prone areas like kitchens, laundry, swimming pools, etc.
When moisture enters the outlet, it creates a fault.
The outlet cuts power and trips to prevent electrocution and appliance damage due to this fault.
GFCI buttons: Understanding the purpose of the buttons in the outlet
Let’s talk about the GFCI outlet buttons.
When you buy GFCI outlets, you will find two buttons written as TEST and RESET.
When I bought them, I had no idea about their functions as I got them online.
So, I took them to the local shop, and then the staff explained to me their functions.
The TEST button helps you check and ensure the outlet functions correctly.
It allows you to ensure the outlet can protect you from the ground fault.
For that, plug in an appliance and press the TEST button.
Pressing the TEST button breaks the circuit and won’t let the appliance work.
It indicates that the outlet is okay.
Some modern outlets test themselves automatically and use indicator lights or alarms to let you know if there is a problem.
The RESET button in the outlet allows you to reset the outlet when it trips during the test or a ground fault.
Test your outlet once a month to confirm that it is in good shape.
Some outlets have light indicators. Different lights have different meanings.
A green indicator means the device is working correctly.
Red light means a ground fault or the outlet is malfunctioning.
No light means the outlet is not receiving power, it has broken, or the receptacle’s lifespan has ended.
Once, I had a problem with my outlet buttons.
While testing the outlet, the TEST button was not pushing in or returning to its position.
After research and expert consultation, I discovered some common problems, and the next section explores these problems and their causes.
So, keep reading.
GFCI TEST button not pushing in or popping out: Uncovering the causes
When you press the TEST button, the outlet trips and the RESET button should pop out.
When you again push the RESET button, the TEST button returns to its original position.
But if the TEST button does not push in while testing or returns to its position after pressing the RESET button, your outlet has some problem that needs to be fixed.
Here are some commons to look for when you have some problems:
Another GFCI outlet upstreamed
The TEST button in the GFCI outlet can get stuck and stop pushing or return to its position due to another damaged outlet upstream.
Sometimes, a second GFCI is wired upstream of the first GFCI.
When the second one gets damaged, the first one’s buttons become inactive.
The TEST button cannot be pressed, gets stuck, and stops working.
It also sometimes prevents the RESET button from working further.
No power in the outlet
The GFCI outlets will need power to run.
Without power, neither the outlet will be helpful, nor the buttons will function correctly.
Due to the lack of power, you cannot press the TEST button.
Without power, not only the TEST button but also the RESET button will not stick in or pop out.
When you press the TEST button, you will see that the RESET button pops out.
And after pressing the RESET button, the TEST button returns to its place.
This technique in the outlet works on a spring mechanism.
The springs are fitted behind these TEST and RESET buttons.
When you press the TEST button, the spring energy helps the RESET button to pop out, and vice versa.
This spring is made of metal. When your outlet has become too old, and you have not replaced them in years for once, it can build up rust.
Due to the rust, the spring will become stiff, and the button will stay stuck.
If your TEST button is not pushing in or coming out to its place, the spring behind it may have rusted.
Bad electrical connections
Another reason behind a stuck or stiffened button in the GFCI outlet is terrible electrical connections caused by wiring issues.
The wire in the GFCI circuit travels a long way.
So, the buttons do not work correctly if this wire is poorly or loosely connected.
It will further not let you push the TEST button or let it come back to its position, making the outlet dysfunctional.
Old wires, weak and frayed wires, loose connections, wires touching the ground, damaged circuits, and moisturized areas are some of the common reasons behind this.
The connections must be tested with the help of professionals to find out the real cause and solve them.
GFCIs are long-lasting outlets.
But they can also get damaged at some point due to regular usage and wear and tear.
These outlets have a shelf life of about 15 to 20 years.
But it can also last for 5 to 10 years. It entirely depends on how often they are used and how they are treated.
You can no longer press the TEST button to test the outlet when the shelf life is over. Ultimately, it stops working.
If you have had the same GFCI outlets for several years, there is every reason to believe they have expired.
Besides old age, the outlets can also get damaged by daisy-chaining them.
Overloading one GFCI with other outlets for protection can create overloading.
The outlet will trip multiple times, and after some time, the button becomes inactive, and the outlet gets damaged.
If you are facing a button problem in your new outlet, it has some manufacturing defect.
There is nothing to do over time except to get the GFCI replaced.
Every batch of outlets will have 1-2 defective outlets, and they eventually find their way to someone’s house.
Dirt and debris
The TEST button not moving in or coming out can result from obstructions behind the buttons.
Dirt, debris, and moisture can interrupt the flexible movement of the outlet button and stop it from working.
The button either doesn’t move in or doesn’t pop out.
Check all the above issues; if you do not have any, consider checking for obstructions.
You are putting in less strength
When you press the TEST or RESET button, and they refuse to get in or come out, it is common to assume one of the above-mentioned issues.
But your outlet may not have any of the above problems.
The buttons are pretty hard, and you did not push them hard enough to push in.
Examine the problem closely before you take any significant steps.
How to fix a GFCI test button that won’t push in or pop out: Six quick remedies
The fixes for a GFCI outlet whose buttons do not push in or pop out are simple.
You can either fix the problem yourself or call a professional.
However, some problems will need a professional’s attention only.
Let’s learn what solutions can solve the problems explained above:
1. Check the other upstream GFCI outlets
If the outlets are upstream, you need to check all the upstream outlets and find out which outlet has been damaged.
If the TEST button doesn’t work, plug in a GFCI tester to the outlets upstream.
The outlet is still okay if two yellow lights are in the tester.
If the tester does not light up after plugging in any outlet, that outlet has damaged.
Get the outlet replaced.
Some good testers are:
- Sperry Instruments GFI6302 GFCI Outlet / Receptacle Tester, Standard 120V AC Outlet, 7 Visual Indication / Wiring Legend, Home & Professional Use, Yellow & Black.
- Klein Tools RT210 Outlet Tester, Receptacle Tester for GFCI / Standard North American AC Electrical Outlets, Detects Common Wiring Problems.
These testers have some indicator lights.
When you plug them into the outlet, and two yellow lights light up, your outlet is fine.
But if there is no light, it does not have any power.
The good thing about these testers is that you can even use them for the standard outlets to check whether they have power.
2. Check the power
When the outlet does not have power, neither of the buttons works.
To confirm whether the outlet has power, check for indicators if you have them.
When the outlet does not show any light indicator, your outlet is not receiving any power.
But what will you do if your outlet does not have any indicator? Use a GFCI tester to check the outlet’s power.
Possible reasons behind no power could be loose wire connections, tripped breakers, or dead outlets.
Check the breaker powering the outlet.
If it has tripped, reset it, and the outlet button should start working.
If the problem remains, turn off the breaker, and check the wire connections.
If any wires are loose, disconnect and tighten them.
If the buttons still stay stuck, it means their lifespan has finished, and you need to replace them.
For frayed or damaged wires, consult an electrician to get them replaced.
3. Check for bad connections
Check for loose connections if the TEST button doesn’t work.
It can be tricky as you have to examine the entire cable length.
So, getting a professional’s help would be a better choice.
I had a similar problem with one of my outlets a long time back.
I checked for secure wire connections.
I tightened the wires, reconnected them to their terminals, and rechecked especially the line and load terminals.
Still, I had to hire an expert as I couldn’t solve the problem.
He replaced the whole cable.
If you are inexperienced, you might have some severe issues like this.
You can’t identify or fix the problem without a professional.
4. Clean the dirt and debris
When you check the outlet, see if any debris is inside, as it can hinder the button’s mechanism.
When the TEST button doesn’t work, check for dirt and debris behind the button.
Use a soft brush and gently clean the dirt.
Ensure proper cleaning without damaging any components.
If you feel hesitant, hire a cleaning expert to do the work.
If you suspect any moisture problems, let the outlet dry out entirely before you start testing and turning it on.
5. Push the button with more force
When you cannot push the TEST button, it is common to think it is facing some problems.
But before you declare it a problem, try to push the buttons harder.
Some outlets will have a stiffened button.
Pushing it harder with strength will make it push in or pop out.
When the spring mechanism gets rusted, the buttons become too stiff.
In that case, too, you must push the button harder.
Make sure that you keep the outlet intact.
It is made of plastic and will break if you apply excessive force.
Put enough force to push the button in but not too much to damage the outlet.
The finger end sometimes doesn’t work with the older outlets and rusted springs.
In that case, use a blunt object to push the button, like a screwdriver’s end.
6. Replace the outlet
If the above measures do not fix the outlet, you have a poor outlet that needs replacing.
Dead, damaged, and defective outlets will need replacement.
Outlets last 15 to 20 years, depending on how you use and treat them.
If you haven’t changed them for a very long time, like 10 years, it is time to replace these outlets.
If a newly bought outlet has a button issue, you have a defective one. Get it replaced.
Additional tips and precautions while working with outlets
Outlets are electrical objects, and working with them without experience can be dangerous.
It is better to leave it in the hands of an electrician than to do it yourself and get electrocuted or expensive damages.
If you have some experience before, you can try solving them.
For that, you will need to follow a few precautions.
Here are some preventive tips to follow before you deal with outlets to fix the buttons:
- Always ensure safety. Find the breaker powering the outlet, and turn it off to cut the power supply. It will prevent electrocution and electrical accidents.
- After cutting the power supply, confirm that the help of a non-contact voltage tester whether the breaker has really turned the power off. When you take the tester close to the outlet, a light will indicate that power still runs. In that case, you need to turn off the main supply.
- Always wear protective gear, like goggles and gloves, before you deal with electrical outlets.
- Avoid working around wet areas. If the outlet is for moisture-prone areas, avoid running water. Let the area dry out completely, for example, the kitchen, laundry, garage, etc.
- Consult an expert if you are hesitant because the outlet is in a moisture-prone area.
- Ensure to connect the wires to their respective terminals while checking the connections. Avoid reversing any of them, including the load and line wires.
- Before you take any significant steps while troubleshooting power and wire issues, plug in a GFCI tester once to confirm whether the outlet genuinely has no power. If you change something without checking, you only encourage other issues.
- Double-check everything before you close the outlet’s cover plate, and secure all the connections before turning on the power.
- Seek professional help if you are a layman.
When a GFCI outlet’s TEST button doesn’t push in or pop out, there could be several reasons behind it. Some common problems are damaged upstream outlets, no power to the outlet, rotten or loose connections, dirt and debris behind the button, corrosion in the spring mechanism, or dead and defective outlets.
Check for the upstream connections, see whether the outlet has power, correct the poor wire connections, and clean the dirt and debris. If you do not have these problems, press the button well. When the outlet gets old, the spring mechanism corrodes.
So, press it harder. If the problem still stays, replace your outlet with a new one. Follow the preventive tips before you start working with the outlets yourself. If you do not have any experience, contact professionals to do the job.
How can I fix a stuck outlet that won’t reset?
Sometimes, the outlet does not reset with too many loads. Disconnect the appliances and then reset the outlet. If this doesn’t solve your problem, you have other serious issues which need an expert’s attention.
Can a GFCI work without the TEST button?
A GFCI can work without the TEST button because the button only plays the role of testing the outlet. But that is dangerous because you must check the outlet’s condition monthly to understand whether it is safe or requires a replacement.
Reference: GFCI outlets Wikipedia