Which Wire Is The Hot Wire On A Lamp?

Understanding wires has always been challenging for beginners. If you are trying to wire a lamp, you cannot proceed until you identify the wires in them. Today’s article will help you know which wire is hot in the lamp. 

Generally, the lamp’s black or red wire is considered hot and connected to the lamp’s metal base. The hot wire will be thicker than the other wires and always carry electricity. You can also use a multimeter or a Voltage Tester screwdriver to identify the hot wire.

It is still confusing to identify the hot wire despite knowing the color code because some lamps have two black or red wires. Still, there are other ways to identify them, and this is the right place to know about them. 

Check out our list of top-handpicked products for all your electrical, appliance, and HVAC system needs to keep your home running smoothly.

This post includes some affiliate links.

Introduction to lamp wiring 

Before you start identifying the hot wire in the lamp, let’s look at a few tidbits about the lamp wiring basics for easy understanding. 

The first thing you should know about here is the lamp cord. 

Use an 18/2 wire and SPT 1 cord. The cord will be an 18-gauge wire with 2 cords inside the sheath. 

The SPT 1 will be slimmer and slicker than the SPT 2. 

It is easier to snake the cord into the narrow lamp tube. 

When you connect the cord to the socket, the hot wire should be connected to the gold terminal post.

The neutral wire should be connected to the silver terminal post in the socket. 

Remember these terminals and the wires to connect the lamp when you rewire the lamp. 

If there are cords with the same colors, you can identify the hot wire from the smooth surface and the neutral wire with ribbed indentation. 

After wiring, wrap the cords clockwise around the terminals and turn in the same direction after tightening.

Understanding the hot wires in electrical wiring 

Every electrical wiring has three main wires – hot, neutral, and ground. 

The hot wire helps carry the current from the main power source to the outlet, and the neutral returns it. 

The ground creates an alternate path for the current when there is a short circuit. 

The hot wire will always carry current with high voltage. 

So, whenever you plan to work with electrical wiring, turn off the power at the breaker and then work. 

Touching the wire with bare hands can electrocute and even kill you. 

The hot wire is mostly identified by its black casing. 

But sometimes, the color is red or white. It depends on the manufacturer’s choice. 

That is why experts suggest testing the wires once before working on any electrical wiring.

Identifying hot wires on a lamp cord 

As a beginner, it is difficult to understand which wire is the hot wire. 

The hot wire will always carry current as it carries power from the main source. 

While working on the lamp wiring, knowing which wire is hot is crucial, so you don’t touch it with bare hands. 

Below are a few ways to identify them:

Color code 

The easiest way to identify the hot wire is from the color code. 

The lamp cord has two wires – hot and neutral. 

The hot or live wires will be connected to the metal tab in the bulb socket. 

The bulb’s base is located where the bulb base is connected to electricity. 

The color will usually be plain black. 

The other wire that comes in blue or white is the neutral wire. 

It depends on the lamp manufacturer. 

Sometimes the manufacturer will use white or red wire for a hot connection or only black wires for both hot and neutral connections.

In such a case, identification becomes tricky. 


You can recognize the hot wire from the texture if you have the same wire colors for both connections. 

The neutral wire generally contains ridges or lines along it. 

But the hot wires will be plain and smooth. 

Sometimes, the manufacturer will use a rough-textured wire for the hot connections. 

In such a case, you must use a multimeter to identify the hot wires. 

How to test for hot wires in the lamp wiring?

Use a multimeter to test the wires for the hot connection. 

Below are the steps:

  • Switch your multimeter to a high-voltage setting. 
  • Connect the lamp’s wire probes to the wires and check the readings. 
  • The hot wire will provide a higher reading, whereas the neutral wire will have a reading close to zero. 
  • Reverse the probes to confirm the reading and reach a conclusion. 
  • If you have a 0-volt reading, you have a power outage. Let the power return, or reset your breaker to test the wires.

You can also use non-contact voltage testers to test for the hot connection. 

Once the testers touch the tip of the hot wire, it will generate a sound. 

These testers are the best options as you do not have to touch and connect the wire to any probe. 

Safety precautions when working with the lamp wiring 

Wiring a lamp can be tricky for a beginner. 

So, you must follow a few precautionary steps for safe and secure lamp wiring:

  • Avoid dropping the lamp over hard surfaces or handle it with force. 
  • Avoid touching the wires or the bulbs with bare hands. 
  • Before any wiring works, turn off the circuit breaker at the main panel. If needed, turn off the main panel too. 
  • Before you start working, let your lamp bulb cool down for some time. 
  • No part of the lamp fixture or electric cord should touch the bulb. Heated fixtures or cords can start a fire. 
  • Double-check the rating of the lamp bulb and the socket base design. 
  • While replacing the bulb, ensure it is properly positioned in the socket and snapped firmly. 
  • Connect the wires in the right terminals. The gold is for the hot wires, and the silver is for the neutral wires. 
  • Connect the wires tightly and double-check for safety. 
  • Use a voltage tester or multimeter to confirm no power in the wires while wiring. 

Common mistakes when identifying the hot wires in the lamp wiring 

While you try to identify the hot wire in your lamp, you may make a few common mistakes as a beginner. 

Using the ways explained previously in the article is the right way to identify the wires. 

Below are some common mistakes that I made as a beginner while trying to wire a lamp for my study room for the first time:

Keeping the breaker on 

Not turning the power off is a major mistake people make. 

You must always turn off the circuit breaker at the main panel and then test or attempt work related to wiring. 

Confirming the wire connection from the color codes

We know that black or red wires are the only hot wires, which is wrong. Always color codes do not confirm the wire connection. 

I made a mistake here once and ended up with a short circuit in the lamp due to the reversed connection.

The black wires can also be the neutral wires, and the white or blue wires can also be the hot wires. 

The manufacturer decides which color wire he wants for a hot or a neutral connection. Do not just confirm the wire to be hot only by color.

Not using a tester or multimeter.

You do not use a voltage tester or a multimeter because you assume a wire to be hot by its color. 

Colors do not always define the connection line. 

The black wire may be a neutral connection, or a blue or white wire can be a hotline connection. 

No matter the wires’ color, you should confirm it using a multimeter or a voltage tester. 

After facing the short circuit, I consulted an electrical engineer friend who suggested using a voltage tester or multimeter before wiring. 

It made things easier.

Identifying the wires wrong 

Sometimes, it is difficult and confusing to identify the hot wire from the lamp, especially if the wires are of the same color and there are no clear marks. 

As a result, a beginner can mistake the wrong wire for the hot wire and connect it to the wrong terminal. I once did that neutral wire. 

It happens when you do not have any tester or multimeter during an emergency. 

In such a circumstance, you should hire an electrician or contact a reputable DIY resource for advice.

Do not blindly assume any wire to be hot and start the wiring.

Wrong wire connections

Identify the terminals to connect the wires to the right terminal. 

Recognizing the terminals is equally important. 

For hot wire, you should use the gold terminal and silver for the neutral wire. 

Connecting wires in the wrong terminals can lead to short circuits and fire hazards.

Consult a licensed electrician or manufacturer’s manual for proper instructions.

Other components in the lamp wiring 

When wiring a lamp, you will have to come through different other components besides the wiring part:

  • The junction box allows you to connect the power source wiring with the light fixture’s internal wiring. The box will be attached to the fixture’s top.
  • The lamp holder or the socket is the receptacle where the lamp is screwed. 
  • Then comes the bulb that radiates light around your house. The lamp bulb is sold separately from the fixture. So, use lamps in wattage that are suitable for your fixture.
  • The reflector gives a reflective surface to spread the light throughout your room from the lamp. The parabolic reflectors make the light focus on one point. In contrast, the elliptical reflectors spread the light around your room evenly. 
  • The power source is the electrical outlet that supplies current to your lamp. 
  • The cord connects your lamp to the outlet. Based on the lamp’s wiring, the cord will have 2-3 wires. 
  • The plug is connected to the electrical outlet to provide power and light up the lamp.  
  • The switch allows your lamp to turn on or off and is present in the lamp base or on the cord. 
  • The wire connections are the connections between the lamp and other components, like the cord, the switch, the socket, and the bulb. The connections are made with the wire nuts and connectors to secure them in place. 

Choosing the right bulb for the lamp 

There are different bulb types available, like LED, CFL, incandescent, and halogen bulbs:

  • LED bulbs are energy-efficient and use less energy than other bulb types. 
  • Incandescent lights are cheaper, but they consume too much energy. 
  • CFL lights also consume less energy, but they contain a little bit of mercury which is unsafe. 
  • The halogen lights are brighter, but they heat up quickly.

Here are a few major factors to consider to choose the right bulb type for the lamp:

  • The fixture determines the fitting type. The common type is the Edison Screw type. 
  • The bulb you choose should provide your room with enough brightness. The brightness is measured by lumens. The higher the lumens, the more brightness your light gives you. 
  • Higher wattages mean the light will be brighter, but they will also consume more energy. So, choose a bulb that matches the lamp’s wattage and consumes average energy.
  • Color temperature is very important as it will affect the light appearance. Bulbs with a warm color temperature (2,700-3,000k) will give a soft, yellowish light. The cool color temperature (5,000-6,500k) provides bright and bluish light. Choose a bulb that suits your room.
  • The size and shape of the bulb should match your lamp’s socket. Otherwise, the light won’t fit the socket. 
  • If your lamp has a dimmer switch, you should choose a dimmable bulb for compatibility. All lights are not dimmable, so check the packaging before buying.

Troubleshooting lamp wiring issues 

Lamp wiring can lead to several issues, especially if you are a beginner. 

But do not worry. We have shared a few troubleshooting steps in this section that can help solve the problems. 

If your lamp is flickering, not lighting up, having wire issues, or short circuits after you have wired it, try the following troubleshooting steps:

  • Check the wire connections. The hot wire should be connected to the gold terminal and the neutral to the silver terminal. Wrong connections will create a short circuit and start a fire. 
  • If the connections feel loose, tighten them properly. 
  • Identify the wires properly before connecting them to the terminal. If there are two black wires, one should be neutral with a rough texture. 
  • Check the bulb to see if it is properly screwed into the socket. If you feel it loose, tighten it up and test the lamp. 
  • Check the cord once to see if it is damaged or frayed, and replace it immediately. 
  • If the light is not lighting up, check the cord. It must be properly plugged inside the outlet. 
  • If the light is still having issues, check the outlet. Plug another device to check the outlet’s condition. If the device does not start, the problem is in the outlet, requiring an electrician’s attention. If it does, then your lamp is the issue. 
  • If everything above is fine, check the switch once. If the switch is damaged, you must call an electrician to replace it. 

If you still fail to identify the issue, call an electrician to find and troubleshoot the problem.

Tips for proper lamp wiring maintenance 

Once you have wired your lamp, maintain it properly to avoid accidents and frequent replacements.

Below are some tips:

  • Maintain a routine check for the lamp and all its components. It will let you know if any damages or frayed and cracked wires are present.
  • Avoid moisture from the lamp and its cord and plugs. That can cause short circuits and other electrical accidents. 
  • Always use branded and certified products. It will ensure safety, security, and a longer lifespan.
  • Avoid overloading your circuit with too many heavy appliances. Otherwise, you will face several trips.
  • Check and replace the damaged and frayed wires immediately after you notice them. 
  • Touch the outlet while turning on the light. If it feels warm, then something is wrong. Immediately check and troubleshoot the problem to remain safe.
  • Keep your lamp unplugged when you do not need it. 
  • If you are in doubt, always consult an electrician for repairs and replacements.

Final thoughts 

Generally, the hot wire in the lamp is always black or red. But it depends on the manufacturer which wire he is selecting for the hot connection. Rarely the white wires are the hot wires. Identifying the hot wire becomes challenging if you have the same wire colors. 

In that case, feel the wire texture or use a voltage tester or multimeter. The hot wire’s texture should be plain and smooth, whereas a neutral’s is rough. Besides, it is always connected to the lamp’s metal base. Touching the wire can be risky, even if you turn off the circuit. So, use a voltage tester or a multimeter. 

The hot wire will always have a high reading, but the neutral should have a reading near zero. If you still need help, contact an electrician. Since hot wires always carry current, you must turn off the circuit at the main breaker and then approach for the identification processes. 

How do I identify the neutral wires?

Neutral wires are generally white, but sometimes, they come in black. In that case, you can either feel the texture for the identification or use a voltage tester or multimeter for confirmation.

What safety hazard must I be aware of while working with a lamp?

You must check that the wires or cords are not frayed or damaged. If that happens, there can be a serious shock hazard. So, turn off the breaker before starting to work. Also, let the bulbs cool down after you turn them off to avoid burns.

Reference: Electrical Wiring Wikipedia

Sharing is caring!

Arthur Smith

Howdy! I am Arthur Smith, an electrical engineer who is extremely passionate about electronics. I have lived in different parts of the US and currently reside in Wisconsin. I am one of those rare children who knew what he wanted to study and do in life right from the start. I was a curious child who wanted to know how switches work and how the AC works, and I would always observe my dad whenever he would handle the wires and fix things around the house. I currently work as an electrical engineer at a reputed company and write for this blog. And I read loads of books or play video games in my free time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts