Why Does My Top Outlet Work But Not The Bottom? (10 Problems+Fix)

Outlet failure is a very common problem. Each outlet has two connecting points, and both should work. But sometimes, one of the points will stop working due to some electrical faults. Today, we will discuss why the top outlet works but the bottom doesn’t.

If the top outlet works but not the bottom, then there might be possible problems like backstabbed wiring, wrong metal types, incorrect use of the wire nuts, broken tabs, or damage to the entire unit. To fix the issue, check the outlet wiring and replace the outlet if needed.

Repairing the outlet sometimes might not give you good results. So, you will have to replace it. This guide will analyze what is wrong in your outlet and how you can troubleshoot the problem. However, it is always best to consult an electrician.

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Why is my top outlet working but not the bottom?

Every outlet has two points, one at the top and another at the bottom. 

Due to some electrical problems, one of the two outlets will stop working. In both cases, the reasons are more or less the same. 

Below, I have shared some common reasons for the bottom outlet not working, whereas the top outlet is.

Duplex or half-hot outlets

Most Americans use duplex or half-hot outlets at their houses.

These outlets allow you to plug in two appliances at once. 

Duplex outlets have one plug that remains permanently on.

At the same time, the other half turns on and off by another ordinary wall switch. 

That is why your bottom outlets will sometimes not work if you have switched off the ordinary wall switch.

But, the top outlet will keep working. 

This outlet is seen in most modern houses and rooms with no overhead lights.

Backstabbed wiring

You can wire a standard plug or switch in two methods – a right method and a wrong method. 

The right method includes curling the wires around the screw and tightening it down. 

The wrong way includes backstabbing the wire by pushing inside the connector, where it grabs the wire. 

When you backstab the wire, it creates a loose connection that results in burnout. 

The top outlet might keep working while the bottom one will not work anymore.

The opposite can also happen. 

You can check this on your own, without a professional.

But you must hire a professional to fix it. 

To confirm the problem, open the outlet plate and remove the receptacle from the box to check the backstabbing.

Wrong use of wire nuts

A wire nut keeps the wires together and covered to prevent them from getting too twisted. 

Some electricians use these wire nuts to create a connection between the wires.

If the nuts are used incorrectly, one of your outlets, either top or bottom, stops working, while the other will still work. 

If the wire nuts are not used properly, and the bottom outlet has stopped working, call a professional to fix it.

Wrong metal types

Two types of wires are used for electrical purposes – aluminum and copper.

Copper is the most famous one as it is a better conductor of electricity, doesn’t break or overheat, and you can use smaller gauges.

Aluminum is not a very good conductor of electricity.

Besides, it gets heated up easily and contracts and expands, for which the electricity flow gets interrupted. 

Since the aluminum wires get overheated easily, wire burns in one outlet are high.

Different circuit

If the outlet’s bottom sockets are connected to a different circuit with some defect or tripped, your bottom outlet will not work. 

Check whether the circuit is in good condition or not.

If it has tripped for some reason, find and fix the issue, and reset the breaker.

Also read: 8 Reasons Your GFCI Outlet Keeps Tripping Without Load

Damaged outlet

If the bottom part of the outlet is not working, the outlet is starting to get damaged. 

Open the cover plate of the outlet to find out the defect inside the outlet. 

Sometimes, you will not find anything because the outlet gets damaged due to wear and tear.

It is normal, especially in the older outlets. 

In such cases, either the top or the bottom outlet will stop working. 

The only way to fix the problem is to replace the outlet with a new one. Call an electrician for it.

If one outlet is in good condition, don’t continue using the same old outlet.

The good one will also stop working after some time.

Burned out outlet

If the electrical current in your bottom outlet is very strong due to overloading, it will catch fire and burn. 

But if the top outlet is not having that much electricity flow, it will continue to work.

So, if the bottom outlet stops working but the top is still working, determine the amount of load you are giving.

Check the outlet for burns. 

Replace the outlet if needed because the top one might stop working anytime.

Ruined wall switch

Sometimes, the wall switch is either dead or broken, so either the top or the bottom outlet will not respond well. 

The outlets have a tab that allows one outlet to work and the other doesn’t work. 

Such a system allows you to have customized outlets and control over electricity travel.

If you try using the tab and the bottom outlet stops working, but the top still works, the tab might have gotten stuck or broken.

If this happens, call the electrician and replace the outlet.

Wrong wiring 

There is always some problem in the wiring for which the breakers and outlets face different issues. 

If the bottom outlet is not working, maybe the electrician made some mistake while installing the wiring.

It mostly happens during the first time installation. 

But, you need to check for the outlet if it happens suddenly. 

The wiring will remain fine unless there has been some power surge.

You can check this by opening the outlet. But, call an expert for fixation.

Damaged plug

If your bottom outlet is not working, plug anything into the outlet. 

You will understand whether the problem is in the outlet or the plug. 

Do not change the outlet unless you find the real cause.

Otherwise, you will waste time and money if the problem is in the plug.

How do I fix the bottom outlet not working?

When the bottom outlet stops working, you must fix the wiring or replace the outlet.

For this, you need an electrician because they do the job better than you. 

If you wish to troubleshoot some issues yourself, like checking the wire connections and all, below are the steps:

Turn off the power

First, you should turn off the breaker of the room where the bottom outlet is not working.

Unscrew the outlet’s cover plate and the outlet box from the wall. 

Keeping the power off will prevent the current flow and save you from electrocution.

To confirm the power is off, use a voltage tester.

Remove the wires

Once you have uncovered the faceplate and removed the outlet box, remove the wires. 

If the wires of the bottom outlet are in good condition, then the defect is in the outlets.

Cut off the exposed wires and replace them with newly exposed wires by exposing some insulation from the existing wires.

Put new wires back

Once you have removed some insulation and received newly exposed wires, put them back into the hole screw. 

Pull the wire to check that it has firmly returned to its place.

Screw back the outlet

Now, put the outlet box in its position, cover it, and screw back the outlet cover plate. 

You cannot do anything here if the problem is in the outlet. You need an electrician to replace it.

Switch the power back

Once you are done covering the outlet, go back to the circuit breaker box of the individual outlet and turn on the power back. 

Get a voltage tester and test the outlet voltage.

It must be around 120V.

Will a bad outlet disturb the other working outlets?

Yes, one bad outlet can disturb the functions of the other working outlets. 

There are 3-4 reasons behind it, and below are some of them:

  • Loose connections in one half of your outlet can damage the other half. Not only just that, but the loose connections can also give rise to several other problems, thus hurting the other outlets. It is better to replace the outlet.
  • A tripped GFCI can disturb the other outlets of your house. However, GFCIs trip themselves whenever they detect any upcoming issues. Find the problem before you replace the outlet. If the problem is not very serious and can be easily solved, reset your outlet. But, if resetting fails, hire a professional to find and fix the problem correctly.
  • A tripped circuit breaker can disturb many outlets as they are all connected to the breaker. If the problem is not very serious, reset and switch on the power to get back all the outlets. 

Why does an outlet stop working?

Sometimes, the whole outlet will stop working. 

If you have ever faced a situation where the whole outlet has tripped off, here are some reasons to help you overcome the situation.

Burnt out outlets

A burnt-out outlet means the same as the name. 

The outlets might have carried too much electricity than the outlets can handle.

When the current gets too powerful for the outlet to handle, it will get ignited. 

As a result, the wires inside the outlet will burn and leave marks on the outlet.

Whenever this happens, your outlet will immediately trip and stop working. Even resetting won’t work. 

If you suspect such a problem, open the outlet to check it.

Call a professional to fix it.

Loose wire connections

If the wires connecting your outlet are loose, the outlet will not work.

A loose connection doesn’t allow the power to reach the outlet. 

A loose connection causes the outlet to stop working properly.

To detect the problem, open the outlet box, find the loose connections, and tighten them. 

If you can’t do it on your own, call an expert.

Tripped GFCI outlet

GFCI outlets trip whenever they detect any problem.

It is their way of protecting you and the outlet. 

If your outlet tripped, it might have sensed issues like a loose wire or moisture accumulation.

Find the problem, fix it, and reset the breaker. 

If you don’t know about using the test and reset buttons, unplug any plugged-in devices and press the reset button in the outlet.

Breaker tripped

Circuit breakers control the power flowing through the entire house.

So, when a breaker is overloaded with too much current, it will flow. 

When a breaker trips, all the outlets will stop working, both top and bottom.

Even the power of a specific room will be gone. 

However, you can reset the breaker. But if it is repeatedly happening, you should call an expert.

Blown-up fuse

If your house is very old, you will have a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker.

If your fuse box gets overloaded, it will start melting and stop the current flow to a particular circuit.

If a fuse blows for that circuit, the outlets connected will stop working. 

Here, replace the fuse to bring the outlets back to power.

Faulty outlets

If none of the above reasons fit with “outlets not working, ” the outlet itself is faulty. 

The outlet is defective if it doesn’t work but has power.

There have been some manufacturing defects to which it doesn’t respond.

The condition is rare.

Dead outlet

Maybe the outlet is just dead because it is not working anymore. 

Outlets become old and will die due to constant wear and tear. 

However, you must take immediate action here because constant use of dead outlets can lead to overheating and fire hazards. 

Change the dead outlet as soon as possible.

Also read: Why Does My GFCI Outlet Have No Power?

Final thoughts

There could be several reasons behind one half of the outlet not working. 

If the top outlet is working, but the bottom is not, expect conditions like backstabbing, wrong use of the wire nuts, bottom outlet connected to a different circuit, damaged or burnt-out outlet, broken switch tab, etc. 

Sometimes, it could be normal if you use duplex or half-hot outlets where one switch remains hot, and the other can be switched on or off. 

Whatever the problem is, whether half the outlet has stopped working or the full, find out the real problem and call an electrician if needed.

Data Source: National Electrical CodeElectrical wiringHome wiring.

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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.

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