How to Check for Electrical Current

by Contributing Writer; Updated September 26, 2017
Electrical socket hanging

Checking for electrical current is a must-know for anyone who does home improvement. Knowing whether or not current is running through your outlets will help you safely do any electrical work, as well as non-electrical work in close proximity to an electrical circuit. Thankfully, this test is very simple and very quick.

Step 1

Choose a voltage tester for your needs. Two popular types of testers are the simple pen-style voltage tester and the dual prong tester with a voltage gauge, both of which have metal probes. Both will tell you whether there is an electrical current at a given outlet. However, only the second will help you test how many volts are passing through. For outlets, light fixtures, and circuit breakers, a non-contact voltage tester can be used.

Step 2

Inspect the tester if you have not used it in a while. Ensure that the batteries, if required, are fresh. Also make sure the silver tips, which you will use as probes, are clean and corrosion free. These steps will help ensure that you do not get a false reading.

Step 3

If you are testing an outlet, insert the prong end of a pen tester into one of the vertical slots on the socket. If you use a two prong tester, place one in each of the vertical slots. If you are testing a wire, touch one probe to the incoming wire and one probe to the outgoing wire. Make sure you are only touching the safe, rubber-coated ends of these and not the metallic prongs. Non-contact voltage testers, which detect the magnetic field around live wires, do not need to touch the wires, but only need to be held near them.

Step 4

Monitor the tester. A pen style tester will beep or flash, depending on the model, when an electrical current has been detected. With a more sophisticated needle-based voltage gauge, there may be lights and noise but voltage will certainly be represented when the needle moves.

Step 5

Double check that your tester works properly if you do not initially find a current. Test the voltage on an outlet you are positive has a current. If your tester works, then you can be sure the other is dead.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images