The modern power outlet has a long history dating back to the first lightbulb, but the model for the outlet we all know and use wasn’t invented until 1928 by Phillip F. Labre, per Illumin Magazine. While we may take the basic electrical feat for granted, it’s an incredibly useful advancement in human technology — as long as you properly maintain it.
At best, an unmaintained outlet will simply stop working, but at worst, it could cause an electrical fire in your home. There are many ways your outlet may go out, including easily avoidable issues like tripped circuit breakers or ground fault circuit interrupters, according to Speedy Electric & A/C. Other issues are more unpredictable, but just as troublesome, such as your socket randomly going dead or sparking out of seemingly nowhere. This is why it’s incredibly important to keep your power outlets clean, to both maintain them and not provide kindling in the unfortunate case of a surprise sparking outlet.
Cleaning the covers
Before cleaning your power outlet, make sure you’re taking the necessary safety precautions. As a general rule of thumb, remember that water and electricity together are a recipe for disaster, which is why Mr. Electric advises turning off all power sources before cleaning. If your outlet is connected to a switch, flip the switch off. Consider also turning off that outlet using your breaker box.
Once you have the power turned off, grab a screwdriver and remove the outlet’s cover plates (via Maid Sailors). These plates are in place to keep dirt and debris from getting stuck in the wiring, and as such, can get pretty dirty. If they’re not too dirty, you can simply spray them down with an all-purpose cleaning solution and let them dry before replacing them. If they need a little more attention, mix some warm water and soap and let them soak for a few minutes, wiping them down and letting them completely dry before reinstalling them.
Cleaning the outlet
While the outlet covers tend to be the dirtiest, you shouldn’t neglect the inside of the outlet. Dirt on the outside of an outlet looks bad, but it is incredibly dangerous on the inside. It’s quite simple to clean the inside, though, and can be done while you’re soaking or drying the covers.
Same with the covers, start by making sure all sources of power connected to the outlet are completely off. Per Hawk Hill, you’ll need a cleaning brush (a toothbrush should be fine), rubbing alcohol, and a small bowl. Begin by sweeping around and removing any visible dirt or debris out of the outlet, and especially from any wires.
Then, pour out a small amount of the rubbing alcohol and lightly dip your brush in it. Gently brush around the inside of the outlet, making sure to get into hidden nooks and crannies — a Q-tip can help with harder-to-reach areas. Let it dry completely before reinstalling the covers and restoring power.