How to Replace a Power Cord Plug
Time Required: Under 2 hours
Power cord plugs and power cords may wear out over the life of your appliances. Luckily, changing a wall plug is a fix you can make yourself. Repairing the plug on an electrical cord can assure your device works safely and successfully.
This guide will walk you through replacing a non-polarized two-prong plug. You’ll also learn to replace polarized plugs such as terminal screw plugs and three-prong plugs. Fabric cords with vintage plugs need special care.
Note: This information covers plugs and outlets in the United States. Worldwide, there are many different types of electrical outlets and plugs that aren’t included here.
You can figure out what type of plug you have by looking at the prongs and the screws on it. There are three major types of straight blade electrical plugs: self-connecting, terminal screw and three-prong.
Self-connecting plugs snap on easily and are seen on appliances like lamps.
- These standard two-prong plugs aren’t usually polarized.
- They're the easiest plugs to replace.
- The installation is straightforward even if you use a polarized self-connecting plug.
- If you don't see any screws on the plug, it's likely this type.
Terminal screw plugs have screws on the prongs.
- These plugs are usually polarized.
- They're more complicated to replace than non-polarized self-connecting plugs.
- If the face of the plug has screws between the plug tines or prongs, it’s a terminal screw plug.
Three-prong plugs are used for appliances that pull more power than minor ones do.
- Three-prong plugs are polarized.
- These plugs have a big prong, a smaller one and a rounded grounding prong.
- The round prong is for safety purposes, so never remove or change it to fit a different outlet.
Polarized plugs have one prong blade bigger than the other.
- They’re the type of plug that only fits into the outlet one way.
- Many modern appliances have polarized plugs.
Non-polarized plugs have two prong blades that are the same size.
- You won’t have to flip these plugs over to get them to fit the outlet.
- Many self-connecting plugs are non-polarized, but not all of them.
Polarized plugs show you which side is the hot side of the circuit and which is the neutral.
- The hot side, the narrow tine or blade, conducts the electricity.
- The neutral is the return wire, and the wide tine carries the current back to the electrical panel.
Polarized plugs are safer than non-polarized ones because of possible reversed polarity and an open circuit. If the hot and neutral on the plug don’t match the hot and neutral on the outlet, electricity could arc out. With modern cords, it’s less of a concern because of better wire insulation. However, with vintage appliances, it's good to be aware of this issue.
Antiques or vintage appliances often have a fabric-covered power cord. On these items, it’s likely best to replace the whole cord instead of just the plug. A cloth-covered wire may look beautiful, but proceed with caution. The insulation in old cloth wiring deteriorates over time. As the insulation breaks down, the fire hazard goes up.
Avoid replacing plugs on cloth vintage two-pin power cords for antique heaters or irons. These should be addressed by a professional, as they could contain asbestos. It may be in any fabric cord, but the odds are greater for heat-generating appliances.
Asbestos was used as an insulator in appliances made prior to the 1980s. Cutting into a cloth cord to remove the plug may release those fibers into the air.
If your cord is not cloth or fabric, examine it closely. Assess the damage to the plug and cord while the appliance is unplugged.
- If only the plug prongs are bent or snapped, start by replacing the plug.
- If the cord itself is frayed or has exposed wiring, you’ll need to replace the entire electrical cord. Replacing only the plug could leave you open to electrical shock.
Safety Tip: Do not cover wire damage with electrical tape and then fix the plug. This could create a fire hazard or potential for electrical shock.
Make sure the plug matches the voltage rating and amperage of the wire. The number should be printed on the old and new plugs, so just make sure they match. Don’t replace a three-prong plug with a two-prong plug or vice versa. If you’re replacing a polarized plug, make sure the new plug is polarized too.
Once you’ve determined that the plug is the only damaged area, it’s time to remove it:
If your plug is polarized, mark the side with the wider prong with tape on the cord. Using electrical scissors, wire cutters or a pair of sharp shears, cleanly cut the plug off the end of the power cord. You don’t need to slit the insulation or remove any material or wire right now.
If there are nicks in the cord close to the plug, trim those parts off as well. The cord should be smooth and undamaged all the way until the end where the plug goes. You’ll end up with a slightly shorter cord, but it’s best to be safe.
Open the new plug housing to fit it onto the cord. A Phillips-head screwdriver usually does the job, but you may need a flat-head one:
- Using a screwdriver, unscrew the plug cover or plug jacket. Depending on the replacement plug, the screws are near the prongs or on the side of the plastic plug cover.
- Set the screws aside so you don’t lose them.
- Pull and wiggle the plug open. You should have two parts.
Now it’s time to put the plug back together on the electrical cord. Thread the cut end of the cord through the plastic cover.
If you have a terminal screw plug or a three-prong plug, skip to Step 9.
If you have a self-connecting plug, follow these steps:
- Align either side of the cord with the side of wiring channel marked with a "W."
- Insert cord through the assembly clip and into the wiring channel up to the cord-stop ribs.
For a self-connecting plug, skip this step. If you have a terminal screw plug or a three-prong plug, read on.
For a terminal screw plug:
- Following the groove down the center of the cord, split the wires apart with your fingers or a utility knife.
- Pull the two sides apart to make a Y shape, so you have one side for each terminal.
- Using wire strippers, expose 1/4 inch of the wires. Strip off a little insulation from the ends of each side of your Y-shaped cord, as seen above.
- If possible, tie an underwriter’s knot with the neutral and hot wires of your cord. There may not be room to fit it inside the new plug, but if you can fit one, it helps prevent strain on the wires. If there’s a clamp for the wires inside the plug, that'll do the same thing as the knot.
- Twist the wire ends together, then bend a small hook into each side. You’ll have a Y-shape with bent wire ends.
- If your plug is polarized, make sure the big prong blade matches the side of the wire marked in Step 6. The bigger blade is neutral, and the smaller blade is hot.
- The wire with the ridge on the outside is the return or neutral white wire. It goes to a silver screw.
- The hot wire, which is black, is smooth and carries electrical current. It goes to the ground screw.
- Loosen one screw on the prong and hook the wire around it so the hook goes clockwise. Tighten the screw so the wires snugly wrap beneath it.
- Repeat with the other screw and wire hook.
- Gently guide the wires through the nearby notches so they won’t crimp.
For a three-prong plug:
- Follow the steps for the terminal screw plug, but work with three wires instead of two.
- The black wire, which is hot and carries the electricity, goes to the golden brass screw.
- The white wire is neutral and hooks around the silver screw.
- The green wire goes to the ground screw.
For a self-connecting plug, press down on the cord to seat it in the wiring channel. Sandwich the plastic pieces together around the cord and press until they snap into place.
For a terminal screw plug or a three-prong plug, slide the prong blades down so they snap into the plastic plug jacket. With the screws you set aside in Step 7, screw together the prong piece and the plastic jacket.
Check your work by plugging in the appliance. It should be functional again. If not, you may want to consult a professional to troubleshoot the issue. They may need to address hidden electrical problems in the appliance.
Once you know how to replace a power cord plug, you can extend the life of your electrical devices. Maintain your home just the way you like it by keeping your appliances running longer.
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