In this quick guide, I’ll show you how to clean outlets and light switches quickly and safely. With this method, you can clean deep into the grooves of an outlet and remove all the nasty dirt and oil deposits that cause outlets to look dingy.
Summary: To clean electrical outlets, turn off power at the breaker, confirm power is off, and then gently scrub surfaces and grooves with this rubbing alcohol-based homemade cleaning solution.
Cleaning outlets and light switches probably don’t top your regular home cleaning routine, but the grime that builds up and light switches and outlets can subtly age your home and make it look grimy.
Flippers often switch out outlets and light switches in a house because when these fixtures look clean and fresh, they can make a big impression – especially in exposed, eye-level spaces like doorways, kitchen backsplashes, and near bathroom vanities. In this article, I’ll show you how I cleaned the gross outlets and grimy light switches in the Saint Louis cottage I purchased last year.
Winter brought a flurry of energy to my latest project: fixing up a cottage in St. Louis. With real renovations finally beginning – after a series of labor waitlists and material backorders – I took the opportunity to deep clean everything in the cottage’s kitchen that wouldn’t be replaced during the renovation. Electrical outlets and light switches, for the most part, were included on this list of things that were not replaced during the total kitchen redo, so they got a deep cleaning. The result was so satisfying that it belonged in a TikTok cleaning hack video!
Watch this Outlet Cleaning Hack as a Video
It’s easy to clean outlets and only takes a few steps. You can clean a house full of switches in under a half-hour if you choose to leave the cover plates on. While you should never attempt this while electricity to an outlet or light switch is on as long as the switches and outlets have no power supply, it’s safe and fast. Here’s how to get started:
Steps to Clean an Outlet:
Collect Cleaning Supplies
To clean outlets you’ll need the following supplies:
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- a screwdriver,
- a cleaning brush (like a nail brush, an old toothbrush, or OXO’s deep cleaning brushes),
- cotton swabs,
- rubbing alcohol (90%-99% is best),
- and a small dish to pour rubbing alcohol into.
Turn off power at the breaker
Before you begin cleaning, turn off the power to the outlet and light switches and check and double check with a voltage detector that no electrical current is live to the switch or outlet. In order to clean deep into grooves and crevices where dirt and oils collect, we need to be absolutely sure there’s no electrocution hazard which can only be done by turning off the power at your home’s breaker box.
Remove switch plate covers
To get a really deep clean into the grooves that surround a light switch and electrical outlet, you’ll want to remove the plate that covers the electrical box and gives the finished look to the outlet or switch.
This step can be skipped if the outlets you are cleaning are not visibly dirty (for very grimy switches and outlets, removing the plate is essential to making them look as clean as they were new). Make sure to collect loose screws in a cup, jar, or bag to prevent them from being lost.
Clean outlets with a small brush and rubbing alcohol
Dip the tips of your cleaning brush into rubbing alcohol and scrub the edges and grooves of the switch or outlet. Q-tip™-style cotton swab works perfectly for cleaning the larger opening where grounding prongs insert into an outlet and where dirt often collects.
Rubbing alcohol works great to break up the oils that transfer from our hands to light switches and form the grime that binds dirt and debris. A melamine cleaning sponge can quickly remove any grime on the wall around the outlet.
Allow outlets to dry completely
Using rubbing alcohol rather than water or cleaning solution means that outlets will dry quickly as the rubbing alcohol rapidly evaporates. If you’ve used 90% or higher pure rubbing alcohol, dry time should only be a few minutes. 70% alcohol (sold in most pharmacies) may take a few minutes longer. You can speed the process by blotting with paper towels or opening a window.
Replace plate covers
Once your outlets are clean and dry, it’s time to replace any switch plate covers that you removed before cleaning. Gently screw the screws back into place to secure the plates snugly over the electrical boxes.
Restore power at the breaker
Double-check that your outlets and switches are free from anything inserted or touching them and from any excess moisture, then restore power to the circuit via your home’s breaker box.
With clean light switches and outlets, you won’t have to be grossed out every time you switch on a light or plug in a hairdryer! It’s an easy rental upgrade and a no-cost home improvement for budget-strapped new homeowners.
Clean light switches function better, without the potential hazard of built-up dirt and debris causing a short. Cleaning electrical outlets is faster and easier than replacing them, and often has just the same visual impact: creating the look of a modern, clean, and comfortable home.
How to Clean Outlets & Light Switches
Time needed: 5 minutes
Gather cleaning supplies
Turn off the power at the breaker box
Remove the outlet plate and switch covers
Clean with rubbing alcohol
Let the alcohol evaporate fully
Restore power at the breaker
Estimated Cost: 1 USD
- Soft bristled brush
- Cotton swabs
- 90% rubbing alcohol
- Small dish for alcohol
- flathead screwdriver
Things to Know about cleaning Light Switches and Outlets:
Cleaning outlets is for grown-ups only!
This project is best done without the help of young kids. Children might see you inserting something into an electrical outlet and then believe that doing so is safe at other times! Instead, complete this cleaning project while cleaning solo. Even when power is off at the breaker, it’s a good idea to keep children away from electrical outlets and exposed electrical boxes.
Floor Outlets vs Wall Switches
This method for cleaning electrical outlets works equally well for outlets that are at floor level (or even in the floor) or those that are raised up, such as for kitchen backsplashes or bathroom vanities.
Outdoor outlets, which if not properly protected can get even dirtier much faster than indoor outlets, can also benefit from this cleaning treatment and may even work better after.
Cleaning Wall Light Switch Plates
While this article addresses cleaning the working parts of a light switch or electrical outlet, often light switches have dirty plates or even grimy walls nearby. In locations where people reach for the light switch while they have dirty hands- like a mudroom or garage, walls can get particularly grimy around a light switch.
This tutorial works great for cleaning light switches in these high traffic/dirty hand areas, and a Magic Eraser™ can make quick work of removing dirt and oil from wall paint nearby.
Work Smarter Not Harder: Motion Sensing Wall Switches
In dirty-hand zones like garages and mudrooms, be proactive by removing the reason people have to reach for the light switch by installing motion-sensing switches like this well reviewed one at Amazon.
To save yourself the labor of having to repeat this cleaning tutorial monthly, I highly recommend considering that this is a problem to permanently solve rather than perpetually clean.
Much like a normal light switch, a motion-sensing light switch can be manually operated, but a motion-sensing light switch has an additional feature: when configured properly, it will automatically come on when it senses movement.
While the affordability of LED lighting made motion sensing light switches less popular, they are still a great option for preventing those dirty hands from reaching for a light switch and grubbing up an entire wall in the process.
Replacing Light Switch Plates
In years past, there was one and one only variety of outlet covers – simple plastic covers that, for pennies, provided a simply white or ivory cover for electrical boxes. In fact, light switches haven’t changed much in 40 years (that’s why light switch upgrades can have such a dramatic impact in making a home look more modern). According to Wikipedia:
The dimensions, mechanical designs, and even the general appearance of light switches have changed slowly over time… Manufacturers introduce various new forms and styles, but for the most part decoration and fashion concerns are limited to the face-plates or wall-plates. Even the “modern” dimmer switch with knob is at least forty years old, and in even the newest construction the familiar toggle and rocker switch formats predominate.Wikipedia
Today, there’s a huge variety of plate covers available for outlets and light switches. If you are going to the trouble of removing, cleaning, and replacing all of your switch covers, you may want to consider the simple upgrade of designer switch covers. These wall plates can be purchased in designs to highlight your own your home’s own architecture, including modern styles, farmhouse, or traditional wainscoting. These inexpensive upgrades can make your home feel like a castle, and when it comes time to sell, designer outlet covers can help give buyers an impression of a luxury space.