clean outlets and light switches

How to Safely Clean Electrical Outlets and Light Switches

In Cleaning by Jamie

Have you ever noticed how dirty your light switches and electrical sockets can get? Light switches and outlet covers are some of the dirtiest places in our homes, given that they are touched multiple times a day but often overlooked, much like doorknobs and appliance handles. But how can you safely clean your electrical outlets and light switches? It is easier than you think.

To safely clean your outlets and light switches make sure that your home power is turned off at the circuit breaker. Next, unscrew all of your outlet and light switch faceplates, get a microfiber cloth and a mild cleaning solution, first soak for 15 minutes and then begin wiping away any dirt and grime buildup. 

While some light switches and outlets may be dirtier than others, this is the easiest way to clean these dirty areas of your home. But what cleaning solution is best, and what about stubborn stains or paint splatters? 

I have some advice on how to clean all of these things, including step-by-step instructions as well as an FAQ section should you have any other questions or concerns. Read on for my easy-to-follow instructions!

9 Step Process to Safely Clean Your Electrical Outlets and Light Switches

Looking for a helpful and easy-to-follow guide for how to clean your electrical outlets and light switches? Look no further! Here’s my step-by-step guide so that you can get cleaning!

  1. Turn off your home’s main electricity. This can be found wherever your main breaker panel is, which differs from house to house. Look for a flat panel that you can open with many switches inside. Hopefully, the breakers will be labeled, or you can simply turn them all off while you clean!
  2. Get a screwdriver and unscrew all of your outlet or light switch faceplates. These are the flat plates that cover the electrical inner workings of your light switch or outlet. This will feel time-consuming, but it will make your life easier, trust me! Also, make sure that your electricity is off before attempting this; the last thing you should do is stick a screwdriver anywhere near your electrical system if your electricity is still live!
  3. Fill a container or sink with a gentle dish soap and water cleaning solution. You can also use various commercial cleaning supplies to clean your outlets and light switches, and vinegar or other home remedies are also possible. Anything that advertises germ-killing properties is a good way to go. I have used Dawn dish soap and also Palmolive before, and it worked great on minor dirt areas. 
  4. Add your various faceplates and light switch covers to the soapy solution and leave them to soak. Depending on your chosen cleaning solution and how dirty these plastic pieces are, you may need to leave them soaking for up to 30 minutes. However, usually, a quick 15-minute soak does the trick! 
  5. While your faceplates are soaking, take a microfiber cloth with your cleaning solution and wipe down your light switches. I sometimes use an old toothbrush to really get into the cracks and crevices of my light switches; this is another time when it is important to leave your electricity off! I will also give the various screws a quick clean as well since they can also get dingy over time. 
  6. Remove your faceplates from their soak and wipe with the same microfiber cloth. If there are persistent stains, you may need to use a bit more elbow grease to get them clean. The toothbrush may come in handy, or perhaps a more efficient scrubbing tool. However, clean with care, just in case the paint or finish gets worn easily.
  7. Dry your faceplates and outlet covers, and make sure your light switches are dry too. You never want electricity and water to mix, including any liquid found in your various cleaning solutions! Let your outlet covers or light switches air dry, or feel free to wipe them with a microfiber cloth should you be on a tight schedule. 
  8. Screw your faceplates and light switch covers back into place. Again, this will be the most time-consuming process for you to complete, but you’re almost done! Make sure your home’s electricity is still off for this part, too.
  9. Turn your electricity back on. Test a few of your newly cleaned light switches, just to make sure you have turned everything back on correctly. Congratulations! You have successfully cleaned all of your light switches and outlet covers without electrocuting yourself!

Outlets and Light Switch Cleaning FAQs

Do you have further questions about cleaning your light switches and outlet covers, including some homemade cleaning solutions? Check out some of these frequently asked questions for even more helpful information!

Can I leave the power on when cleaning outlets and light switches?

I don’t recommend leaving your power on when cleaning electrical outlets, just to prevent electric shock. While it may seem silly to turn off your entire house’s electricity just to complete a simple cleaning task, the tradeoff simply isn’t worth it. 

Turning off your circuits and breakers is a quick and easy thing to do when the potential outcome is electrocuting yourself! Take the time to do this step, given that your overall safety depends on it.

How can I whiten old yellow-looking electrical outlets?

Both outlets and outlet covers can easily turn yellow with age, heat, and UV exposure. There are a few different solutions and options for you to explore should this be a problem that you are experiencing.

  • Clean your light switch with acetone or another heavy-duty cleaning product. This could help with caked-on debris and yellowing. Take care if you are cleaning an antique or vintage faceplate, as you could further damage the overall finish.
  • Simply replace your faceplates. These are usually inexpensive to purchase at any hardware store, and it will save you the time it takes to clean them. Or you could find any faceplate on Amazon, take a look yourself! If you have old yellow outlet covers, I think buying new ones is the best way to go!
  • Reach out to your light switch or faceplate manufacturer and see if they will replace your light switch or faceplate. Sometimes these items can yellow or age faster than homeowners expect, and many manufacturers or contractors will understand, and easily replace them! Free is always better, right?
  • Use paint on any section that you can’t simply replace. While I don’t always recommend painting over any yellowed sections of your light switch, sometimes there aren’t any other options. Make sure the paint dries fully before you turn your electricity back on, and clean any section that you plan on painting beforehand.

How can I remove paint from my electrical outlet?

You can remove paint from your electrical outlet or light switch easily. All you need is rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs or balls. Make sure your electricity is off before attempting this, of course!

Dampen a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol or another paint removing solution. Rub until the paint has been removed, and make sure it completely dries before you turn your electricity back on. A cotton swab is a perfect size for smaller light switches or hard-to-reach areas! 

It is also important to use rubbing alcohol, paint thinner, or acetone in a well-ventilated area. Maybe open a window or have your ceiling fan running should you be planning to remove paint from your light switches or outlets!

What are some of the best cleaning solutions for cleaning light switches?

Everyone has their own perfect cleaning solution, something that always meets your cleaning expectations. I recommend using a simple dish soap and water mixture, or any all-purpose cleaners that you may already have in your home.

I recommend having a cleaner that you can use to soak your faceplates in. Whether you dilute your favorite cleaning mixture with water or simply use dish soap and hot water, make sure that you have an option to soak!

Here are 3 cleaning solutions I recommend for outlets and switches:

While acetone or rubbing alcohol are great for cleaning paint or older stains, I don’t recommend using these to clean with regularly. Use harsh chemicals rarely, so that your plastic doesn’t get brittle before its time!

Do you have any home remedies for cleaning electrical outlets?

I love making home remedies, especially for cleaning supplies! There are many affordable and effective homemade cleaning options out there, including cleaning supplies that are safe for your electrical outlets. Try experimenting with the following supplies:

  • White vinegar is a wonderful all-purpose cleaner. While it doesn’t smell the best, you can add essential oils to it for a better smelling solution.
  • Baking soda is great for creating a cleaning paste, something to set on surfaces and clean over time. This can work for electrical outlets with caked-on grease.
  • Lemon juice smells great, and the acidity found in one of these fruits can do wonders when it comes to cleaning. Using it with vinegar can make a powerful cleaner for your light switches.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning your electrical outlets and light switches may seem like a daunting task at first. However, through this helpful guide and answers to some frequently asked questions, you should have all the information you need to successfully and efficiently clean these often overlooked pieces of your home!

About the Author

Jamie

Jamie is the Founder of My Home Dwelling. He is a homeowner and enjoys sharing his homeowner tips with others. He has real estate experience working as a new home construction Realtor. Jamie has worked on numerous residential construction sites helping with interior and exterior renovations. He loves refinishing furniture, DIY home projects, and sharing his knowledge online.