What do the Colored Wires in Outlet Indicate?

Image of electrical wires and more

What Do Colors of Electrical Wires Stand For?

You open up the circuit panel or the back of an appliance and you’re looking at a tangle of colored wires that don’t seem to be in any order. If you know what each color stands for, you can make sense of that seeming mess. Here’s how to know what you’re dealing with when looking at colored electrical wires.


Proceed With Caution

Before you open up that panel, slow down and remember to treat electricity with the respect that it deserves. Follow these safety pointers every time you attempt an electrical DIY job.

  • Always turn off the circuit breaker before you start any repairs.
  • Any wire, regardless of color or function, can carry current at any time.
  • If you have an older home with its original wiring, your wires might be under a different color code.
  • Always consult an electrician if you have any concerns about your ability to do an electrical repair.


Know the Color Codes

Use this handy guide to understand what each color represents when looking at your wiring.

1 – Red

Red wires are secondary wires in 220-volt systems. They are often used in switch legs and to connect smoke detectors to home systems, particularly to power the triggers that set all the detectors off at once. Red wires can be connected to each other. They can also connect to black wires.


2 – Green

Green wires ground the current. They connect the grounding terminal in an outlet box to the ground bus bar in the same box. Green wires carry current that has touched metal safely away from the box. If the ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) has tripped, the green wire could be holding live current. Green wires can only connect to each other.


3 – Blue and Yellow

Blue and yellow are usually live wires that are placed in conduits. They do not typically carry power directly to outlets. Yellow wires are usually switched legs for fans and light switches. Blue wires usually work as travelers for three-way and four-way switches.


4 – Violet and Brown

Like blue and yellow wires, these are generally used for three-way and four-way switching. They are also used to carry power to outlets in 220-volt applications. Always assume that they are live.


5 – White and Gray

These are neutral wires. They connect to the neutral bus bar in the electrical box. They also carry unused electricity back to the electrical supplier. Neutral wires can only connect to each other. Like all other wires, neutral wires might contain live current. Handle them with care.


6 – Black

Black wire always carries a current. It is the main wire that brings electricity to all outlets. Black wires are never neutral and should never be used for grounding.


7 – Bare Copper

Like green wire, bare copper wire is only used for grounding. Never connect any other wire to a copper or green wire. Some people make the mistake of connecting neutral wires to grounding wires. This is a costly and dangerous mistake.


Get the Help You Need

When you’re ready to tackle an electrical repair job, make sure you use every safety precaution. If you need help and you want to ensure the repair is done safely and correctly, call SESCOS for assistance.

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