Backstab receptacles use a spring-metal gripper behind holes in the back of the receptacle to secure the hot and neutral wires when installing a receptacle. You just stab the stripped wire end into the hole and the connection is done. Because they eliminate the work of bending wire ends into a “U” with long-nose pliers and tightening them down under side screws, they were popular during the 1970s and 1980s.
But backstab receptacles developed a bad reputation with many electricians due to loosening of the spring tension over time, with a resulting short, as in the photo above of the melted back of a failed receptacle. Some electricians will now only use side screw connections and, because of the failures, Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) revised their standard for stab-in receptacles in 1996 to allow them to be used only with #14 copper wires, eliminating their approval for use with larger #12 copper wire. UL found that too much pressure was being exerted on the spring-metal gripper when the #12 wires, which are thicker and stiffer, were pushed into the outlet box.
Backstab receptacles should not be confused with a variant called “backwire” receptacles that require tightening a screw to secure the wire in the hole.
Also see our blog post What are "self-contained" electrical receptacle outlets and switches?
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To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:
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• My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?
• Is there an adapter that can be placed on a two-slot receptacle to make it safe?
• How do the new tamper-resistant electric outlets work?
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• How can I tell if the electric receptacle outlets are grounded?
• How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?
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Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.