How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The electric receptacle shown above was in a home where all the receptacles had been painted over several times. This one was the worst—with the bottom half of the outlet completely closed over with paint—but most of the others in the home were nearly as bad. 

    Here’s what we found when testing the receptacles:

  1. It was impossible to insert in a 3-prong plug into a few receptacles.
  2. Some receptacles would only accept the the 3-prong plug halfway and not make an electrical connection. Pieces of paint were pushed into the receptacle in the process of inserting the plug.
  3. Other receptacles would accept the 3-prong plug but had an unreliable connection, requiring jiggling the plug and holding it in one position to have the hot, neutral, and ground all connected at once.

    Here’s another example below, and it is also an older two-slot ungrounded receptacle.

    Any time there is a loose connection at a receptacle, there is the potential for arcing sparks that will start a house fire. Also, the National Electric Code (NEC) prohibits the painting of electrical equipment and, yes, a receptacle is electrical equipment. Here’s the citation from the code:

110.12(C) Integrity of Electrical Equipment and Connections. Internal parts of electrical equipment, including busbars, wiring terminals, insulators, and other surfaces, shall not be damaged or contaminated by foreign materials such as paint, plaster, cleaners, abrasives, or corrosive residues. There shall be no damaged parts that may adversely affect safe operation or mechanical strength of the equipment such as parts that are broken; bent; cut; or deteriorated by corrosion, chemical action, or overheating. 

    We have not yet seen paint contamination of the new tamper resistant receptacles. Theoretically, the shutters that cover the hot and neutral slots would keep paint out of two of these slots of the receptacle (not the ground slot), but it would also gunk-up the mechanism and make a safety device that is already difficult for some people to use even more so.

    So don’t do it. We call out paint contamination of receptacles as a defect in a home inspection report, along with most other home inspectors.

    Also, see our blog post Why is spray paint on the bus bars of an electric panel a safety defect?

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about ELECTRICAL WIRING:

Which house appliances need a dedicated electrical circuit?

Can a short circuit cause a high electric bill?

What is the maximum spacing requirement for securing NM-cable (nonmetallic-sheathed cable)?

Is it alright to just put wire nuts on the end of unused or abandoned NM-cable or wiring?

What causes copper wires to turn green or black in an electric panel?  

What are typical aluminum service entrance wire/cable sizes for the electrical service to a house?

Why is it unsafe to bond neutral and ground wiring at subpanels?

Should I get a lightning rod system to protect my house?

What is the color code for NM cable (Romex®) sheathing?

Why is undersize electric wiring in a house dangerous? 

What causes flickering or blinking lights in a house?

Why are old electrical components not always "grandfathered" as acceptable by home inspectors?

How can I find out the size of the electric service to a house?

Can old electrical wiring go bad inside a wall? 

What is an open electrical splice?

What are the most common electrical defects found in a home inspection? 

    Visit our ELECTRICAL and APPLIANCES pages for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

Water Heaters

Water Heater Age

"What Are The

Signs Of..."

Septic Tank Systems

Structure and Rooms

Plumbing Pipes

Termites, Wood Rot

& Pests



When It First

Became Code

"Should I Buy A..."

Park Model Homes


Shingle Roofs




Wind Mitigation

Roof and Attic

"Does A Home


Pool and Spa

"What Is The Difference Between..."




Concrete and

Concrete Block

Metal Roofs


Modular Homes

Rain Gutters

Mold, Lead & Other Contaminants


Older and

Historic Houses

Crawl Spaces

Mobile-Manufactured Homes

Building Permits

Life Expectancy

Clay Soil





Exterior Walls

& Structures


Common Problems

HUD-Code for

Mobile Homes

Garages and Carports

Flat (Low Slope) Roofs

Electrical Panels

Sprinkler Systems

Electrical Receptacle Outlets

4-Point Inspections

Hurricane Resistance

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Home Inspection

Heating and Air Conditioning

Building Codes

Fireplaces and Chimneys

Inspector Licensing

& Standards

Energy Efficiency

Washers and Dryers



Doors and Windows



Electrical Wiring

Click Below  

for Links

to Collections

of Blog Posts

by Subject

Plumbing Drains

and Traps


Smoke & CO Alarms

Aging in Place

Top 5 results given instantly.

Click on magnifying glass

for all search results.






Air Conditioner & Furnace Age/Size


Electrical Switches





Water Intrusion

Electrical - Old

and Obsolete


Foundation Certifications

Tiny Houses

About McGarry and Madsen



Buying a home in North/Central Florida? Check our price for a  team inspection by two FL-licensed contractors and inspectors. Over 8,500 inspections completed in 20+ years. In a hurry? We will get it done for you.

Moisture Problems

Crawl Spaces