How to Reset a Circuit Breaker

By: Talon Homer  | 
circuit breaker
Resetting a circuit breaker is a simple process, as long as you follow some basic safety guidelines. Andy Cross/Getty Images

Most homes use circuit breakers that turn off power to a room whenever an electric overload or short circuit occurs. For the uninitiated, the circuit breaker conveniently cuts power only to the problem circuit without turning off everything in the house. If you're wondering how to reset a breaker, you've come to the right place.

Not only will we explain how to reset a breaker in this article, but we'll also discuss how to deal with circuit breaker trips and an overloaded circuit. Better yet, we'll make sure you take proper safety precautions, so you can do it more than once!


Types of Circuit Breakers

Before we dive into a step-by-step how-to process, we should probably identify the different types of circuit breakers. Each type is designed to serve specific functions and safety needs.

Standard Circuit Breaker

The most common type is the standard circuit breaker, which safeguards against overloads and short circuits by automatically cutting off the electrical flow when excessive current is detected.


Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

GFCIs are another vital type, predominantly used in areas prone to moisture, like bathrooms and kitchens. These breakers are designed to protect against electric shock by shutting off the circuit when a difference is detected between the incoming and outgoing current, indicating a potential leakage to the ground.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters

AFCIs are designed to prevent electrical fires by detecting and interrupting arcing faults, an unintentional electrical discharge that can occur in damaged or deteriorated wires and connections. For higher capacity needs, such as in commercial settings or industrial machinery, there are double-pole breakers that control circuits with higher amperage.

Finally, there are specialized types like the high-voltage circuit breakers used in power grids and thermal magnetic circuit breakers, but these types are mostly reserved for industrial settings.


How to Reset a Breaker

Now that we've identified the circuit breaker, we can safely reset it. Important: To prevent shock, wear safety glasses, make sure your hands are dry, stand to the side, and stand on a dry surface when resetting a circuit breaker.

  • Turn off all the lights and unplug everything in the affected room or rooms.
  • Be sure that the breaker box, surrounding area and floor below are completely dry before interacting with the components.
  • Take a flashlight and open the circuit breaker panel so you can see the circuit breakers. Each breaker switch has three positions: on, off, and a center position.
  • Look for the circuit breaker with the switch in the center position.
  • Flip the switch to off position, and then flip it to the on position.
  • Wait a moment to see if the breaker stays in the on position. If it does, the circuit breaker is reset and should restore power. If the switch doesn't stay in the on position, it indicates a serious wiring problem. Contact a qualified electrician.


Finding the Cause of a Short Circuit

Assuming the power stays on, it's time to find the cause of the problem. The two most common causes are a shorted device or too many things running at once, overloading the circuit.

Here's how to find the problem:


  • Check for a short by turning on each light. If the breaker stays on, carefully plug in each device. If the circuit breaker trips when you plug something in, you found the source of the problem. Unplug the device and reset the breaker. You can verify a suspected short by examining the power cord for melted insulation. Also, check the plug and outlet for a burnt smell or charring.
  • Check for an overload by plugging everything in and turning everything on. If the breaker trips, either turn off some power guzzlers, like the air conditioner or heaters, or plug them into an outlet on a different circuit [source: Do It Yourself].

Why Has Your Breaker Tripped?

A tripped circuit breaker occurs when the electrical flow in a circuit is interrupted to prevent damage or fire hazards. This is a safety mechanism built into the electrical system of buildings. Circuit breakers trip for a variety of reasons, such as an overloaded circuit, a short circuit, ground faults, or environmental factors like moisture, dust, or even pests.

Aging or deteriorating wiring, which is less capable of handling the electrical load, is another potential cause. Antiquated electrical circuits and circuit breaker panels should also be assessed regularly. Recognizing these triggers is crucial for maintaining electrical safety and efficiency in any setting.


This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.