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5 Steps to Check if a Wire or Cable is Live


When dealing with electricity, it is always advisable to have the required insight into the equipment at hand, before going ahead with the task. Incomplete knowledge can prove to be very dangerous and is one of the significant reasons for casualties due to electrical shocks. Moreover, whether you are using a computer cord or a extension cord, you must know how to check if the wires are in the best condition or not. So learning the basics is critical while handling any electrical equipment.

Follow these five steps to check if a wire or cable is live.

Check if a Wire or Cable is Live

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• Take the Safety Measures

The first and most crucial step to follow while working with possibly live electrical wires is following the safety procedures. Doing so minimizes the risk of getting an electrical shock.

To begin with, wear the right attire before working with electrical cables. The ideal attire includes fire-resistant clothing, gloves, goggles, and headgear, such as a hat. The right clothes can keep you safe from harm, even in the case of any accidental exposure to electricity or an ensuing fire.

Moreover, before touching any electrical wire, always ensure that your body and all the surfaces you are in contact with are dry. Water is an excellent conductor of electricity and can cause violent electrical shocks.

Steps to Check if a Wire or Cable is Live

Image source: iStockPhoto

An important safety measure while dealing with a piece of electrical equipment is to switch off the power source and to ground the equipment to drain off any stray electrical current flowing within the wires. However, since, in this case, we need to determine whether a wire is live or not, we shall not switch off the power source or ground the electrical cables to be tested.

Lastly, it is essential to use tools that work efficiently and accurately.

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Get the Required Tools

The next step is to buy or find the right tools at home, that would be required to test whether the cable is live. Firstly, if the faceplate covers the electrical outlet, we might need a screwdriver to unscrew the faceplate and hence access the wires from the outlet underneath. Next, we would require an electrical screwdriver tester to check whether the electrical cable is live or not.

Required Tools for Check if a Wire or Cable is Live

Image source: Pixabay

Lastly, for the affirmative step, we would further require a couple of wires and a light bulb. The lightbulb circuit can be used as a home-made tester to ensure that the electrical tester gave us accurate results and is not faulty. Alternatively, an extension cord can also be used in place of a lightbulb for assembling the home-made tester.

Understand the Color-Coding

To identify a live wire, the understanding of the color-coding of the wires is imperative. Different countries may have different color coding of the electrical cables. According to American standards, the neutral wire is white or grey. The protective ground wire is green with a yellow stripe or just green in color. Finally, the power conducting wire is red or black for a single-phase power supply. In the case of a 3-phase power supply, the color of the three power conducting wires is usually black, red, and blue. These wires should be handled very carefully. Ensure that your body doesn’t come in contact with the cables at any point in time.

Understand the Color-Coding - Check if a Wire or Cable is Live

Image source: Pixabay

Even though it is most likely that a live wire turns out to be live, it is a good idea to test all the three wires in case there is a leakage of electric current from the live wire to the other cables.

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Test the Wire

Now, the wires need to be tested one at a time using the electrical tester. Begin with the red or black colored wire. Hold the tester firmly and ensure that the tip of the tester touches the end of the cable, which is not covered by the outer rubber layer. If the tester lights up, the wire is live. If the tester doesn’t light up, the cable is not live. Perform the same procedure for all the wires carefully to check for live wires.


There is always a possibility that the tester might be faulty and not light up even if the wire is live. Hence, as an affirmative step, we use the home-made lightbulb tester. Attach one end of the extra wire to the bulb and touch the other end to the tip of each outlet wire one by one. If the lightbulb glows, the cable is live, and if it doesn’t, the wire is not live. Alternatively, insert one end of the external wire inside the socket of the extension cord and the other end to the cable being tested. Upon doing so, if the indicator on the extension cord lights up, you would know that the wire is live.

This step is instrumental in maximizing safety and ensuring that the results achieved are accurate.

Thus, by following the five steps above, you can accurately and safely determine whether a wire is live and distinguish it from the ground and neutral wires.

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