Saturday, April 27, 2013

What is a circuit breaker? How do I maintain and clean one? Do I need to replace it?

First off, what is a circuit breaker?

We can check Wikipedia for more information:

Short Version: Circuit breakers are responsible for regulating amps that flow within an electric system. The circuit breaker trips in case there is some kind of power surge. This ensures that the surge doesn't melt and destroy electrical wires which may also result in a possible fire. Like any other component or part, circuit breakers need to be maintained and cleaned for optimal performance. In general every circuit breaker varies in design but ultimately you can still apply these cleaning techniques.

1. Dirty Circuit Breakers

The problem with a dirty circuit breaker is the risk of power fluctuations, outage, electrical spikes or power fluctuations which can increase electric costs. There's also the risk of blowing a fuse, unexplained drop in current or electrical fire. Before cleaning a circuit breaker you should take a few precautions when opening the electric panel since the wires contain a large flow of amps.

2. Play it Safe

You've got to make safety your first priority. You'll be standing on a grounding mat that you've placed in front of the circuit breaker. Stand on this mat the entire time! Make sure the grounding wrist band is wrapped securely around your wrist and ensure the power is off before starting to clean. I always work with a grounding mat before doing this type of work and you should too.

3. Panel Removal

In most cases you'll be dealing with four screws which you'll carefully place on the side. Make sure to remember where these screws are. Don't be afraid to work the circuit breaker slightly in order to loosen it up. Never use the screwdriver to take the panel off. Once the panel is off set it aside some place out of the way.

4. Cleaning the Circuit Breaker

You should be able to see all the parts inside the panel box. Note the wires leading to the switches and beneath the contacts. See any dirt? Use a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol to rub over the dirty areas. Look at the wires one by one and where they connect to. Do you see any discoloration or greening? Clean one wire at a time by unscrewing the contact and cleaning it with isopropyl alcohol, now replace it where it was.

NOTE: The tarnish might still be there as a result of oxidation which is normal.

Work one wire at a time by unscrewing the contact and cleaning it with the isopropyl alcohol, then replacing it where it was. Continue doing this until the dirt on the end of the wires is cleaned off.

5. Actual Circuit Breaker

WARNING: Never touch the electric wiring until you're 100% sure that there is no electricity running through it.

If applicable check for a test position on the circuit breaker. Make sure it's switched to test mode. Ensure that you're properly grounded with the grounding mat and that there is no power running through the system. Double check and triple check again. Before removing the breaker take a minute to remember how it's been placed and fitted. Now go ahead and remove the breaker from it's container. Use a clean towel or cloth and start wiping away the gunk from the breaker, any contacts, bushings and switch. Once it's clean switch the circuit breaker from test mode back into it's original setting.

I like to wait until the circuit breaker is completely dry from the damp cloth (used with isopropyl alcohol) I used before putting it back in so I wait about thirty to forty minutes before putting the breaker back in.

6. Does your circuit breaker need replacing?

If the circuit breaker is old and dirty and you suspect something doesn't look right, it may need replacing especially if it's tripping intermittently. If this is the case you can get a replacement at . Email them a photo of the breaker if need be. I like using this company since they always match competitor prices and don't rush me over the phone. They're based in southern California and work on a national level in the USA but also ship to Canada.

However if your circuit breaker looks fine after cleaning and isn't tripping intermittently then you can safely put it back in its place.

7. Wrapping it up

Put the cover back on and make sure to use all the screws you removed originally before you turn the power back on. Check and double check your work.


  1. Thank you so much for this well informed blog coz it reminds me the blog of meter base replace TX, please keep on writing.

  2. Hi Craig,

    This was a good read. I recently read another article somewhere. Believe it or not, air circuit breaker problems are the cause of almost 20% of electrical power system failures, according to a survey conducted by the Hartford Insurance Company.

    General Electric Circuit Breakers