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In-Depth Analysis: Distinguishing Outlets from Receptacles in Electrical Systems

In-Depth Analysis: Distinguishing Outlets from Receptacles in Electrical Systems

Outlets can be crashed or damaged due to several reasons, a loose connection or a cracked body can cause an outlet to malfunction. When the situation gets serious, you might need to hire a professional to fix your problem and replace your outlet.

Depending on where you live and what terms you use, the professional might ask you some questions about the problem to make it clear whether the problem lies with the outlet of the receptacle. You must be thinking about the difference between these two.

Technically, an outlet and a receptacle aren’t the same things. Electricians might know the difference between them. However, they might get confused by these words and quiz you on what you mean when you hire a professional over the phone to fix your problem.

Therefore, it’s better if you know the difference between an outlet and a receptacle. So next time someone asks you what you mean, you’ll be able to explain the difference between these two words.

Difference Between an Outlet and a Receptacle

The best way to understand the difference between an outlet and a receptacle is to tackle it one at a time. Comparing both of these terms at the same time isn’t possible.

To get a clear understanding of these terms, it’s important that you understand their usage one by one. Then, compare these two with each other.

Once you understand the difference between these two terms and what are the functions of an outlet and a receptacle, you won’t be needing any help to distinguish between them.

An Outlet
An Outlet

Use of an Outlet and a Receptacle

First of all, the word outlet has been used more commonly than the word receptacle. People now generally use the word outlet interchangeably more than the receptacle.

In fact, some people assume that the definition of the word receptacle is different from the word outlet. They believe that a receptacle doesn’t mean something similar to an outlet.


There’s one more term that’s commonly used as well, which is a “plug.” Though all of these terms are used interchangeably, each one has its own specific meaning.


The definition of the word might give you a clear idea and help you in understanding better what’s an outlet.

The National Electrical Code (NEC) defines an outlet as a point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply and appliances and equipment are connected to it. This generally includes a receptacle, but a fan, a light bulb, and other appliances could also be connected to it.

Meriam-Webster defines “outlet” as an opening or vent out of which something flows. This example is more of a general definition since it gives a bigger picture of what an outlet does in a comprehensible way for most people. That said, it’s a vent out of which the current flows.

Receptacle and Receptacle Outlet

A receptacle is a contact device that is installed at the outlet for the linkage of an extension plug. Basically, a receptacle is a type of outlet. A receptacle outlet is an outlet on which multiple receptacles are installed.

Attachment Plug

An attachment plug is simply a plug, the more formal name is attachment plug by the NEC. It’s also defined as inserting into a receptacle, specifying a connection between the conductors of the already connected flexible cord and the conductors attached permanently to the receptacle.

After these definitions, you might be clear about different types of outlets. You’ll be able to use the correct term next time when talking to a professional.

Is an Outlet a Socket?

An outlet can also be called a socket, some people even call them plugs. However, not every socket is an outlet. For example, the opening into which a bulb enters is called a light socket, it can’t be called a light outlet.

Therefore, every socket isn’t an outlet. Although, an outlet can be a socket and a socket can be an outlet, in some cases you have to use different terms.

Types of Electrical Outlets & How They Work | Mr. Electric

Difference Between an Outlet and a Receptacle

A receptacle is a contact device installed at an outlet. A receptacle is used to hold the plug of any electronic appliances. Whereas, an outlet is a point that provides the current you need to operate equipment or machine.

There’s also the term “Receptacle Outlet.” This term refers to an outlet that has multiple receptacles. You might be confused between an outlet and a receptacle, the term receptacle outlet might have cleared your confusion.

To make it more simple, you can say that receptacle refers to the slots where the prongs of the plug enter, while outlet refers to the whole box. You can have more than one set of slots on the same outlet. This means you can have multiple receptacles on the same outlet.

Here’s a table that shows the type of outlet or receptacle, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) number, the correct wire size, wire colors, the size of breaker used to feed the outlet, and where the outlet is present throughout the shops or home.

TypeNEMA #Wire sizeWire colorsBreaker size / typeUse
15A 125V5-15R2c #14 AWGBlack (or red), white, green, or bare copper15A 1PConvenience outlets throughout the home
15/20A 125V 5-20R2c #12 AWGBlack (or red), white, green, or bare copper20A 1PKitchens, basement, bathroom, outdoors
30A 125/250V14-30R3c #10 AWGBlack, red, white, green, or bare copper30A 2PElectric clothes dryer outlet
50A 125/250V14-50R3c #8 AWGBlack, red, white, green, or bare copper40A 2PElectric range outlet
15A 250V6-15R2c #14 AWGBlack, red, green, or bare copper15A 2PLarge pressure washer
20A 250V 6-20R2c #12 AWGBlack, red, green, or bare copper20A 2PLarge air compressor
30A 250V 6-30R2c #10 AWGBlack, red, green, or bare copper30A 2PArc Welder
Outlets and Receptacle wire sizes
A Receptacle
A Receptacle


In the end, the comparison between them isn’t really important since these terms are used interchangeably. Some people use the word outlet, while others use the word receptacle.

It depends on your language and where are you from. In some countries, the word outlet is more common and in some countries, the receptacle is used more. Regardless of which word you use, your electricians will get what you mean.

The receptacle is basically a set of spaces into which a plug should be inserted. In common terms, it is also called a socket. Whereas, the outlet is the whole box which includes several receptacles.

All of the outlets or receptacles include a NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) number that must be directed to when deciding on the receptacle and it is necessary to avoid any sort of disturbance or confusion as to what’s needed.

Receptacles or outlets are essential for creating our home a comfiest or relaxed place to live. They permit us to enjoy the comforts and convenience that are provided by electrical devices and appliances.

Other Articles

A web story that differentiates an outlet and receptacle can be found here.

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