How does a GFCI outlet work in a kitchen or bathroom? (ESSENTIAL Part of your Home!)

Electricity is a boon and a bane. On one hand, it is considered to be the most powerful invention of the twentieth century. On the other hand, unfortunately, thousands of people have lost lives or have been seriously injured due to the accidents caused by electricity. Luckily electricity networks have become safer over the years.

GFCI means a ground-fault circuit interrupter. It is a type of circuit breaker meant to shut off electric power when there is a problem with a device or the electrical outlet. It detects when electricity is ‘leaking’ or going in an unintended direction. The electricity shuts down to protect humans and devices when this happens.


GFCI outlets are often required in areas that have a lot of moisture. This includes kitchens, bathrooms, and washing rooms. Water and electricity don’t mix well and can lead to dangerous situations. In these rooms, we might have wet hands or there can be water leaks. To avoid damage, GFCI outlets are installed.

If you have installed a good quality GFCI outlet, then your family will generally be safe. If you don’t have GFCI units and there is a problem, the electricity might run through a person or break a device. It can lead to grave injuries or even death due to the high voltage electrical current.

Benefits of installing a GFCI outlet in a bathroom or kitchen

Every year across the globe and in the U.S, thousands of people die due to electrocution. Before GCFI units were invented and adopted by Americans, close to 1000 people died every year due to electrocution. Dr. Charles Dalziel noticed this issue and invented GCFI in 1965. In the 70s and 80s, Americans understood the importance of this safety equipment and started installing the same in their homes. Now the number of deaths by electrocution has reduced to about two hundred per year in the U.S.A.

The GFCI unit trips quickly and prevents accidents. If any faulty tool with incorrect grounding is plugged in, the GFCI unit will kick in. Often, hairdryers, coffee machines, toasters, etc. get faulty and send shocks to the user. If you invest money in installing a good quality GFCI unit in your home, you will safeguard your entire family.

In most cases, the person who plugged in the faulty appliance will receive a shock, however, since the GFCI unit will trip quickly, that shock will not do any potential damage.

  • GCFI units are capable of protecting against the most common form of electrical shock hazard, namely a fault in the earthing.
  • It also protects against fires and overheating of appliances. If there is an electrical surge, it trips and safeguards your home from catching fire. It will safeguard the appliance too as a sudden change in voltage often breaks the appliance beyond repair.

Often circuit breakers are used next to GFCI outlets in your kitchen or bathroom. A circuit breaker monitors the whole electrical circuit whereas GFCI outlets are typically only monitoring the outlet itself. Circuit breakers also protect against short circuits or excessive current. It is better to take enough precautions with electricity and this is why local electricity codes can be quite strict when it comes to installing these components. We have discussed how to install one Here.

How does GFCI work?

GFCIs are built into electrical systems and power cords, and they help in monitoring the current flow. The GFCI unit compares the amount of electricity flow going to and returning from a gadget or appliance along the circuit conductors. It checks if the hot and natural sides of the outlet have the same current. If the outgoing current differs from the incoming current by five milliamperes, the GFCI kicks in and interrupts the flow of current. It is done within a few nanoseconds before the electrical shock can impact the heartbeat of any individual.

When it trips, it sends the electricity through the grounding wire. A grounding wire (also known as an earthing system) connects parts of an electrical power system with the earth. The earth is a great way to send unwanted electric shocks away as it spreads and isn’t harmful. GFCI outlets send the electricity away from the outlet to the earth if they detect that there is a problem. This avoids electric shocks or broken appliances.

A sensor (sense coil) and electrical circuit compare the ongoing and outgoing current. When there is a leakage, a magnetic system is used to stop the electric flow. A nylon bracket flips the switch when there is a fault. This connects the hot wire and the ground wire and sends the electricity away. This is how the GFCI trips.

There is a latch to keep it in place once it has been flipped. This is why you have to push the reset button quite hard to restart it. This avoids that you from accidentally resetting the outlet when the problem is still present.

It is often possible to reset a GFCI outlet by clicking a button. You should first find the root cause of the problem before you do this! The outlet might keep tripping if the issue persists. It is better to be safe and find out what is going on before you reset a GFCI outlet as there is probably an issue with a device or the electric network itself.

The click that you would have heard from the GCFI unit kicking in might have been the sound of your life being saved. Home electrocution cases have decreased drastically ever since installing GCFI units became mandatory in the US.

Especially in humid areas where water particles are there in the air, often it impacts the earthing of an electrical circuit. If no GCFI is installed and the humidity is extremely high, you might even get shocks from regular home appliances. For example, if you touch the metallic part of a refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, or coffee machine, in a humid area, you might get mild shocks.

Yellow light on a GFCI outlet: what is going on?

A yellow light on a GFCI outlet indicates that it has tripped. The outlet will stop working.

This can mean that there is a problem with the electrical wires or infrastructure, the devices that is plugged in or the outlet itself.

Check if other outlets have tripped in your house as well. Also, check the circuit board and circuit breaker. It is possible that there is a problem there as well.

If everything is safe and there are no problems with the wires or other parts of your electrical installation, you can remove the device that was plugged in.

Reset the outlet by pushing the reset button and test it with another device. If the GFCI outlet shows the yellow light again, something is going wrong with your electrical installation. The outlet might also be broken or reached the end of its lifetime. It can be a good idea to call an electrician to get this repaired.

A yellow light on a GFCI can indicate serious problems, such as a broken outlet or electrical wires that are shortcircuiting. Make sure to check what is going on before you reset the GFCI outlet as the problem can reappear or it can result in dangerous situations (such as a fire).

You can use an electrical tester to check the situation further.

GFCI outlet has an orange or amber light: what does it mean?

An orange light on a GFCI outlet has different meanings. It can mean that the power is on or that the outlet has tripped. Check the manual of your GFCI outlet to see what your manufacturer means with the orange light on your GFCI outlet.

In some instances, an orange light indicates problems whereas in other cases it can show that the outlet is working properly. This can make it quite confusing, especially if there are outlets of different brands installed in the house.

Make sure to check your electrical installation if the orange light indicates that the outlet has tripped. A lot of people reset the GFCI outlet without checking what is going on. This can lead to dangerous situations. There is often a reason why the GFCI outlet has tripped.

GFCI outlets are often installed in moist and damp locations (such as bathrooms). These locations can be quite dangerous as electricity and water don’t go together. For this reason, you should make sure to get your electrical system checked if you get an orange light.

An electrician can help you with this as well.


We are always concerned about the safety of our respective families. Installing a good quality GFCI unit at home and ensuring that it covers all the electrical wiring in the house is extremely important.

It is a good idea to get your home inspected by a home inspector periodically. You can also test your GFCI outlets from time to time. This will ensure that the electrical units are working fine and that no replacements are needed. This step minimizes the chance of accidents. The timely detection of faults reduces the repair costs too.

If any electrical unit or plumbing section is left unattended for a long time, it might impact other parts too. Then the cost of getting the entire unit repaired or even replaced will be much higher. It will also be difficult or impossible to sell your house if you don’t have the required GFCI outlets. They cost more than standard outlets but can be worth it, especially in humid environments. We have outlined how you can install a GFCI outlet with 4 wires here.

There are other fault detecting systems, learn more about them below: