How to Adjust Your Electrical Wall Plates

A wall plate.
  • 1 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-20
What You'll Need
Wall plate
Screwdriver (Philips head)
What You'll Need
Wall plate
Screwdriver (Philips head)

An electrical wall plate is another name for a switch plate or cover plate. It is an item that will cover an electrical outlet or switch, as well as the electrical wiring, and providing an attractive and functional face. Electrical wall plates come in various sizes, shapes, colors, and materials. They need to be large enough to conceal what is behind them and they need to be specific for the job.

For instance, in covering a two outlet receptacles, they need to have openings to fit the two outlets snugly, not allowing space in between. They also need to have a portion that extends over the wall. This varies per installation, but there are standard sizes that should accommodate any installation. They are all usually geared to be larger than a junction box or electrical switch mechanism. The plate is held in place by a single or a series of screws. Sometimes these plates will shift of break. Below are simple instructions for how to adjust your electrical wall plates.

Fix a Crooked Plate

Sometimes the plate will appear crooked. This is caused by the installation of the outlet or switch mechanism in the wall. Since the plate fits tightly to the unit, wherever this unit is positioned, the plate follows. If the switch is not level, your plate will not be level. It is not possible to simply pivot the plate.

This would be a complicated fix requiring removal of the outlet or switch, changing the angle of the hole and making it level by cutting the wallboard, and then the reinstallation of the outlet or switch. Always be sure to turn off your power at the main junction box before doing any electrical work. You may just want to live with a crooked plate, or you can buy a new plate which is more free-form and doesn’t show the tilt as much.

Fix a Cracked, Chipped, or Broken Plate

You have one option here: buy a new plate and replace it.

Fix Loose Fitting Wall Plate

If your wall plate does not fit snugly against your wall there may be a few underlying factors causing this. First, check to see that the screw that is attaching it is snug. It may be as simple as taking a screwdriver (typically flat head) and turning the screw a few revolutions to the right. Do not turn too tightly or you risk cracking the plate or causing a plastic plate to bow and be unattractive. This will tighten the plate against the wall.

If your screw appears tight, check that you are using the correct screw. The screw head should be nearly flush with the plate and the top of the screw should be slightly rounded in appearance. When running your finger along the screw head, only the rounded part will be above the height of the plate. It should just feel like a small bump.

If you have a flathead screw, the screw protrudes but is snug, or if it is a Phillips head screw, it is highly likely that you have the wrong screw in place. You can purchase replacement screws at any home improvement store. They usually have a painted head to match the color of the plate. Simply remove the incorrect screw and replace it with the correct one. Again, tighten snugly, but do not over tighten.