How To Reset A Circuit Breaker Correctly

How To Reset A Circuit Breaker Correctly

How to reset a circuit breaker the right way

To some, this may seem trivial, but this little article could save you the price of a service call and the embarrassment of paying an electrician to simply reset a circuit breaker. My whole goal of this site is to help homeowners save money. You may be wondering if you have a bad breaker. I’ll tell you this, it’s less likely but take a look at this article on bad breakers for more information.

There are generally two types of circuit breakers. The vast majority of breakers are the type that flip side to side. These are most common. Some older homes have “Pushmatic” panels with circuit breakers that need to be pushed in and out to reset. You’ll want to have this type of panel replaced either way but I’ll explain how to reset a breaker in this type of panel as well.

My one bit of caution is that the cover of your electrical panel MUST be properly installed before attempting this. If the cover is missing, loose, or you see wires inside of the panel for whatever reason, stop and call a licensed electrician. See our Electrical Registry for a recommended licensed electrician in your area.

Before you begin, understand that everything I’m about to explain pertains ONLY to branch circuit breakers. Do NOT try to reset a main breaker from the 1970’s-1990’s, there is a good chance it will not reset and you will need an emergency panel change. The main breaker resides at the top or bottom of a typical electrical panel and is larger than the branch circuit breakers. Here is a picture of some examples of main breakers:

Examples of various main breakers commonly seen in residential electrical panels

Resetting A Flip Type Circuit Breaker:

  1. Push the handle of the breaker firmly toward the OFF position.

If the breaker tripped for any reason, it may be in the tripped (middle) position. See the above picture for reference. Sometimes it is hard to tell and makes life easier if you simply push it toward OFF just to make sure. Other times the breaker “internally” trips and the handle or indicator won’t be of any assistance.

Firmly push the breaker toward the off position (away from the center of the panel)
  1. Push the handle of the circuit breaker firmly toward the ON position. 

Once you push it ON, don’t attempt to hold it there, the may have tripped for a valid reason. If it holds, go and check to see if your circuit came back on and try to identify the source of overload and prevent it from happening in the future. Now, if power did not come back on read on to troubleshooting. If the breaker snaps back off immediately with a pop and a flash, it’s time to call an electrician to troubleshoot a direct short.

Firmly push the breaker handle toward the on position (center of panel)

Resetting a Pushmatic Circuit Breaker:

This might be one of those times to call an electrician that is familiar with these panels because this can end with needing an emergency panel change. To be clear, you definitely do need a panel change. It’s hard to give advice here but if you’re going to attempt to reset one of these, understand that you just may lose power to the whole house and will need a panel replacement.

  1. Identify the circuit that is out, these breakers have an indicator sequence that says ON or OFF next to the breaker (see picture). Sometimes it is hard to see, sometimes the indicator is out of sequence making it that much more fun.
  2. Push the breaker in to cycle it to the ON position. Again, this may not work and you will need to call an electrician.
  3. Call an electrician to replace the panel. While this can be initially pricey, you’ll only do it one time and it will save you a potential outage in the future and provide new space for future circuits. Pushmatic panels are getting old and when they fail it will leave you with no power. They are also hard to temporarily fix because you can not readily purchase new parts. Addressing this ahead of a failure will save you stress, I promise.


The Tripped Breaker Won’t Reset: If the breaker trips immediately and makes a popping noise (often accompanied by a visible flash), you can attempt to identify the problem and remove the shorting appliance (if that is the cause of the short).

In these scenarios, there is something creating a “dead short” resulting in a drastic overload which the breaker is picking up on and tripping. Sometimes the answers here are difficult to find like a break in a wire underground and sometimes it’s simple such as a faulty appliance plugged in to a receptacle. Unplug everything on the circuit that is not working, turn off all light switches and anything else protected by that circuit breaker and try to reset the breaker again. If it resets, you have something to work with, if not, well, now you need to call a licensed electrician.

The Breaker Reset but Still No Power: Here we have 4 common scenarios, likely requiring an electrician as an end result.

  • First is that you reset the wrong breaker. Don’t believe the markings on your electrical panel (if they exist). Go ahead an reset all branch circuit breakers
  • Second, the breaker didn’t actually reset, try to turn it off and back on again. Without an electrical meter and an electrician this can be hard to identify but try all of the breakers again.
  • Third, there may be a clean break in the circuit. If the breaker had been tripping previously and has been reset multiple times, it can lead to an eventual clean break in which case you’ll need an electrician to troubleshoot where the break is and make the necessary repair.
  • Fourth and much less likely is that the breaker may have gone bad. Everyone loves to assume this is the first and easiest scenario but unfortunately it just doesn’t happen this way too often.

But what if there are NO breakers tripped and you don’t have power at some parts of your house? First you’re going to want to reset every breaker, even the ones that appear on. Sometimes you’ll have a breaker that is internally tripped and simply doing a reset like we discussed above will fix that. If not, you will very likely need an electrician and have a situation in which there is some type of opening in the circuit, usually in a receptacle or a junction box, and usually what is called an open neutral. This part is beyond the scope of anything someone other than a seasoned electrician should delve into because it gets potentially dangerous.

Thanks for reading and as always feel free to contact us with any questions. Check our Electrical Registry for a recommended licensed electrician near you.

To reset a breaker correctly it must first be firmly pushed to the off position and then back toward the on position.

Most likely the breaker is internally tripped or there is a break in the conductor somewhere along the circuit

If the breaker immediately trips after being turned back on there is a short at some point along the circuit. It could be a damaged conductor or a faulty appliance or device plugged in or connected to the circuit.