How to Remove a Circuit Breaker Safely

Removing a circuit breaker safely is an important process that requires care and caution. Circuit breakers control and regulate electricity in your home, protecting wiring and devices. When removing a circuit breaker, it’s essential to take steps that prevent electrical hazards, fires, and injury. With proper precautions, you can remove a circuit breaker yourself.

Turn Off Power at the Main Circuit Breaker

The first and most critical step is to turn off power to the circuit breaker you want to remove. Locate your main circuit breaker panel. It is usually found in the basement, garage, or a closet. The main breaker is the largest switch that controls power to the entire electrical system.

  1. Set the main breaker switch to the “Off” position. This disconnects electricity to all circuits.
  2. To be safe, turn off all individual breakers as well.
  3. Use a contact voltage tester to double-check power is off. Test outlets downstream from the main breaker to confirm.

With the main breaker off, you can now work safely on an individual circuit breaker. Never remove a hot circuit breaker with the power on. Working on live electrical parts can lead to fatal electrocution.

Remove the Cover Plate

The next step is accessing the interior of the breaker panel.

  1. Locate the cover plate screws, usually in the top and bottom corners.
  2. Carefully unscrew them using a screwdriver. Place the screws aside in a secure place.
  3. Gently take off the cover plate and set it aside.

With the cover off, you now have access to the breakers. However, avoid touching any interior parts with your hands, tools or body. Touching live parts, even with power off, is extremely dangerous.

Locate and Remove the Individual Breaker

Now you can remove the specific breaker for the circuit you want disconnected.

  1. Locate the breaker controlling the circuit you intend to remove. The breaker should be labeled clearly to indicate which room or outlet area it powers.
  2. Double check the label to make sure you have identified the correct breaker.
  3. With the breaker off, use a circuit tester to confirm the circuit is de-energized. Test an outlet fed by the breaker.
  4. Once you’ve verified the dead circuit, locate the removable wire connectors. Most breakers plug into connectors at the rear of the panel.
  5. Carefully detach the circuit wire connectors from the breaker. Grip and pull firmly on the connector itself – not the wires.
  6. With wires detached, you can now grasp the body of the breaker. Rotate it gently 90 degrees until it aligns vertically with the slot opening.
  7. Pull the breaker evenly out of its position space within the panel. Place it aside safely.

With the individual breaker removed, the circuit is now disconnected. However, use extreme care not to touch any interior parts of the live panel.

Replace the Cover Plate

Once the breaker is removed, replace the protective cover plate immediately. Never leave the panel interior exposed.

  1. Pick up the cover plate removed earlier. Align it evenly over the panel.
  2. Insert the cover screws in the corners back into their holes.
  3. Tighten down the cover plate screws securely using a screwdriver.

The cover plate protects against accidental contact with live parts, dusty buildup, moisture damage, and vermin infestation. Replace it as soon as the breaker is out.

Label the Empty Space

For safety, clearly label the vacant breaker space left by the removed circuit.

  1. Take a piece of electrical tape or a breaker blank space cover.
  2. Mark it with a label stating “Space Left Vacant” along with the date.

This covers the empty slot and indicates the missing breaker. It warns against accidentally inserting another active breaker in that space.

Dispose of the Old Breaker

Now that the circuit breaker is removed, dispose of it properly. Breakers contain harmful materials and electronics.

  1. Do not throw the breaker in the household trash bin. This can leak dangerous compounds into landfills.
  2. Contact your city or town for guidelines on hazardous waste disposal. Many communities have “electronic waste” days to collect old breakers and electrical devices.
  3. You can also bring the breaker to a waste management center or recycling plant. Call ahead to verify they accept breakers.
  4. Some home supply stores may also collect old breakers for recycling. Contact them regarding their policies first.

Safely disposing of the circuit breaker keeps harmful materials out of the environment. Never discard it casually with normal trash.

Restore the Main Power

The last step is to restore electricity to the rest of the home’s circuits.

  1. Go back to the main breaker panel and locate the large main switch.
  2. Carefully turn this master breaker back to the “On” position.
  3. Turn on any other individual breakers that were shut off initially.
  4. At outlets, test that power is restored around the home.

With that complete, you have successfully removed a circuit breaker. Take precautions at all times when handling circuit breakers and electrical work. Power should only be shut off briefly when necessary. Contact a licensed electrician if you have any doubts or concerns removing a breaker yourself.

Precautions When Removing a Circuit Breaker

When removing a circuit breaker, keep these critical safety precautions in mind:

  • Only perform the removal if you are completely comfortable doing so. Otherwise, hire a professional electrician.
  • Always turn off the main breaker first before removing any individual circuit breaker.
  • Use extreme care not to touch any live parts inside the breaker panel.
  • Never remove a breaker with wet hands, standing in water, or on a damp surface.
  • Do not allow your tools or body to contact any interior components with the cover off.
  • Replace the protective cover plate immediately once the breaker is disconnected.
  • Only grip the plastic breaker body when removing; never touch the wires or contacts.
  • Dispose of the old breaker properly rather than discarding in normal trash.
  • Take care not to confuse circuits when labeling the vacant breaker space.

Following these precautions carefully prevents electrical hazards and injuries.

FAQs About Removing a Circuit Breaker

Some common questions about safely removing circuit breakers include:

How do I know if I have the right breaker?

  • Confirm it’s the correct breaker by checking the labeling and testing the outlet circuit with a tester. The connected outlets should lose power once you flip off that specific breaker.

Can I remove a breaker with the power on?

  • Never attempt removal while the circuit and panel are still live. Always flip the main breaker first. Working on a live panel can cause fatal electrocution.

Do I need special tools to remove a breaker?

  • A basic screwdriver is all that is required. Use insulated tools and gloves for added safety. Avoid metallic jewelry when working inside the panel.

What if I can’t detach the wire connectors?

  • Connectors can become stuck from old age or corrosion. If you can’t detach the wires from the breaker terminals by hand, contact an electrician to safely free the connectors.

How do I dispose of an old breaker?

  • Do not throw breakers in the household trash. Contact your city or check for hazardous waste drop-off days to properly recycle old circuit breakers.

What should I do with the empty breaker slot?

  • Mark and cover the vacant space so that it is not accidentally used for a new active breaker. Indicate it as an empty slot.


Removing a circuit breaker is an essential process for homeowners needing to disconnect power or upgrade panels. It requires strict safety precautions to avoid electrical danger. Always turn off the main breaker, remove the cover carefully, verify you have the correct breaker, detach the connectors, pull it free, then immediately replace the cover. Proper disposal and marking the vacant space helps ensure safety. With the right care, you can safely remove a circuit breaker following basic precautions. Consider hiring a professional electrician if the procedure seems daunting. Take your time, be cautious, and put safety first during any electrical work.