How to Replace a Single-Pole Light Switch

Single-pole light switch on a white wall

Replacing a standard, single-pole, wall light switch is an easy DIY project that only requires a few tools and a little know-how.

First, if you’re uncomfortable doing electrical work, contact an electrician to do the job.

In addition, take all the precautions mentioned in this article, and work at your own risk.

Now, here’s how to replace that light switch!

How Switches Work

Switches work by controlling the flow of electrical current in the hot wire, with power coming in through the wire attached to the bottom of the switch and going out to a light or other electrical device through the wire attached to the top.

Hot wires in a house are usually color-coded black or red, with neutral wires white, and ground wires bare or green; but under certain conditions, the hot wire to a switch may be white as well. If the hot wire is white, it should be wrapped with black electrical tape to indicate that it’s functioning as a hot wire.

Screwdrivers, stripping pliers, voltage tester, and electrical tape

Tools and Supplies Need

  • Screwdrivers: Both flat and Phillips head.
  • Voltage Tester: A simple, non-contact voltage tester.
  • Wire Strippers: A set of wire strippers.
  • Electrical Tape: Standard black electrical tape for wrapping wires.
  • Light Switch: A standard single-pole, single-throw wall switch. There are different styles to choose from, but the other differences are mostly in quality and weather-resistance. If you’re unsure which switch you need, take the old one with you to the store for help.

Turning off circuit breaker

Step 1: Turn Off Power at Circuit Breaker

Start by opening the circuit breaker panel and turning off the breaker that powers the switch. If the breakers aren’t labeled, turn on the light, and try breakers until the light goes off. If you’re unsure or the switch wasn’t working, turn off the main house breaker to shut down the entire panel. Test to be sure the power is off by flipping the light switch a few times.

 Removing Switch Cover Plate

Step 2: Remove Switch Cover Plate

Use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the cover plate. If your cover plate is stuck to the wall with paint, lightly run a utility knife between the cover plate and wall to cut through the layer of paint.

Unscrewing existing switch

Step 3: Unscrew Existing Switch

Use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the switch to the electrical box, then gently pull the switch out to access the wires.


  1. It might have been a good idea to do a good lamp test first.This test is best accomplished by making sure the test lamp works in another socket. I might have noted that when the switch was removed from the wall the conductors were installed with the loop facing in the wrong direction, this might make clear the instruction to face the loop in what could be called a clock wise direction.
    thanks Joe vs

  2. Replacing a single pole switch should be fairly straight forward. SAFETY FIRST. Turn the power off at the electrical panel where the power originates. With the power off it is safe to remove the switch from the box that it is mounted in and to disconnect the wires from the switch. The national
    elec.code art. 200.7(c) requires the white to be hot only when in a cable and only for switching. Idealy connect white to top terminal black to bottom terminal bare ground to green screw on switch, reinstall switch, restore power and test by turning switch on. The switch should be up when it is turned on also you will read on and off as opposed to no and ffo on the switch. Wrap wire on terminals in a clockwise direction. WORK SAFE.

  3. Hi, I submitted an explanation for replacing a single pole switch with a black white and bare ground wire, if there are additional wires in this same box additional information would be required to provide a more detailed response. Happy to help if I can. Joe

  4. Hi, I am changing a wall switch that controls 2 balusters flourescent lights in the garage. I sued a single pole decorator off/on switch. One red wire on left and 2 black wires on right on original switch. . The screw on the left on the decorator switch is a ground and the original switch had the red on the ground screw also. Followed the same and not turning on. I did notice the switch originally was backwards meaning down for on and up for off. What am I doing wrong please?

  5. Scratch that question…Found another wall switch behind a cabinet in the garage I did not know about so will go with a double pole switch and sure it will work now. Thanks anyway.


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