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Socket vs Outlet: What’s the Difference!

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Sockets and outlets are two very common terms when you’re working with electrical stuff. People often use these terms interchangeably but they are different in technical terms. I understand if you get confused between them as well.

What are the differences between socket and outlet?

A socket is a hollow space into which you can insert an electric plug. This is done in order to establish a connection in a circuit. On the other hand, an outlet is a hollow space from where electricity flows. There are also differences in uses, analogies, prices and some other factors.

There is a detailed comparison between these two down below. It will clear all your confusion in a jiffy!

So, what’s the hold-up? Read on!

Quick Overview of The Differences

Let’s have a quick overview of the key features that set sockets and outlets apart:

FeatureSocketOutlet
DefinitionA hollow space where you insert plugs, bulbs, etc.A vent from which electricity flows out.
Geographical UsesBritish people mostly call both of them sockets.American people mostly call both of them outlets.
AnalogiesA hollow vent into which a part fits eg: eyes.A pipe that flows water out of a tank
InterchangeabilityA socket cannot be an outlet.An outlet could be a socket.
Pricing$270 – $280$240 – $250

The aforementioned table gives us some idea of the differentiating features of these two. I will discuss more on these features later on in this article.

In-Depth Comparison

Since the previous table provides us a surface-level idea on the differentiating features. Now, it’s time to deep-dive! 

Feature 1 of 5: Definition

A power socket is a hollow space to which you can connect electrical devices. They are connected in order to receive the electric current they require to operate. Sockets can be of various sizes and shapes.

Intrinsically they are connected to a power source through a system of cables. There are no moving parts inside a socket. Instead, there are metal strips. 

When you insert an electric plug into the socket, they make contact with the prongs. Electricity flows through these contacts.

In this way, connecting electrical devices to a power source, they become portable devices. That’s because you can connect and disconnect them from the power source whenever you want. 

Every power socket requires a minimum of two slots. There has to be one with a contact strip that is life. In jargonish terms, they are called “hot”. It will flow current into the device that you’ve plugged in. The other one is required to return the current back.

An outlet is like a vent from which electricity flows out. There are many types of outlets such as 100-volt outlets, 240-volt outlets and so on.

An outlet acts as the power source that you connect your appliance to. It completes the circuit and flows currently in it. Thus the appliances turn on. 

Here, we understand the main difference between the two definitions. In a socket, the purpose is to connect it to a power source. Whereas, the outlet works as the path through which the power source provides that power.

Feature 2 of 5: Geographical Use of the Terms

People interchangeably use sockets and outlets. But, they don’t always call it ‘socket’ or always call it ‘outlet’. This could confuse you even more.

This basically depends on which part of the world you are in. The general term varies in different geographies. 

British people are most prone to calling them ‘sockets’ in general. To them, sockets work for both connecting to power sources and providing power. 

On the flip side, Americans are more likely to term both of these as ‘outlets’. The reason behind this is the same as the previous.

So, the use of the generalized terms for these two differs for each region. So, don’t get confused!

Feature 3 of 5: Analogies

Different analogies are in place to depict sockets and outlets easily. They help you get a  clearer picture away from all the technical and complicated stuff.

A socket is like a chasm where a part fits properly. This means that sockets are meant to be like this as well. Like a socket where you can insert a bulb, is a bulb socket.

For example, a place where your eyeballs fit in perfectly is called an ‘eyeball’! 

Now, as for outlets, they are seen as pipes through which water flows out of a tank. This helps visualize the mechanism of an outlet. 

Consider the water here as current. You’ll find the electrical outlet as a vent that releases the electricity out. 

These analogies are the bigger picture behind how a socket and an outlet work. They help us understand the fundamental differences between them.

Did you know that there are child-safe outlets? They block the flow of current when they sense human touch.

Feature 4 of 5: Interchangeability

People believe that these two terms are equally changeable, but they are not. Outlets can be called ‘sockets’, but sockets cannot be called ‘outlets’. Let’s see why!

Outlets can be seen as hollow places where you insert a plug to connect appliances. It will establish an electrical connection there. 

But, a socket does so much more than that. As we have learned earlier, sockets have metal strips. They are called prongs. 

A socket may have three holes or prongs. The first one is the left hole. It is termed as ‘neutral’. The second one is the right hole. This one is the ‘hot’ or ‘live’ point. 

The third prong is the ground hole. The live hole connects to the wire supplying the electrical current. 

The neutral hole is attached to a wire. That wire pulls the electricity back to the breaker box. 

There is much happening in a socket. Hence, the interchangeability doesn’t work in a vice-versa fashion. 

People often even mistake receptacles and plugs for outlets as well. And so, the interchangeability may seem okay but in technical terms, it’s absolutely not.

Feature 5 of 5: Pricing

A socket costs around $270 – $280 including labor costs. Whereas, an outlet costs somewhere around $240 – $250.

They are quite similar in terms of pricing. But, an outlet costs a little lower in general. 

Here I am mentioning two quality products for you!

Product 1 (Socket)
Product 2 (Outlet)

Hopefully you’ll find these helpful!

I really hope that I was able to articulate these key differentiating factors to you. 

FAQs

Question: How to identify electrical outlets?

Answer: You can identify which type of receptacle outlets by the number of holes for a plug. A standard 110-volt plug has two holes. They are rectangular in shape. The left hole is a little bigger. It also has a hole below with a rounded top. Thus, you can identify different outlets.

Question: Is it illegal to have underground outlets?

Answer:  No, it’s legal to have underground outlets. But make sure it has GFCI protection. However, there has to be a “GFCI Protected” writing on it. Also, there should be a “No Equipment Ground” writing as well. So yes, It’s legal as long as those labels are there.

Question: Do all my kitchen equipment need GFCI protection?

Answer: Mostly, yes. All outlets that are serving countertop areas must have GFCI protection. Also, all outlets within 6 feet of a sink require GFCI protection too. Additionally, the outlet that supplies a dishwasher needs to be GFCI-protected. Hence, most outlets in a  kitchen need to be GFCI-protected.

Endnote

Hopefully I helped you to understand the differences between sockets vs outlets. I expect you to be able to tell them both apart from now on.

Make sure to wear rubber footwear before working with any electrical device.

I will see you in another article very soon. Till then, sayonara!