Why Do GFCI Outlets Have A Blinking Red Light? (Find Out Now!)

Matthew Mountain
by Matthew Mountain

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) have been around for decades, and these days it’s near impossible to find a modern home which doesn’t utilize these devices; they’re even used in a lot of older homes now because they’re useful here as well.

They come in different shapes and sizes, and over the years they have improved in several ways. Nowadays they are quite popular, and that’s because the majority of homeowners now recognize how beneficial these devices are. Moreover, the newer models are easier to understand.

New GFCIs include lights, and these indicate the status of an outlet; in other words, the lights tell when an outlet is working properly and when it isn’t. Sometimes, a red light will shine, and what this means—as well as what to do when this happens—will be subjects this article addresses. Some other important information about GFCIs will also be included here.

When a GFCI is blinking red, this in most cases means that the device has been tripped. If a GFCI has a solid red light, then this could mean there’s a problem with the device, the main circuit, or the connecting wires. You may also see a red light briefly when you turn the device on, and the same can be said for when you run the device’s test feature.

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GFCI Background: What Are These Devices and Why Are They Used?

GFCIs are safety devices that are required by the National Electric Code. They essentially protect humans against electric shocks, and you know a GFCI is present if you see ‘test’ and ‘reset’ buttons on the face of the outlet.

Unlike regular outlets and circuit breakers—which are designed to protect the building’s larger electrical system and not necessarily individuals who are using the system—the number-one purpose of a GFCI is to protect human beings.

GFCIs are quite useful, as they not only prevent serious electric shocks but also reduce the risk of an electric fire sparking. A GFCI is able to provide this protection because it monitors the electrical current which flows to it. If a problem is detected, the system will cut power to ensure a rogue current doesn’t exit the outlet and strike an unsuspecting individual.

These are much more responsive than circuit breakers and fuses, and they act a lot quicker as well. They are designed to respond to electricity before it can affect your heartbeat, which means that we’re talking about as little as a 13th of a second. This device will even work when it’s not grounded!

Why GFCIs Produce a Red Blinking Sometimes

GFCIs have been around since the 1970s, but the ones manufactured after 2015 specifically have self-monitoring systems which make them a lot more beneficial. This system can be thought of as a self-regulating device, and every once in a while it will test the outlet to make sure it is working as it’s supposed to.

For a GFCI that utilizes this system, you’re going to find the device in one of three states: green, red, or no light present. Each state is briefly described below:

Green Light

If a green light is displayed, this means that the outlet is working fine and that the system is providing necessary protection.

Red Light

If there’s a problem with the device, then a red light will be displayed. You should investigate to see what needs to be done if you see a red light.

No Light

If no light is displayed, then this means that power is not reaching the outlet. No light could also mean that the outlet has been tripped. Like with the red light, an investigation should be done when you notice this light signal.

The Self-Test Signal

On the device, there will be a Status Indicator light, and if this is solid or flashing red, then there’s probably some kind of issue. What you want to do here is press the ‘test’ button in order to trip the GFCI. If the outlet doesn’t reset, it’s here when you should contact a professional electrician, as a replacement will likely be necessary.

Brief Red Light During Activation and Test

When you turn the device on or reset it, there may be a brief moment when it flashes red. If the light goes green immediately after, then this indicates that the device is working properly and you don’t have to pay any mind to the little red flash that happened at first.

If you think your GFCI is worn out, get in touch with a professional electrician, as they will be able to test your system and see whether or not replacement is necessary. Just make sure, before you call out an electrician, that your device is at least several years old or noticeably malfunctioning, as you don’t want to call out an electrician for replacement when such isn’t necessary.

More Causes of the Blinking Red Light

Some of the things which cause a GFCI to blink red have been discussed already, and below are some more common causes and explanations.

First Test and First Start-up

The GFCI will blink red during its first self-test, and it will also do this when it’s being powered up for the first time. These two red lights are somewhat different from the two discussed above.

The first start-up is somewhat different from the start-ups which follow, and that’s because the first start-up has a red light that lasts just a little bit longer than the brief red lights which pop up on every start-up thereafter.

Blinking or Solid Red Light

If the light is blinking red or it’s solid red, then it’s quite likely the outlet has been tripped. More investigation might be required in this instance, as tripping isn’t the only thing that can cause a GFI to blink.

Failing the Self-Test

If the GFCI has failed a self-test, then it will lock itself to prevent electricity from flowing out and harming unsuspecting individuals. If the GFCI is red because of a failed self-test, then a replacement will be necessary.

GFCI Red Blinking Light: What to Do

If the GFCI starts blinking red, and this doesn’t go away, then the blink may indicate that there is a problem with the system. In this case, there are two things you must do.

  • The first thing is pressing the ‘test’ button on the outlet, as doing this will manually trip the GFCI outlet.
  • The next thing you need to do is press the ‘reset’ button. If the outlet resets and restores power to the circuit, then the red light shouldn’t come back on. Instead, there should be a green light where the red one once was, indicating the system is once again working fine.

But if the red light presents again after the system is reset, such indicates that the system is no longer working properly and it needs to be swapped out for a new one.

You shouldn’t attempt a DIY GFCI replacement. Instead, you should get a professional electrician to handle replacement, as after all you’re working with your home’s electric system and this can be dangerous work, even if you know what you’re doing.

What Activates a GFCI?

If a GFCI is blinking red because it has been tripped, then you should be satisfied in a sense, as this means the system worked as it was supposed to and prevented a shock. But what’s more important is getting to the bottom of what caused the shock, and below are some of the things that can trip a GFCI:

Ground Faults

If the GFCI detects a ground fault, the system will trip automatically. Ground faults can be caused by bad wiring or another malfunction. Poor installation, moisture, and frayed wiring can all cause ground faults.

Bad Wiring

A GFCI may trip because there is bad wiring. If bad wiring is indeed what’s causing the system to trip, then the circuitry is what needs to be inspected; the device is probably fine, it’s just not hooked up to reliable equipment.

Overloaded Circuit

An overloaded circuit can cause an outlet to overheat, but a GFCI will prevent overheating from igniting a fire. Once the outlet gets too hot, the GFCI will cut power too it, and thereafter the outlet will cool down.

Too many electrical appliances being used on the same circuit can result in an overload, and a way to avoid this is to keep track of what’s plugged in and where. Faulty electrical equipment can also cause an overload.


GFCIs are definitely useful safety devices, but they’re just like most other things in the respect that they don’t last forever. In general GFCIs last about 25 years. But if your device is subjected to abnormal conditions which make it wear down quicker, then its lifespan may be reduced significantly.

Another Tripped GFCI That’s Close By

If a nearby GFCI has been tripped, this could cause other GFCIs on the same circuit to trip as well. This isn’t common though. Moreover, if two or more GFCIs share the same circuit, and one trips, then it’s quite likely the others will respond because of a circuit malfunction; not because the GFCI alone tripped the others.

One More Thing to Keep In Mind

If you replace an old device with one that’s new, and the new device is sustaining a red blink from the moment you plug it in, the problem here is probably a faulty outlet and not the device. These devices are rarely defective right out of the package.

What Is a Ground Fault?

Ground fault is the name that’s given to electricity when it doesn’t follow a predetermined path. Electricity naturally finds the quickest way to the ground, and in the case of a ground fault, it’s usually that the electricity has found a new, unplanned-for way to reach the earth.

When this happens, the electricity can be absorbed by a variety of things, including humans and animals. A ground fault shock may only be minor, but one could also be as severe as to cause electrocution. It’s for this reason that GFCIs were created.

These devices also protect electric circuits from overheating, and this is especially important when a system is malfunctioning. With a GFCI working as it should, you don’t have to worry about a circuit overheating, and you also don’t have to worry about getting electrocuted out of nowhere.

Related Questions

GFCIs have been around for more than five decades now, and yet individuals these days still have lots of questions about these devices. They are getting more advanced with the passing of time, so it makes sense that new questions pop up with each advancement. Some GFCI frequently asked questions are answered below.

How do you fix a GFCI that doesn’t reset?

If the GFCI doesn’t reset, then you should press the ‘test’ button and then the ‘reset’ button. If nothing happens, you should then attempt to dry the GFCI with a hairdryer. But be careful when doing this, as you don’t want to make the outlet too hot.

This is done because the GFCI may have been exposed to water or moisture. If nothing comes of this, check the main breaker or fuse for that circuit and see if there’s something wrong there.

How do I know an outlet has a GFCI?

If you see ‘test’ and ‘reset’ buttons on an outlet, then you know you’re dealing with a GFCI. These buttons are there in part to ensure the system is working properly. Don’t press these buttons unless you really have to, as frequent pressing could speed up wear and tear.

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Final Word

In the end, a variety of things can cause a GFCI to blink red or display a solid red light. And when either happens, it’s best to consult the manufacturer’s manual, as this will give the clearest and most device-specific way to diagnose the problem.

Of course, you could always get a professional electrician to do this for you, and this is also the safest method. An electrician will know what’s causing the light and they’ll know quickly whether or not replacement is warranted.

Matthew Mountain
Matthew Mountain

Matt loves everything DIY. He has been learning and practicing different trades since he was a kid, and he's often the first one called when a friend or family member needs a helping hand at home. Matt loves to work with wood and stone, and landscaping is by far his most favorite pastime.

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