How to Test If a Wire is Hot with a Multimeter

How to test if a wire is hot with a multimeter

While setting up a new appliance or electrical connection, it’s necessary to identify a hot wire(live) for a secure connection and to prevent shocks. Live wire can be tested with a multimeter by checking the voltage of all wires with the ground wires. Live wire will show high voltage, and others have around zero voltage.

In this post, you’ll learn how to test if a wire is hot with a multimeter, voltage tester, and screwdriver.

How to test if a wire is hot with a multimeter

To test if a wire is live with a multimeter:

  • First of all, identify the ground wire.
  • Set your multimeter to AC voltage () at a high range(above 240V).
  • Connect the black probe with the ground wire (for each test) and the red probe with every other wire.
  • Your multimeter will display 120 or 240 V on the hot (live) ground wires.
  • The neutral wire will have nearly 0V when tested with the ground wire.

When the multimeter displays 120 or 240 Volts (up to your home distribution), the live wire is attached to the red probe and ground at the black probe. 0 or near zero on a multimeter indicates neutral is connected to red and ground to black. The neutral wire and the ground wire do not carry voltage.

Follow step by step 

Step 1: Safety Measures

Don’t test for hot wire without wearing safety gloves, as we must work with high-voltage wires.

The direct touching of hot wire(live) can cause severe damage and even death.

Step 2: Identify the Ground Wire:

It is important to identify the ground wire first, as the ground wire completes a circuit and is necessary to be connected to a black probe in each test. 

To identify the ground wire:

Check the color code of the wires by unscrewing the outlet. Ground wires are usually green in color.

If you test a 3-prong receptacle(A shape), the ground wire is in the top terminal.

Step 3: Multimeter SettingAC Voltage Symbol on multimeter

Insert the black probe in the COM port and the red probe in the VmAΩ port.

Set your multimeter to AC voltage by rotating the knob on the sign A〜.

Select a range above 240 volts. As the tested circuit power supply will be 120 or 240V, set the multimeter above 240V.

Step 4: Connect Multimeter probes to the testing circuit

Attach the black probe to the ground wire permanently.

Now connect the red probe to the other wires, one by one.

Check the multimeter reading after placing the red probe at each wire in the circuit or outlet.

Remember: Live wire is always connected to the red probe and ground wire to the black probe.

Step 5: Evaluate Results from multimeter readings

If your multimeter reads 0 volts or quite low voltage, you’ve got the neutral wire at the red probe. Neutral and ground wires don’t supply current, so the multimeter reads 0 voltage.

Remove the red probe from the previous wire and attach it to the third (remaining wires) while the ground wire is attached to the black probe. If a live wire is detected at the red probe, the multimeter will display the circuit’s voltage, such as 120 or 240 volts.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How to test if a wire is hot without a multimeter?

Instead of a multimeter, you can use a noncontact voltage tester, bulb socket, wire color, and tester screwdriver to determine if a wire is hot.

  • Live connections in the US are made using black wires.
  • Live wires are brown in the UK and Europe.
  1. How to test live wire with a test pen(Noncontact voltage tester)?test live wire with test pen

Please turn on the power supply, take a noncontact voltage tester and pass it through all the wires. The voltage tester starts to beep or blink when it detects voltage in a wire. However, the voltage tester doesn’t detect any voltage in the neutral and ground wires and remains silent.

  1. How to test live wire with a screwdriver?

Keep your thumb over the tip of the screwdriver when testing live wires. Each hole in the socket or wires should be touched with the metal end of the tester screwdriver.

A bulb inside the tester will fully glow when the tester screwdriver detects a live wire.

Neutral and ground wires also have little current sometimes. So the bulb in the tester will blink, indicating low voltage, or remains dark.

  1. How to test if the power is off with a multimeter?

Set your multimeter to AC voltage with a higher range to test if the power is off or on. Connect the black probe to the ground or terminal and the red wire to the live(hot) wire. 

The power is off if the multimeter reads zero voltage in live and ground wires. If the multimeter reads 120 or 240 V, power is on in your circuit.


Identifying a live wire is essential and quite easy, even if you are a beginner. Have proper safety measures before testing the wires. Set the multimeter to AC Voltage and permanently attach the black probe to the ground wire.

Now connect all other wires to the bred multimeter probes one by one. When the live wire is detected, a multimeter displays the voltage the hot wire carries. In this way, you can easily test whether a wire is hot (live).

Hopefully, this article is enough for you to test a hot wire with a multimeter. Ask your queries in the comments.

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