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Why Are There White Wires On My Switch?

How White Wires are Sometimes Used for Light Switches: Wiring Light Switches with White Wires

Wiring Light Switches with White Wires

Electrical Question: I am changing out a ceiling fan and wall switch.

Background: Bill, a Handyman from South Florida.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Bill.

How White Wires are Sometimes Used for Light Switches

At times, we still find in some older homes that White Wires are used for wiring light switches, and the light switch wiring method is different, however we also find White Wires being used today for wiring light switches however the method is entirely different.

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Questions about Why Are There White Wires On My Switch?

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  1. Greg says:

    I was just reading this article as I also was going to switch out some old switches to more modern light switches. When I pulled out the existing switch I noticed I have 2 black wires and a white wire connected to the old switch. I tried to figure out the path of power but I wasn’t getting the readings I was expecting. The old switch had 3 screws on it. 2 light brass and 1 dark brass named “common”. The ground is screwed into the box so I understand that. The dark brass had the main power connected to it.

    I tried to find continuity to the light this switch operated but I could only find it with the white wire. The black wire from the light to the light switch did not make my meter beep so I am not sure where it goes. There is also some other things in that light box I am not understanding. The switch mounting box is made for a double light switch but only has 1 switch mounted in it. It looks like the previous owner of this house just put putty over the other half. But in that box there are 3 sets of wires going into the box, there are red and white wires twisted together, white and black twisted together, and actually the main power wire going to the light switch I am wanting to change which has a black wire, white wire and a little single lead wire going to this light switch twisted together.

    Why do I have white wires twisted with black wires, why is there a white wire going to this light switch? Do I have a 3 way switches in there?

    Thanks Greg

    • Dave Rongey says:

      Hi Greg,
      From what you have described the existing switch is a three way switch. White wires are often used for switching, however the white wire should then be identified with black electrical tape or a permanent marker. If the wiring does not appear to be correct then the wiring should be traced out and identified and corrections made as needed.
      I hope this helps,


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