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What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire

The Purpose of the Neutral Wire in Electrical Systems: What is the purpose of the neutral wire and the difference between the ground wire and the white neutral wire.

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The Neutral Wire in Electrical Systems
Electrical Question: What is the purpose of the neutral?

These electrical questions came from: John, in Lemon Grove California, and John in Sun City Center, Florida.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical questions.

The Purpose of the Neutral Wire

The following will provide an explanation for the purpose of the neutral wire and the the difference between the ground wire and the neutral wire.

More about Neutral Wires and Electrical Wiring

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This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.
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Electrical Circuit Wiring

This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.

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Electrical Wiring
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Home electrical wiring projects with pictures and wiring diagrams.

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Complete Guide to Home Electrical Wiring

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Wiring GFCI Outlets
Wiring Home Electric Circuits
120 Volt and 240 Volt Outlet Circuits
Wiring Light Switches
Wiring 3-Wire and 4-Wire Electric Range
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The Safest Way to Test Electrical Devices and Identify Electric Wires!

The Non-Contact Electrical Tester
This is a testing tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and is the first test tool I grab to help identify electrical wiring. It is a Non-contact tester that I use to easily Detect Voltage in Cables, Cords, Circuit Breakers, Lighting Fixtures, Switches, Outlets and Wires. Simply insert the end of the tester into an outlet, lamp socket, or hold the end of the tester against the wire you wish to test. Very handy and easy to use.

The Quickest Way to Check for Faulty Electrical Wiring!

The Plug-In Outlet Tester
This is the first tool I grab to troubleshoot a problem with outlet circuit wiring. This popular tester is also used by most inspectors to test for power and check the polarity of circuit wiring.
It detects probable improper wiring conditions in standard 110-125 VAC outlets Provides 6 probable wiring conditions that are quick and easy to read for ultimate efficiency Lights indicate if wiring is correct and indicator light chart is included Tests standard 3-wire outlets UL Listed Light indicates if wiring is incorrect Very handy and easy to use.

Strip Off Wire Insulation without Nicking and Damaging the Electric Wire!

The Wire Stripper and Wire Cutter
My absolute favorite wire stripping tool that I have had in my personal electrical tool pouch for years, and this is the tool I use to safely strip electrical wires.
This handy tool has multiple uses:
The wire gauges are shown on the side of the tool so you know which slot to use for stripping insulation.
The end of the tool can be used to grip and bend wire which is handy for attaching wire onto the screw terminals of switches and outlets..

The wire stripper will work on both solid and stranded wire. This tool is Very Handy and Easy to Use.

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FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments

10 Responses to “What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire”
  1. yo says:

    if i put an open switch on the hot/live wire right before, say, a radio, no power goes to the radio. however, if i put an open switch on the neutral wire right after the radio, the radio will be full of power. so what is the purpose of a return, neutral wire?

    could i just then have 1 hot/live wire and a ground wire coming out of it?

    also, if AC goes back and forth, does the neutral become hot/live and the hot/live become neutral on the second half of the cycle?

  2. Thomas says:

    Thank you both for your article, question and website. I have been learning about electricity for at least 30 years and the more I see, the more I know there is yet to figure out. It has been my understanding that the grounded or “neutral” conductor provides a path back to the source, that is the transformer and not to the earth/ground. This is how the circuit is ultimately completed or closed. Please correct me if I am wrong or let me know if this has been helpful.

  3. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Thomas, Great Thoughts!
    Here’s something that may help you: If you take a look at a typical electrical overhead power line that provides 240 volt service to a home you will notice that there are only two wires on the primary or secondary side of the power pole which either connects directly to the home service or to a step down transformer. So where is the neutral wire?
    The service drop from the home to the power pole has three wires, however one is uninsulated because it is the ground conductor. The electrical service to the home from the utility company does not have a neutral wire, however it does have a ground conductor. The neutral is created at the home main electrical panel where it is bonded to the earth ground.
    NOTE: In some areas an electric utility transformer may supply power to more than one home. In this case three wires will lead out from the transformer to each home electrical service connection.
    I will develop more resources that cover this topic further because there is a great deal of confusion about Alternating Current, especially when discussing the topics of a 120 volt AC circuit, and alternating current which is produced by a multi-phase generator.
    I hope this helps,

  4. Wayne Gammon says:

    I need more room in my switch box. I currently have too many electric wire nuts on the wires in the box to allow full insertion of my switches. Can I crimp my hots and neutrals together then insulate with tape?

  5. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Wayne,
    Crimping electrical circuit wires is typically acceptable for the ground wires, however it is not a good practice for current carrying conductors. However you may want to choose a different type of wire splice connector for your application. Be aware that if the electrical box is over the allowed capacity of permissible electrical wires then it may be necessary to replace the box with a larger one which is deeper. If this is a surface mounted metal box then an extension ring may be stacked onto the face of the existing box, however the application would need to be considered.
    Thanks for sharing your question with us Wayne,

  6. John Reneer says:

    I’m trying to understand the source and importance of the neutral wire. Assuming a storm knocks out the pole transformer which supplies electrical current to my house, if I use a generator to power my breaker panel, how does the neutral wire work?

  7. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi John,
    It may help you to understand the relationship between the neutral and the ground system of the home. The function of the neutral wire can only work when the ground system is provided at the main panel. The only place the neutral wire is connected to the ground system is at the main power source, which is the main service panel where the ground system is bonded to the earth. Therefore the generator must also be grounded to the main electrical panel ground system. The connection of a generator to a home using a transfer switch must be performed properly to ensure the integrity of the complete electrical system.
    Thank you for sharing your electrical question with us,

  8. John Reneer says:

    I cannot possibly thank you enough. You explained it to where even I can understand it.

  9. Taro says:

    I am trying to connect a new cooktop. The cooktop has three wires, two are hot and one ground. I am connecting to a circuit cable with three conductors, with one ground wire. I know to connect the hot wires to the live conductors and the ground to the ground. I am not certain what to do with the neutral. The installation instructions say to connect the neutral to the ground wires. Is that correct?

  10. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Taro,
    When the neutral wire of the circuit is not used it is capped off with a wire connector.