how to test if a wire is live without a tester

If you don’t know how to test if a wire is live without a tester then this would be the best guide you’ll read today.

We’ve prepared two different methods that you can use and determine whether a wire is live or not by using items that you can find in almost any home.

Let’s learn more!

You should acquire a light bulb with two pole wires and contact the suspected wire to see whether the bulb will light up or not. Another way to identify a live wire is by tracking the source and determining if there is a current.

Can You Tell If A Wire Is Live Without A Tester?

can tell wire is live without tester

Although testing live wires is not recommended unless you’re a technician, there is a way you can tell whether a wire has electricity running or not.

In some cases, you may not have a tester at your disposal, but you would still be able to determine if a particular wire is live.

Yes, you can test a wire without a tester.

Assuming you don’t have a non-contact or inductance tester, we will explain how you can test live wires using the materials at hand.

Safety Comes First!

When not using a device that is isolated from any electricity and keeps you safe, you will have to undertake safety precautions yourself.


  • Use isolating gloves so electricity can’t get in contact with your skin.
  • During the test stand on an isolated surface, such as a carpet or a rubber mat.
  • Call a professional technician if you discovered an unknown cable or wire.
Although working with electricity requires qualification, it’s not that hard to identify whether there is a current or not at home. 

Let’s next jump into the methods of doing so…

How To Test Electrical Wires Without A Tester?

how test wire without tester

There are two general methods of testing whether a wire is live without a multimeter, one of which includes a tester.

Well, let’s create one at home!

Method #1 Use A Handmade Tester

If you don’t have access to a multimeter or another device that will let you know the wire’s voltage, you can make a tester yourself.

You should use items such as a bulb and a socket and touch them to the wire in a specific way to check if they will light up.

Alert: This method won’t let you know how much current is in the live wire. You will only understand whether the wire is live or not.

Step #1 Gather The Tester’s Materials

gather tester material

The materials of this handmade tester are commonly found in drawers, basements, and garages.

This is why most of us use them at home, so let’s learn more about what we need.

You will need a small bulb with only two wires coming out of the bottom.

It’s important for the bulb to have two wires so the neutral wire can go into the ground (GND) and the other one to wrap around the cable you wish to test.

Alert: Ensure that the bulb is not burned by checking for any burned areas to verify the functionality of the tester item.

Step #2 Install The Tester

install a tester

Now you can engage the wire you wish to test using your handmade tester.

Once you have the test bulb with two wires, follow these steps to install the tester with live wire:

  1. First, make sure that all safety precautions are taken care of.
  2. Put on your isolated gloves and grab the bulb.
  3. Wrap one of the wires of the bulb around the live wire.
  4. Connect the other wire to the negative (GNG).
Notice: A GND is location zero, which practically means neither positive nor negative for electricity. The second wire must not be connected with a source.

Step #3 Test A Live Wire

test the live wire

By looking at the bulb you’ll be able to tell whether the wire is live or not.

In case the light bulb doesn’t even flicker, there is a high chance that there is no current on the wire.

It’s important to make sure that the contact “leg” of your bulb is firmly touching the actual wire and not the cable.

  • It’s still not safe to touch the wire with your hand.

Keep in mind that even the slightest flicker is an indication of a flowing current.

This is how to test if a wire is live without a tester. However, it’s strongly recommended to attempt the second method below, before interacting with the wire using your hands.

Alert: Make sure to attempt the test by attaching the bulb’s wires to different spots for a clear and confident conclusion.

Method #2 Track The Source Of The Wire

track source of wire

Another way to understand whether a wire is live or not is to track the source of the wire.

For this method you will also need to be careful, since touching the wires barehanded will also represent a certain danger of electrical shock.

Since many people learn a valuable lesson when they track live wires, with their bare hands, make sure to follow our guide.

How To Track Live Wires?

You would need to find the source of the wire, which will allow you to determine whether the wire is live or not.

Again, make sure to take ALL precautions before proceeding.

how track live wires

Here’s how you can successfully track a live wire:

  1. Equip your isolated gloves.
  2. Go to the place where you’ve first located the body of the wire.
  3. Navigate to which location is the closest circuit breaker or electrical panel.
  4. Start tracking the wire towards the electricity source’s location.
  5. Once you reach the panel or breaker, check if the switch is enabled.
  6. Identify if the circuit breaker has power by checking out other wires connected there.

When other wires have power that is connected to the same circuit breaker or electrical panel, then your wire is live.

In case nothing seems to be active from the electrical components inside of that panel, then your wire carries no current. It’s as simple as that.

Tip: If most of the wire’s hardware seems to be underground, then it is strongly suggested to contact an electrician.

More Ways To Test A Live Wire?

more ways to track live wire

Without a tester screwdriver or a multimeter, there is not much else you can do.

In case you’re concerned that the wire is actually live and you have no idea where it’s coming from, the safest approach is to call an electrician.

Sometimes explaining the situation to a third party could turn out to be a free consultation!

There are many express services online that you can reach out to, that would let you know what the wire is for and whether it’s live or not.

Interacting with the wire on your own is not a good idea especially when you’re not aware of the source or the foundation.

Note: The average electrician charges between $50 and $150 per hour.

Read Next: How To Get a Wired Connection In Another Room?

Quick Recap:

To test if a wire is live or not, you should use a handmade tester, using a small bulb and a socket. Using the “legs” of the light bulb, connect one to the ground and one to the live wire and check whether or not it will light up. A flickering means a live wire!

Wrapping Up:

Now that we know how to test if a wire is live without a tester it doesn’t mean that we don’t need one.

The multimeter is an extremely accurate and fairly cheap device that every home should be equipped with.

The methods above should be safe as long as you follow ALL recommendations but using a tester is always safer.

For more relevant content and helpful guides make sure to check our blog and discover an answer for all your home inquiries.

Nicole B