120v Electrical Plug

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A 120-volt outlet with built-in covers for safety.

The 120-volt power outlet is the standard electrical outlet in use in homes in North America. These outlets have been in use in their present form since the early 1950s.

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The modern 120-volt power outlet has three holes: two parallel rectangular slots—one connected to the "live" wire and one connected to the neutral wire—and a round hole for the ground wire. Most outlets are "duplex" receptacles, with two places to plug in electrical devices.

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Styles

There are two common styles of 120-volt duplex receptacles. On "standard" receptacles, each outlet has its own round opening in the wall plate. On "decorator" receptacles, a single plastic rectangle holds both outlets.

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Polarization

All modern 120-volt outlets are designed to accommodate "polarized" plugs, on which the rectangular prong for the neutral wire is slightly larger. This is a safety measure designed to control the way an electrical device handles current.

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120 Volts vs. 110 Volts

Any device that says it runs on 110 volts can be plugged into a 120-volt outlet. The "120 volt" label is just a nominal figure; the actual voltage could be anywhere in the range of 110-125 volts, and modern electrical devices are built to tolerate the fluctuations.

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Alternative

Some heavy appliances—such as electric clothes dryers—require 240 volts of power. Outlets that deliver 240 volts are configured differently, so devices for 120-volt outlets can't plug in to them.

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