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What are Wall Plates?

By B. Turner
Updated May 16, 2024
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Wall plates are a type of building material used to cover electrical wiring and devices. Different types of wall plates can be used with light switches, power receptacles, audio cables and even dimmer switches. These plates help to create a finished look for these devices, and also hide wires and cables to help to reduce the risk of electrical shock.

Most wall plates are chosen based on the type of device they are concealing. Light switch covers, or switch plates, are used with both large and small light switches. They may have a narrow hole in the center to accommodate a traditional light switch, or a large rectangular hole to accommodate large, flat switches. A plate designed for use with two switches may be known as a dual wall plate, and other multi-hole plates can accommodate three or more switches. Some combination units may include holes for light switches and other devices, including dimmer switches or power receptacles.

Receptacle plates are used to cover electrical outlets at various wall locations. They are designed to fit over a standard outlet, and are available in single, double or four-way units. Many receptacle cover plates are designed for ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, and have built-in buttons for testing and resetting the outlet.

Some specialty wall plates are available for use with audio wires, cables and telephone wires. These plates typically have a small hole that's designed to fit around the cable. Some are even available with a split-face design, which means that the top and bottom halves of the plate are installed separately to fit around an existing cable.

Blank wall plates have no holes at all, and are used to conceal wires for future devices. They may also be used to cover old, inoperative outlets or switches. If a new receptacle or switch is added, the blank plate is removed and replaced by an appropriate wall plate.

Wall plates come with pre-drilled holes so they can be screwed directly into the wall framing, or to the electrical device they are concealing. These plates are available in many different finishes, including aluminum, stainless steel, wood and many types of plastic. They are often selected to complement the room's decor, and typically will match other hardware or finish items in the home. These plates can often be painted over to blend in with existing walls. Clear wall plates are available for use with wallpaper, which allows the design of the paper to show through the plate.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon296075 — On Oct 09, 2012

I don't want my wall lights any longer. How can I conceal the wiring?

By StarJo — On Jan 12, 2012

It's pretty easy to find dual wall plates. My husband works in construction and demolition, and when he tore down an old house, he found several types of wall plates. His boss let him keep them, because they were just going to throw them away, anyway.

So, we were able to cover all our receptacles and light switches. I was glad that he found both dual and single plates, because we have a variety of outlets and switches in our home.

One kind he didn't find, though. In our bathroom, we have a light switch right alongside an outlet. Personally, I have never seen this setup, so I don't even know where to find a wall plate for this. I guess I should try looking at a home improvement store.

By cloudel — On Jan 11, 2012

I love getting creative with wall plates, especially the kind to cover light switches. It is so easy to find a variety of decorative wall plates online.

My daughter's room is decorated with butterflies, so I found her a big butterfly wall plate. The wings curl outward at every corner, and she falls asleep staring at it.

My room has floral carpet, so I decided to look for a flower wall plate. I found a ceramic rose plate that is very detailed, and it goes perfectly with the carpet.

I love it when I can take ordinary things and make them special. Most people never notice wall plates, so they don't consider them a decoration until they come upon someone's house like mine, where every room has a decorative wall plate.

By orangey03 — On Jan 11, 2012

@seag47 – As long as you are careful not to stick the screw down inside the outlet, you should be fine. Since the hole for the screw is in the middle, and you will be placing the wall plate over the outlet before screwing it in, there is no need to turn off the breaker.

I had to buy new wall plates when I moved into my apartment. The cheapskate that had lived there before me took all the wall plates when he moved out.

This gave me the chance to buy pretty wooden ones. I got some that matched the color of my dining room table and chairs, so it worked out for the best.

By seag47 — On Jan 10, 2012

My husband and I moved into a rental home that had no wall plates covering the electrical outlets and light switches. We have some, but he has yet to put all of them on, and now, I am extra motivated to install them.

Last week, a mouse crawled up into one of our uncovered electrical outlets and fried itself. The smell was awful, and this would not have happened if it had been covered.

I am going to put on the wall plates myself. Does anyone know if you need to turn off the breaker before screwing a receptacle cover on? I don't want to get electrocuted like that poor mouse.

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