All In Favor of Phillips Screws for Outlet Covers Say Yay!

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Sometimes HomeFixated article inspiration comes from odd places. Take this article for example. Allow me to share some embarrassing details of my past and at the same time possibly contribute to construction, home-improvement and household safety at the same time. It all has to do with my formerly failed love life, screws, and electrical outlet covers. Just to set your mind at ease, the love life was not directly related to the outlet covers. And, in a rare moment of civility on HomeFixated, I’ll leave the screwing related jokes to you (just this time).

So, you ask, where in the world am I going with this? Stay with me. Back many, many years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to a flight attendant friend of his. She was cute, I was single, she was single. The ingredients all sound perfect right? Turns out things never went anywhere after our first kiss. Two things could have been to blame: me or her very devout Christianity. Since it couldn’t have possibly been me (I’m pretty sure I’m an awesome kisser), I’ll happily chalk this up to Jesus-related intimacy issues. Phew, ego-crisis averted!

If you were wondering how this relates to screws and outlet covers, don’t worry, I’m getting there. You see, I’m still very good friends with my would-be matchmaker buddy. And he is still facebook friends with the flight attendant (although for all I know she’s a banker now). My friend sends me a note a few weeks back saying, “Dude! You remember the flight attendant so-and-so from way back? Well, she just posted this funny baby-proofing rant on Facebook.” And, here it is in all its plagiarized glory:

“OBSERVATION WHILE BABY PROOFING: It seems odd and potentially fatal that ALL the screws holding the face plates to the outlets have a groove for a flat head screwdriver. (go look) It occurred to me each time the screwdriver slipped out of the groove that it had a very good chance at sliding ever so easily INTO the outlet! I couldn’t help but think perhaps a philips head screw would have been a better option!” Since I’m about 99.9% sure she wouldn’t want me crediting her by name in the context of the story, I’ll leave her name out to protect the really innocent.

The rant got me thinking. . . . could this anti-kissing flight attendant (and apparently now a mom) be onto something? She had the good sense to avoid my advances, so she apparently has some solid judgment. I have to agree, other than aesthetics, why in the world do outlet covers use flat head screws right next to what is essentially a perfect little funnel to guide said screw driver into an electrified outlet? Are outlet cover manufacturers trying to cut down on over-population? Is this some sort of cruel darwinian experiment? Is there some magical reason outlet covers have to have slotted screws? (If so, please enlighten us.)

I can hear the ultra-cautious electrical safety homefixaters already, “But, if you’re working on your outlet, you should always have the power off.” Uh huh. Technically, totally a valid point. For those that wisely choose safety over danger, I highly recommend using a good Fluke Voltage Tester to verify power is off to the outlet you’re working on. The reality is that most people probably don’t switch off the power just to swap out an outlet cover though. Anyone out there looking to start a consumer lobby to advocate for phillips head screws on outlet covers? Consider this embarrassing and personally revealing story my donation to the cause!

Photo of author

About Marc Lyman

Marc grew up under a brave single mom who "encouraged" home improvement on the family home. Early toddler gifts included a tool set, and even a cordless Bosch drill when cordless drills first came out. In grade school (give or take a few years), Marc's mom said, "We need to cut down some trees. . . . here's a chainsaw." A father figure also involved Marc in many home improvement projects, including a summer of home remodeling in Palo Alto, CA. Toss in some Obsessive Compulsive personality traits researching everything home improvement related. The end result: a genetically pre-disposed, socially sculpted home improvement machine! For his complete profile, please visit our About page. Really, it's worth it.

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11 thoughts on “All In Favor of Phillips Screws for Outlet Covers Say Yay!”

  1. I have to agree with several of the above about banning slotted and Phillips screws. Try backing out a 100 year old hinge painted over and over and over. Just finding the slot is a miracle and then the slots are all but flush with the head of the screws and usually very narrow along with their being recessed into the hinge preventing any meaty screw driver torque from being applied. Or try backing anything out with a Phillips screw that’s been over torqued into position. And I haven’t even talked about the soft metal screws we often find on today’s products where the head literally twists right off or is stripped on the first turn.

  2. Slotted heads do have a place, and that place is anywhere you are going to see them, and you’d better make all the slots line up too. Nothing ruins a restoration like zinc plated phillips screws, or worse drywall screws, holding some decorative piece of brass hardware on.

    • There absolutely is. A slotted head can be tightened down with more torque than a Phillips head. That’s why they’re used in electrical applications. Granted, square head or Torx would be better, but in rank order of the amount of torque you can apply to a screw, Phillips comes last.

      There’s also the issue of getting a screw back out of whatever you put it in. If you need to be 100% sure you can get it out, then a slotted, square, hex, or torx screw is what you need to use. Think about every rounded out screw you’ve ever touched. For me, almost all of them have been Phillips.

      • The torque limiting factor is the whole purpose of the Philips. Mr. Philips invented it to keep untrained assembly line workers from over tightening fasteners with automated equipment. You could snug it down and the bit would pop out of the head before you could over tighten it. Though the Wikipedia article only mentions the self centering aspect of it:

  3. I’ve thought this many times. Most of the fixture companies have finally added phillips screws to the wire posts, why not the plate covers?

    For that matter, let’s go a step further and eliminate slotted screw heads on circuit breakers. Most of us cannot/will not turn the power off the the entire house just install a new breaker or change the wiring to one. The screw posts for holding the wire to the breaker or ground bar should be Torx head.

    • Pat, the breakers in my electrical panel go both ways. I don’t know the correct term for it but they’re Philips heads, with one slot axis extended out the edges so you can also use a slotted screwdriver.

  4. I actually replaced most of the outlets in the house with the Leviton TR units. No outlet covers needed. Only issue I have now is that the voltage tester can’t be inserted into the outlets without something like a GFCI 3 prong tester first.

  5. Hey!! We dated the SAME flight attendant! (Actually, she was a ballerina…for real).

    I am all for this–as you know that I hate any screw head other than a TORX.

    However…this change will eliminate my need to make sure all the screws in my plates are either: A. Plumb, or B. Level.


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