Q&A / 

3-Way Switch Quick Start Guide


3-way switches confound many people. I remember years ago messing up the ones in my parents home. I thought my mom would be happy with new clean switches, instead of the ancient ones we had. I had no clue how to get them to work properly again!

If your 3-way switches don't work right, you want to install new 3-way light switches or replace existing ones in your home, this guide - and the video below - will save you lots of frustration!


All you need to know about 3-way switches is what wire is the continuous hot wire from the electric panel and what wire in the other switch is the one that feeds the light. Once you have that figured out, the job is as easy as falling off a log.

Watch the video below unless you’ve come here from YouTube having already watched it.

Be sure to look at the RELATED CONTENT links at the bottom of this page. Lots of goodies there for you.


dotInsulated Screwdriver set toolsinsulatedscrewdrivers   dotNeedle Nose Pliers toolsneedlenose
dotSafety Glasses toolssafetyglasses   dotWire Strippers (for new installations only) toolswirestrippers
dotVoltage Meter - Ensure power is OFF toolsvoltmeter   dotElectrical Tape toolselectrical tape
dotWire Nuts toolswirenuts   dot3-Way Switch tools3wayswitch
dotTape Measure  toolsfatmaxtapemeasure    dotTim's Favorite Tools  timcartoon50x50


  • Turn ON Light in Room or Hallway
  • Have helper turn off circuit breaker so you see light bulb go OUT or OFF.
  • Remove light switch cover plate.
  • Unscrew light switch from electrical box and pull it out of box - Do NOT touch screws on side of switch!
  • Double check power is OFF using voltage meter.
  • Suck out dust and debris from inside of electric box with wet-dry vacuum.
  • Check insulation on all wires. Look for cracks, splits or melted insulation. Tape defective wires with electrical tape OR call in a professional electrician for help.


  • DO NOT SKIP FOLLOWING STEPS if working on an existing set of switches that work perfectly. If switches are NOT working correctly at this time, follow SAME advice below:
  • Use painter's tape to make numbered tags for each wire connected to existing switch. Mark wires as #1, #2, and #3. Each 3-way switch has three wires connecting to it.
  • Use permanent Sharpie marker to make numbers on face of switch that correspond with the tagged wires. This allows you to reinstall wires on same screws!
  • Tape quick video using smart phone or take photos of switches BEFORE you remove wires. Video and photos may come in handy!


  • If current 3-way switches are NOT working properly, numbering the wires ensures you don't reconnect them to the same screws preventing Victory!
  • Remove wires from old switch and install new switch.
  • Only 5/8 inch or 15mm of bare wire should be exposed. Trim wire or remove more insulation to get to this point.
  • Facing the screw, the wire loop should be bent in a clockwise direction so as the screw is tightened the screw movement closes the end of the wire around the screw. If you make the loop counter-clockwise, the loop will OPEN up as you tighten the screw on the switch body.


  • Optional: Install a band of electrical tape over body of switch isolating screw heads.
  • Reinstall switch into electric box keeping ground and neutral wires away from screws on sides of switch.
  • Reinstall cover plate.
  • Turn on circuit breaker and test new switch.
  • Celebrate your Victory!


Please subscribe to my Newsletter and get insider information on the latest home-improvement tips, and products. I guarantee you that my newsletter WILL save you time and money. Frequently, I include your questions with my answers and proposed solutions. Perhaps the best part of the newsletters are my reviews of new products based on my own testing. Click here to read my past newsletters.

It is FREE & EASY.

Step 1: Subscribe   Step 2: Activate   Step 3: Save
Enter Your Name Here:   Easy! When you click the Subscribe Now button, a confirmation email is sent to the address you entered. You MUST CLICK ON THE LINK WITHIN THE EMAIL to complete your subscription.   Watch for your first Newsletter!
Enter Your Email Here:    


Column QSG002


4 Responses to 3-Way Switch Quick Start Guide

Leave a Reply

You have to agree to the comment policy.