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How to Read a Circuit Breaker: Quick and Easy Way

Written by Edwin Jones / Fact checked by Andrew Wright

how to read a circuit breaker

Do you want to know how to read a circuit breaker? Do you want to know the best way of labeling your circuit breakers to make them easier to read?

For easy reading of your breaker panel, you need to have better labeling for each breaker. It allows for easy troubleshooting or tracing of a faulty circuit. This means you don’t need to check each breaker in your panel if a problem occurs.

To help you better label your circuit breaker, try to use the method I used in all of my projects.

Tools You Need


For better circuit breakers labeling, you will need these tools.

  • Heat shrink label maker for labeling circuit breakers and wires
  • Printed sticker or paper with cover for a better reference list
  • White ink or paint to lighten up the engraved circuit breaker numbers
  • A small brush for applying ink or paint
  • Any expired atm or credit cards for wiping ink
  • And a rag for cleaning up messes

When you look into your circuit breaker panel, you will notice that the engraved number on each breaker is challenging to identify. To lighten it, use a small amount of white ink. And although you can use any of your leftover inks, white is still best because it’s easier to see in the dark.

I also recommend using a heat shrink label maker to mark your cables. Because even if your breakers are labeled, it becomes difficult to determine which wire corresponds to which circuit if you replace several simultaneously. More than that, you can use the label maker for your breakers too.

However, if you don’t have a heat-shrink label maker, there are many ways to label your circuit breaker. One of these is by using a printed sticker or paper with a plastic tape cover.

How to Label Your Circuit Breaker

This is important if your circuit breaker panel has inadequate labeling. You should do this when it’s hard to read the numbers on a circuit breaker, or the circuit breaker panel labels are too vague. This can happen, especially if your electrical system is old.

To address that problem, I made two separate guides to help you have better labeling. The first is by lightening the embossed numbers in your circuit breakers, and the second is by creating a table of contents for your circuit breaker.

Step-By-Step Guide on Lightening the Number of Circuit Breaker Panel


Step 1. Apply Inks to the Number Inside the Panel

Open your breaker panel and look for the embossed or engraved numbers on each breaker. If you’re uncomfortable working with the panel door in the way, you can disassemble the panel cover. However, if you’re doing that, ensure that the power to the board is switched off for your safety.

Using your available ink and a paintbrush, apply a tiny amount of ink or paint onto the number of a circuit breaker panel.

Step 2. Wipe the Ink Using the Card

Wipe out the ink using your used card. You can wipe it by holding your card vertically, placing it on the numbers on your circuit breaker, applying pressure, and then sliding it downwards. The paint should then be evenly applied to the numbers.

If there’s still excess ink or paint, repeat the process until the numbers appear clean.

Step 3. Wipe the Excess Ink or Paint Using a Rag

If the area surrounding the number has painted, use the rag to wipe it off. Be sure to do this carefully, keeping the rag from touching the freshly painted surfaces. Repeat steps one through three until you have all the numbers painted.

After this, you can leave it open to dry while working on the next steps.

Step-By-Step Guide to Read a Circuit Breaker

Labeling each circuit breaker is very straightforward if you have a heat-shrink label maker. Just print the label and stick it to the lid of your panel. However, if you don’t have this device, you can write each label manually instead.

Step 1. Print a Table Guide


Using your computer and printer, you can make an Excel table guide that includes all information about your breaker panel and print it. Don’t forget to save the file on your computer, so if ever the printed version gets damaged or too old, you can just print a new one again.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a computer and printer available, you can manually draw a table and write all the information about your circuit breaker.

Step 2. Secure the Reference List


Put your circuit breaker data table in a safe place. If you have a large panel board, you can use the inside lid to indicate the data table, especially if your panel is outside your house. Otherwise, you can use a plastic cover to protect your table guide and attach it to the wall near your panel breaker.

You can refer to this video made by The Pirate Handyman for a better understanding of this guide.

I am happy to share this top-rated heat shrink label maker article if you prefer professionally made labels for your breaker panel. In this article, label makers are reviewed in detail to help you know the top products available. These items are best for labeling your cables, breakers, and even other things.


Reading and understanding circuit breakers are easy if they are labeled and well organized. This is also suitable for easy troubleshooting because your circuit breakers are individually tagged.

Although this may entail additional effort right now, it will save you time in the years to come. Also, don’t forget to check out the top-tier heat shrink label makers list before getting one!

So, are you going to label your breaker panel now? Or is it marked already? Did you encounter any problems during the process? Share your labeling stories in the comments section below! Tell us your tips on how to read a circuit breaker!

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