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A switch plate is the cover used to conceal and protect an electrical switch that is mounted in a typical gang box. They serve an important safety function by preventing accidental contact with wiring attached to an electrical switch. They are available in a wide variety of different styles, shapes, colors and materials, and can bring visual appeal to a room in addition to maintaining safety.
Plates are normally attached to the front of a gang box by small screws, which are usually included in or with the plates. The switch or switches pass through the center of the switch plate, and the screws are then fastened to the mounting holes on the switch. Once installed, a plate should be tight and secure and should not allow any access to the interior of the gang box and the wires contained in the box.
A basic switch plate can accommodate a single switch. Larger versions are available for mounting on larger boxes and can accommodate two or more switches. Plates designed for multiple switches should always be used when appropriate, as smaller plates cannot be safely combined to cover a large gang box in a normal installation. In some installations, typically used in older homes, two or three switches may be mounted in a single box space, and these will require special plates. Hybrid varieties of switch plate are also available and are used when switches and receptacles, dimmers, or other items must be combined.
The most common variety of switch plate is made of simple but durable plastic, typically in white or beige. These are very inexpensive and can be purchased in bulk. In areas where wiring and switches are mounted in metal boxes, matching metal plates should be used. These metal plates are also generally quite inexpensive, although typically somewhat pricier than basic plastic. Some types of metal box may require special sizes of switch plate, which mount seamlessly to the box, usually to guarantee a tight and safe fit in exposed installations.
Switch plates can be decorative as well as functional. They are available in a wide variety of different colors, styles, and materials, including colored plastic, finished metal, and various types of wood. Ornate or fanciful designs are often available and are particularly popular for use in children’s rooms. These decorative switch plates are usually significantly more expensive than those made of simple plastic, but they may provide much more visual appeal, particularly when mounted in highly visible locations in a home or office.
Part of my yearly spring cleaning is getting all the switch plates cleaned. I take them off and scrub them with one of those magic erase scrubbers, which work wonders. I used to put them in a mild bleach solution, but the scrubbing pads work much better.
It's really amazing how much crud accumulates on something like switch plate covers over a period of time. We just don't realize how much oil and dirt are on our hands until we look at something like the switch place cover -- and the wall around it, which is sometimes just as bad! So, I always scrub the wall area around the plate, too, just to be thorough.