A 3-way switch is very handy as it enables you to switch on a light fixture from two different parts of the home. Sometimes people get confused about wiring a 3-way switch because it is not as common as a traditional, one-way switch.

But if you've installed a single pole switch, following this guide should be easy. This guide will teach you how to wire a 3-way switch through a step-by-step process.

What is a 3-Way Switch?

A switch that has three screw terminals for electrification connections and allows for a light fixture to be controlled by two light switches from two different locations.

Related: Buy a three way switch on Amazon for less than $8

How do You Wire a 3-Way Switch?

With 3-way switch wiring, there is an extra wire called the traveler because it joins two switches with each other. Identifying the correct wires will ensure the you follow the below steps correctly.

1.   Turn Off The Power At Circuit Panel

Go to the electrical panel in your home and turn off the power for the particular breaker where the 3-way wall switch is placed. If you're electrical box isn't labeled, you may have to find the correct breaker by trial and error.

Tip: Recheck the circuit panel to see if the power is appropriately off. You can try switching the light on and off to ensure the electricity is turned off. Alternatively, you could turn off all of the breakers and use a flashlight.

2.   Disconnect The Old Switch

Remove the cover plate from the first switch box by removing the screws and checking the last switch. Next, loosen up the fasteners that are holding the actual switch in place. Carefully pull the switch from the hole.

3.   Identify The Wires

In a 3-way switch circuit, there will be three wires: one black (hot wire), one white (or neutral wire), and one copper (or ground wire). Depending on the type of Romex or the age of your wiring, you may not have red wiring and therefore can ignore the red wires in the diagram below.

  • Black wire: The black wire is the load or hot wire that carries the voltage through the switch. In a light switch, the black wires connect to the brass screws on the sides of the switch, referred to as the terminal screws.
  • White wire: The white wire is known as the neutral wire.
  • Copper wire: The bare copper wire, that is not covered, is considered the ground wire. It can also be green or green with a yellow stripe. In the switch, the ground wire is attached to the green grounding screw.

4.   Identify Wires In Second Switch Box

Repeat the process with the second box. If you find two black wires or a multi-colored wire, you can test each to determine which one is hot or if there is more than one hot wire.

6.   Disjoint The Wires

Once you label specific wires and get an idea about what each wire does, disconnect them. Loose the screws from the terminal by twisting off the nuts of the wire. The uncovered wire ends will get visible, which does not connect to the switch anymore.

7.   Install And Connect The New 3 Way Switch

Finally, attach the new switch but ensure that both switches are identical. A 3-way switch is different from a single-pole switch, and it is important to use the correct type of switch for your application.

Check for the terminals and common wires in the new switches you install. With common terminals, connect the common wires.

Now attach the red wires at the exact location of the upper right or left part of the switches in both boxes.

Connect the second traveler wire of both boxes to the open upper ends, which are not utilized by the red wire.

With the help of a wire nut, twist the neutral white wires and then turn and fix the three ground wires in the primary box. Attach the shortest ground wire terminal with the green end of the switch.

Now move towards the second box and join the ground wire to the switch's brass or green screw.

8.   Place Switch Covers And Test Switches By Turning On The Power

Once all the wires are correctly attached, close the switches into the box. Reinsert the switch plate shields. Turn on the power source from the circuit panel.

Finally, test the switches by turning them off and on.


Adding a three way light is a great idea for added convenience for your family. Other potential upgrades to your home lighting include installing LED lights, replacing old ceiling fans and installing solar lights around the exterior of your property. Use caution with the hot wires and refer to our switch wiring diagram if you get stuck. Light switch wiring is predictable and easy to manage once you've learned the basics of how your fixtures are controlled and the typical wiring configuration.