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Published Sep. 7, 2021

Whether operating a table saw or setting up outdoor Christmas lights, extension cords are vital for a variety of electrical needs. These power cables often offer the only means to extend the range of an electric device or lamp inside or outside the home. 

And though they may look very similar, not all extension cords are the same. They come in different gauges, which determines how much power they can carry, as well as varying lengths and colors. 

Light duty extension cords are ideal for extending power to a lamp or computer while high-wattage power tools and appliances require beefier heavy-duty cords. We’ll go cover the factors you should consider when shopping for an extension cord and recommend the top cords on the market.

How We Picked These Products

Methodology

Though extension cords may look the same, they aren’t. There are quite a few important factors that separate them. I’m a longtime tool user and reviewer and I looked at five crucial characteristics when making my selections.

  • Gauge: Perhaps the most crucial attribute of an extension cord is its ability to carry electricity. A cord’s gauge determines its ability to do that.
  • Length: Length is a critical aspect of an extension cord. Too long, and the cord becomes cumbersome and begins to lose its ability to carry electricity. Too short, and the extension cord fails to fulfill its purpose. For outdoor cords, the sweet spot was 50 feet, while 20 feet was ideal for indoor cords.
  • Construction: Extension cords take abuse. We drag them across the ground, step on them, pull them, trip on them, and drive over them. With this in mind, I only chose options constructed with thick jacketing, substantial rubber coatings around the plug ends, and reinforced collars on the connections between the plugs and cord.
  • Functionality: Features that make them more functional or easier to use, such as multiple female plugs or LED power lights, also affected my selections.
  • Value: Keeping in mind that few people expect to spend a large amount of money on one of these cords, I looked for models that offered quality construction and good maximum load capacities at a reasonable price.

Best Extension Cords: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Clear Power 50 ft Heavy Duty Outdoor

Indoor and Outdoor Use

The Clear Power cord is perfect for equipment and power tools rated up to 15 amps. Clear Power

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Why It Made The Cut: Clear Power’s 50-foot cord is moderately priced and features 12-gauge wires that can deliver up to 15 amps, giving it the ability to serve power-hungry appliances and tools.

Specs: 

  • Length: 50 feet
  • Size: 12 gauge
  • Capacity: 15 amps
Pros:Cons:
  • Can handle heavier loads of up to 15 amps
  • Only one female plug
  • Stays flexible in extreme temperatures
  • LED light may seem too bright
  • LED power light
  • Clear Power’s heavy-duty extension power cord sets itself apart from the rest thanks to its durable construction and heavy-gauge wiring. With its 12-gauge thickness, it’s capable of handling up to 15 amps—the maximum load offered by most household circuit breakers—making it usable with almost all household appliances and power tools. 

    This plug can endure being dragged across a garage floor or through a wet yard thanks to thick jacketing that protects the internal wires and corrosion-resistant nickel-plated brass prongs on the male plug. At 50 feet long, the cord can stretch well into a yard, across a two-car garage, or from room to room while remaining short enough to be manageable. In case that length isn’t optimal for your needs, Clear Power also makes this option in a more nimble 25-foot length as well as a rangy 100-foot option. 

    In addition to coming in three different sizes, Clear Power also makes its cords in eight color options, many of which reduce tripping hazards by improving the cord’s visibility. An orange LED light in the female socket that illuminates when power is running through the cord is a nice additional safety feature. Though this cord is one of the best all-around extension cords on the market, it lacks the multiple female outlets that other extension cords offer, limiting its functionality in a workshop. 

    Best Heavy Duty: Iron Forge Cable 50 Foot Lighted Outdoor

    All-Purpose

    The Iron Forge extension cord is weather resistant and works well within a temperature range of -40°F to +140°F.
    Iron Forge Cable

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    Why It Made The Cut: With its 10-gauge construction, Iron Forge’s 50-foot extension cord can carry enough current for higher wattage devices and tools, making it our top choice for heavy-duty needs. 

    Specs: 

    • Length: 50 feet
    • Size: 10 gauge
    • Capacity: 15 amps
    Pros:Cons:
  • Heavier gauge can handle greater loads
  • Thicker cord is heavier and less flexible than thinner gauges
  • Reinforced prongs add durability
  • Only one female plug
  • LED power light
  • With its large gauge wiring, the Iron Forge 50-foot cable is an excellent pick for those bridging a gap between a 15-amp outlet and high-wattage appliances such as an air compressor or rotary drill. Its thicker 10-gauge wiring will carry the maximum 15-amp residential electrical circuit with less resistance than thinner 12-gauge cords. This high output makes it a great option for connecting a generator to large home appliances such as a refrigerator or space heater. 

    Most heavy-gauge extension cords are pulled and dragged around workshops, garages, and yards. With heavy jacketing that protects its internal wires, ample collars around the joints between the plugs and the cord, and reinforced prongs, Iron Forge’s 10-gauge version is one of the more rugged options on the market. The Iron Forge Outdoor Extension Card is also water-resistant and has a grounded plug as an extra safety measure.

    While this pick has just one female outlet, it does provide an added layer of safety with LED lights that illuminate not just one but both plug heads when the cord has power. In addition to its 50-foot length, this cord is also available in a more manageable 25-foot length and longer 100-foot option.  

    Best For Indoors: Cordinate Designer 3-Outlet Power Strip

    Surge Protection

    The Cordinate power strip features a tamper-proof technology that lessens possible electrical hazards. Cordinate

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    Why It Made The Cut: An attractive braided fabric cover that makes this a more attractive cord to use in a living space coupled with thoughtful design features make this one of the best indoor extension cords.

    Specs:

    • Length: 10 feet
    • Size: 16 gauge
    • Capacity: 13 amps
    Pros:Cons:
  • More stylish than a standard extension cord
  • Thinner gauge cord can only handle a max of 13 amps.
  • Three plugs add capacity for multiple devices.
  • Built-in surge protection
  • While there may be no such thing as an extension cord that complements a room’s decor, this cord from Cordinate certainly does less to detract from a room’s aesthetics than other options, which is why it’s on this list. While most indoor options come in either white or black vinyl, Cordinate wraps its cords in braided fabric that comes in six different colored patterns. 

    In addition to being one of the more attractive indoor cords one can buy, this pick includes thoughtful design features. At 10 feet, it’s long enough to reach distant outlets while still short enough to maintain a tidy appearance. Three female sockets allow one to keep their collection of smart devices charged up without sacrificing the bedside lamp. A flat plug head fits flush to the wall, making it ideal for outlets located behind furniture, while the angled cord prevents it from blocking other outlets. 

    Cordinate’s extension cord also has something most others don’t, built-in surge protection that shields your smart devices in the event of a power surge. 

    Best Value: Amazon Basics

    Great Indoor Cord

    The Amazon Basics Extension Cord is perfect to power up your small household appliances.
    Amazon Basics

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    Why It Made The Cut: This simple, well-built cord is affordable and offers ample length for indoor use at 20 feet long. 

    Specs: 

    • Length: 20 feet
    • Size: 16 gauge
    • Capacity: 13 amps
    Pros:Cons:
  • Sturdy construction
  • 16-gauge cord can only handle a max 13 amps
  • 20-foot length ideal for indoor use
  • Only one female end
  • This affordable extension cord from the Amazon Basics line of products is a good choice for those in need of a well-made extension cord for light-duty use. At 20 feet long, it can cover most indoor extension cord needs. This 16-gauge cord can carry a maximum of 13 amps, which is plenty of juice to power lamps or small appliances. Its jacket feels sturdy and substantial, with thick rubber molding around the end plugs that firmly hold its three prongs in place. The inflexible cord does make it a little tougher going around corners or under objects.

    While it lacks additional features such as multiple female outlets or a built-in surge protector, it’s hard to argue with its price. It’s less than half the cost of fancier extension cords.  

    Best Design: Goodyear Extension Cord Reel

    Retractable Cable

    The swivel-mount reel attaches easily to any hard surface making it a convenience in every workshop. Goodyear

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    Why It Made The Cut: This retractable extension cord’s 40-foot, 12-gauge cord provides enough capacity to handle the higher-wattage tools found in a garage workshop.

    Specs: 

    • Length: 40 feet
    • Size: 12 gauge
    • Capacity: 15 amps
    Pros:Cons:
  • 12-gauge cord can handle 15 amps
  • 40-foot length may be too short for some applications
  • Retractable case mounts to a wall or ceiling
  • Cost
  • Triple-outlet head
  • Though more expensive than other retractable models, we like the Goodyear Extension Cord Reel because of its 12-gauge line. Cord reels are commonly used in home workshops and garages, so chances are it’s providing power for tools that need more juice than a house lamp or holiday lighting. With its 15-amp rating, the max power one can get out of a standard household outlet, the Goodyear extension cord reel will work with most power tools. 

    A thermoplastic jacket that’s oil-resistant plus a swivel mount that attaches to a wall or ceiling is tailor-made for garages. And, its three female outlets are also ideal for a workshop, eliminating the need to plug and unplug while switching from tool to tool. Other thoughtful features include an LED light in the plug head that lets the user know when the cord is receiving power.

    Things to Consider Before Buying

    Power

    Extension cords come in a variety of gauges. Choosing the right one depends almost entirely on how you will use it. For extension cords that will be supplying power to such high-wattage tools as a miter saw, table saw, or router, you’ll need at least a 14-gauge extension cord to handle the load. For lighter-duty jobs such as powering a lamp or string of LED Christmas lights, a thinner 16-gauge extension cord will suffice. Extension cords that connect to heavy-duty appliances, such as an air compressor or generator, require a thick,12-gauge extension cord.

    Length

    While a longer extension cord may seem better, that’s often not the case. For indoor use, a longer cord can be unwieldy and unsightly, forcing you to find a place to hide all that unattractive and potentially hazardous excess cord. Also, as a cord gets longer, its ability to carry current gets weaker. A 16-gauge 50-foot cord can carry 1,625 watts, while a 16-gauge cord greater than 50 feet can only power appliances up to 1,250 watts.

    Of course, an extension cord that’s too short won’t offer the range you need to trim the hedges or operate a sprayer to paint a backyard fence. An extension cord should be 10 to 20 feet long for indoor use. For a garage workshop, go with a 40- to 50-foot cord. For outdoor electric yard tools, such as a chainsaw or trimmer, purchase a 100-foot cord.

    Outlets

    While standard extension cords have single female outlets, some feature two or three outlets. Whereas a single outlet may suffice for operating one tool or light fixture, consider purchasing an extension cord with multiple outlets for a workshop with numerous power tools. This will eliminate the need to constantly plug and unplug as you move from tool to tool. When using a cord with multiple female outlets, be aware of the cord’s load limits, which may not allow you to operate more than one power tool connected to the same cord at once without popping a circuit breaker.

    FAQs

    Q: Can you use an extension cord permanently?

    No. Extension cords are not designed to withstand constant use. An extension cord can deteriorate with continuous use, creating a fire hazard. Only use an extension cord temporarily. Install permanent wiring for connections that are not temporary.

    Q: Which is better: a 10-gauge or 12-gauge extension cord?

    A 10-gauge cord can carry more load than a 12-gauge cord. While a 12-gauge cord is adequate for most devices, some electric lawn mowers, power tools, and large machinery require a 10-gauge cord. Keep in mind that a 10-gauge cord will be thicker and, therefore, heavier and less flexible.

    Q: What are the three wires in an extension cord?

    Extension cords have green, white, and black wires that run through them. The black wire is the hot wire, the white wire is the neutral wire, and the green wire is the ground wire. Light-duty interior-use extension cords sometimes lack the green grounding wire, which is why they have only two prongs. Always try to use an extension cord with a ground wire, which serves as a means of safely discharging excess electricity, reducing the risk of electric shock or fire.

    Final Thoughts

    Whether you’re charging a smartphone on your nightstand or powering a 15-amp table saw in your garage workshop, choosing the right extension cord is key to safely getting the power you need to the device you’re using. While smaller 16-gauge cords are suitable for powering lights and smaller devices, if you’re using power tools that require a higher wattage of 1,500 watts or more, use at least a 14-gauge extension cord and preferably a 12-gauge cord.

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